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Jacksonville lawmaker doesn't mention his bank failures in application for banking regulator

Fantastical
State Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville

State Rep. Jay Fant touts his experience leading his family's Jacksonville bank as justification for becoming the state's banking regulator.

But in his application, released Wednesday, he doesn't mention the most important aspect of his experience: it was run into the ground under his leadership.

Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, spent 18 years working at First Guaranty Bank & Trust of Jacksonville, the last nine as its CEO. The bank was founded by Fant's grandfather in 1947, and at one point it was the oldest bank in Jacksonville.

According to his application, his "reason for leaving" First Guaranty was that it "became CenterState Bank."

That's technically true, but it's the nicest possible version of the story of First Guaranty.

The reason why the bank "became" CenterState Bank was because it was shut down by the Office of Financial Regulation in 2012, and the FDIC turned over its assets to CenterState, based in Winter Haven.

Banking regulators at OFR found that under Fant's leadership, the bank started offering riskier commercial real estate loans, including loans to people with questionable backgrounds. When the Great Recession hit, the bank went under.

That version of events is nowhere in his application to become OFR commissioner, overseeing the very regulators who shut down his bank. The Florida Cabinet could choose the next OFR commissioner as early as next week.

In his cover letter, he cites his "direct involvement with regulatory agencies including the OFR," but he doesn't appear to be keen on some aspects of regulation.

"As prospective commissioner, my primary objective is to provide Floridians with responsible financial oversight while ensuring that innovation in the marketplace is not unduly inhibited with draconian regulatory policy, state or federal," he wrote in his cover letter.

On Tuesday, Fant announced he was dropping out of the attorney general's race and would instead throw in to become OFR commissioner. He blamed his bank's failure on "wayward government policy."

We've reached out to Fant for comment but have not yet heard back.

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