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A customer walks into the First Citizens Bank on Santa Monica Boulevard on Monday morning. First Citizens took control over First Regional on Friday after regulators shut it down over bad real estate loans. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — On Monday morning Santa Monicans who deposit their checks at First Regional Bank were in for a surprise.

The bank, which had a branch at 501 Santa Monica Blvd., was seized by federal regulators over the weekend and quickly sold off to Raleigh, N.C.-based First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co.

Its failure was blamed on delinquent real estate loans and was estimated to have cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $825.5 million.

For customers, though, the new name was about the only discernible change.

Deposits were fully insured by the FDIC, and the agency said ATM cards and checks issued by the failed bank would continue to work as usual.

Century City-based First Regional was the first California bank to be seized by regulators in 2010. Last year, 140 banks failed across the country, including 17 in California.

As of last September, First Regional, which operated eight branches, seven in Los Angeles County and one in Irvine, had $1.87 billion in deposits and total assets of $2.18 billion, the FDIC said. Of its $2 billion in loans as of last September, more than one third were for real estate development projects. The bank was also heavily involved in lending to apartment and other commercial property owners.

Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for First Citizens, said acquiring First Regional was a perfect way to expand into a desirable market.

“We’re always looking for opportunities and we know that that region has great potential,” she said. “First Regional really focused on business banking — small to mid-size business. [And] that is a focus of our bank.”

In the past six months First Citizens acquired two other failed banks, one in Temecula, Calif. and the other in Washington state.

First Citizens had $18.5 billion in assets at the end of 2009. After acquiring First Regional, the bank now has 380 branches in seven states.

nickt@smdp.com

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