Portales National Bank accused of dirty business

A Portales bank and a Clovis couple are battling over whether the bank took advantage of an elderly couple in loans on their Portales-area ranch.
The fight began when Portales National Bank filed for foreclosure on Abe and Maurene Ribble’s 5,000-acre ranch in July 1999, saying the couple owed the bank more than $168,000.
The Ribbles sued the bank, alleging it took advantage by letting them run up more debt than they could repay.
The lawsuit alleged bank president David Stone took advantage of Abe Ribble’s failing physical and mental health and ‘‘engaged in a course of conduct that resulted in so much indebtedness that Mr. Stone would ultimately be able to gain control of the Ribble ranch.’’
The lawsuit also said the Ribbles took out several loans to cover excessive overdraft fees the bank charged.
The bank contends Ribble knew exactly what he was doing. The bank’s attorney, Stephen Doerr, said the couple’s daughter, Jim Elyce Wade and her husband, Charles, of Clovis, wanted the ranch for themselves.
The Ribbles ‘‘did not want to see anything go to their daughter and son-in-law. They made numerous statements to people at the bank — Mr. Stone and others — that they were going to spend everything before they died,’’ Doerr said.
Reached at her home Thursday afternoon, Jim Elyce Wade disputed Doerr’s statement that her father really wanted to spend all his money before he died.
“That’s not true as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “The main thing they wanted their money to go to was their great-grand-kids because they were still young and not in college yet. My dad had always said he would love to help them through college.
“I think my father was taken advantage of when he really couldn’t handle his money that well. He was at a point in his life when he was almost into dementia and I think that they picked up on that.”
Stone said the charges against him are ridiculous but he wouldn’t comment further because he didn’t want to taint any future jury.
“I want this tried, not on the air, not in the paper; we want this tried in front of a Roosevelt County Jury,” Stone said Thursday afternoon.
Abe Ribble died at age 96 in March 2002; his wife died seven months later. Wade and her husband became the plaintiffs.
A judge threw out most of the lawsuit in August 2002, but the state Court of Appeals reversed that decision in May. The case will be tried before a state district judge in Roosevelt County.
‘‘Something needs to be done to stop this banker from doing the same thing to other people,’’ said Warren Frost, the family’s attorney.
The Ribbles did not realize the ramifications of the financial arrangements with the bank and ‘‘spent the last part of their lives worrying about paying the heating bill,’’ Frost said.
Wade said her father trusted Stone when he began to have trouble keeping track of the couple’s finances. She said her parents wanted to take care of their own problems and said nothing to her.
She discovered the extent of their trouble when she read a legal notice in a newspaper saying the bank was foreclosing on the ranch.
The Ribbles and Wade contended Stone offered several times over a decade to forgive the debt in exchange for the ranch, according to court documents. Wade said her father refused.
By 1994, the bank was charging the Ribbles overdraft fees on bounced checks, although it didn’t charge such fees for several years previously, the lawsuit said.
Court records show overdraft fees amounted to more than $24,000 from 1994 to 1998.
The Ribbles took out an $80,000 promissory note in 1994 with the ranch as collateral. The note had been renewed twice by 1997, and the balance owed was nearly $170,000.
When it was renewed in 1997, it had to be paid off in a year, a deadline the lawsuit said the couple could never meet.
Doerr said the short payoff was done because Ribble planned to sell the ranch and pay off the note.
‘‘It was a kind of line-of-credit until the cattle and the ranch was sold,’’ he said.
Wade said her parents took out a $60,000 mortgage on a home they owned in Portales to protect themselves from the overdraft fees. The lawsuit said that instead of a lump sum, the bank paid it out in monthly $700 payouts, most of which went to overdraft fees.
Doerr said the monthly payout was Ribble’s idea.
In March 1999, the bank sent the Ribbles a foreclosure notice.
The lawsuit alleges Stone told Ribble everything would be taken care of if he sold the ranch to pay off the loan, and urged the elderly man not to get a lawyer.
Ribble put the ranch up for sale and sold cattle to pay $56,000 on the note.
The Wades stopped the foreclosure by getting the loans refinanced with another bank. The Wades sold the ranch to pay off the debt after Abe Ribble died, Wade said.