This story was published in partnership with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Over nearly a decade, an East Texas bank president in a small prairie county quietly stole $11 million from her workplace, funneling it to friends and family, and finally tried to cover her tracks by setting a fire in the bank.
But the flames never spread.
Instead, they left behind singed loan documents piled on a boardroom table. That brought in federal investigators, who descended last year on Cooper, Texas, 120 miles northeast of Fort Worth.
The Texas Banking Department quickly closed the Enloe State Bank, a 91-year-old community institution that had helped cotton farmers get through the season with loans, and served as the depository for the local school district, which built a world-class football stadium, named after one of the bank’s directors.
Enloe was the first Texas bank to fail in five and a half years, and at the time, the first bank to fail nationwide in over 17 months. The estimated $21 million loss to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s insurance fund, equivalent to roughly 60% of the bank’s assets, is a rarity in modern banking.
It has been 30 years since a Texas bank failure caused such a large loss relative to the bank’s size, FDIC insurance fund data show.
“I’ve never seen a fraud this big,” said Larry Walker, a 40-year veteran of the Texas Department of Banking and director of its Dallas regional office.
The bank president was Anita Gail Moody, who began working there when she was a teenager in the late 1970s.
In June, she pleaded guilty in federal court in Sherman to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and arson and is expected to be sentenced in December.
Moody filed more than 100 fake loans — some in the names of unwitting bank customers — to direct money into multiple bank accounts, buy a new car and benefit herself and others, according to court documents, which offer the public a fleeting glimpse of where the millions went.
In August, the bank’s vice president, Jeannie Swaim, also pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge. Swaim admitted to creating fictitious loans to channel over $400,000 to her husband over a period of five years, court filings show.
The fraud shook Delta County, where many banked at Enloe. Only about $500,000 in deposits exceeded the FDIC’s insurance limits, and Enloe was quickly taken over by another bank from out of town, re-opened and renamed.
But trust, built over decades, was violated.
“We’re Cooper people, we love and know each other,” said Lyn Alley, a lifelong resident and former owner of a local funeral home. “It has hurt deep. We’re appalled.”
“A community bank is a pillar to the community and should be a source of strength,” said Charles Cooper, the Texas state banking commissioner (no relation to the town of Cooper).
“I think that people were betrayed,” he said.
Moody did not answer questions last summer when this reporter visited her residence, a two-story brick house with a pool and a new car out front. The house is at the end of a 350-yard gravel driveway on 16 partially wooded acres in the east end of Delta County.
“I don’t have any comment for you,” was all she said, her face obscured through the cracked open front door, before she pushed it closed.
Her lawyer, John Ginn of Sulphur Springs, declined a recent request for comment. Through her attorney, Swaim also declined an interview.
But even after the guilty pleas, questions remain unanswered about the stolen millions. It’s unclear who knew about the scheme and where exactly the money went.
The fire was more than a year ago, but for many residents, the smoke remains.
‘LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE SET FIRE TO AUDIT PAPERS’
At the corner of a broad prairie highway, usually framed by puffy clouds dotting a blue expanse of sky, sits the Cooper Dairy Queen.
Under red awnings, burgers are served and black coffee poured into thick plastic cups. Pickup trucks are left running, air conditioning on, in the parking lot. It’s the bustling heart of tiny Delta County, where cattle outnumber people 4-to-1.
When smoke began to billow out of the one-story Enloe State Bank next door on a Saturday in May 2019, the first 911 calls summoned two sheriff’s deputies at 6:41 p.m., dispatch records show.
The bank’s cleaning crew made the first call, the sheriff would later say, and more calls quickly followed from the Dairy Queen.
By 7:10 p.m., the volunteer fire department had extinguished the embers.
Inside the bank, closed for the weekend, they found smoldering piles of paper stacked on a conference room table.
There was a consensus among first responders — and soon the rest of the town — that something was not right.
“ENGINE 31 STATED THAT LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE SET FIRE TO AUDIT PAPERS,” a sheriff’s deputy wrote, in capital letters, in a report.
On a cabinet next to the table was a set of keys, a cell phone and a lighter. The bank’s surveillance system was switched off, according to two members of law enforcement who went to the bank but asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
A suspicious fire at a federally insured bank fell under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In response to an open records request, the agency declined to share its investigative files, saying in late June the case was still open. The agency didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview.
But according to two people there that night, bank president Moody arrived soon after the smoke started, distraught and demanding entry to the building.
Instead, the deputies closed the doors and waited for federal agents to arrive.
‘The friendly bank’
Delta County is a triangle-shaped wedge cut out of the prairie land between the north and south forks of the Sulphur River, a two-hour drive from downtown Fort Worth.
Just over 5,000 people live there. White settlers, principally the extended families of slave-holding Southern aristocrats from the Cotton Belt, began arriving in the 1840s. Despite the scrubby dogwood brush, it was a lot like home.
“When tickled with a hoe,” wrote a local newspaperman in the aftermath of the Civil War, the waxy, black soil “laughs back with a bounteous harvest.”
Cotton gins sprung up, soon dotting the landscape. When the Texas Midland railroad arrived at the turn of the century, Cooper, at the heart of Delta County, prospered.
But today, where once there were movie theaters and one of the only soda fountains for hundreds of miles, Cooper’s red-brick paved main square is rife with dusty storefronts. The Great Depression, with its plunging crop prices and plague of boll weevils, decimated the cotton crop and heralded the beginning of a slow decline.
But it also produced one of Delta County’s most enduring businesses, the Enloe State Bank, founded in 1928 by Melvin Smith, a local merchant, and later run by his sons, Herbert and Eric, known to most as the Smith brothers.
The brothers recruited bank staff from outside the family.
“When they hired me, they made it clear to me, they said, ‘We want you to take care of this community,’ ” said Noel Bailey, who was vice president and then president of the bank between 1975 and the early 1990s.“That’s the reason the bank started — because these people over here needed somebody on their side.”
Bailey, a stocky man with a close-cropped silver beard and perfectly combed white hair, never planned to work at a bank. He grew up farming near the unincorporated community of Enloe, north of Cooper, a one-street row of storefronts anchored by the bank building.
Bailey got off to a rocky start. While he was out visiting a customer, a man in a ski mask walked into the bank with a chrome-plated pistol, held up the tellers at gunpoint and stole $7,000 in cash.
“Sure is a sh—y day, isn’t it?” remarked the Texas Ranger who showed up afterward.
Luckily, the bank robber was caught and the money returned.
After settling into the job, Bailey worked to fulfill his promise to the Smiths, instructing his tellers to greet every customer. “We were known as the friendly bank,” he said.
The bank helped local farmers secure loans to get through the growing season and financed homes for young families.
Before long, people came from as far away as Dallas to bank at Enloe. Bailey inherited a $2 million bank that operated with a ledger the size of a coffee table and grew it to a $30 million operation with one of the first computerized banking systems in that part of Texas, he said.
“This was my baby, this bank was. I loved it. I put my whole life in it,” he said of his 15-year career there.
In 1978, Bailey hired a high school student, the daughter of a local couple he knew.
“She was just kind of a gofer there,” he remembers. “But she was real good and quick and fast. Would do any kind of job. … I had complete confidence in her.”
Bailey said she wasn’t yet an officer when he left around 1990. Afterward, he moved on, staying out of bank business.
But within about 15 years, she would be president.
That teenager was Anita Moody.
Who is Anita Moody?
Moody has spent most of her life in Delta County, rising in the ranks at the bank, which eventually closed its Enloe location in 2008 and moved all of its operations to its Cooper branch.
Traces of her childhood appear in local newspapers and school yearbooks: a black and white photo of her in uniform with the rest of Cooper’s junior high powderpuff football team and a 1975 clipping declaring her the “rodeo princess” in the Cooper Rodeo parade.
Moody, now 57, married three times, according to public records and newspaper reports. The first lasted less than a year.
She had two daughters with her second husband, Steve Speight, who initially agreed to an in-person interview for this story but later canceled.
“Lord, help her,” he said by phone when asked about the bank.
Moody’s third husband, Randy Freeman, was a cattle broker 10 years her senior.
“I trusted her as far as I would my mother,” said Freeman in an interview.
He remembered frequently asking her to deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks after a big sale. “I trusted her with my business and my life,” he said.
Freeman said he knew Moody as an honest woman, dedicated to the bank that had sustained the community for decades. She served for years on the Cooper school board. Under her leadership, the bank contributed thousands to scholarships, teamed up with the local sheriff to donate air conditioning units and funded local organizations.
When they divorced in 2008, “she was headed down the wrong road,” Freeman said, but would not elaborate.
“I never dreamed it was a road like this.”
‘A dominant bank president’
The FDIC, which insures deposits, and state regulators routinely examine all banks.
Examiners make sure a bank is healthy: that it can meet its obligations to customers, which includes determining whether its assets, including loans, are high quality with sound underlying collateral.
Historically, Enloe State Bank had received satisfactory ratings. But in the spring of 2018, regulators raised issues with the bank’s internal controls, according to an FDIC memo. A year later, Enloe failed to provide audit reports to state banking officials in Dallas, the memo said.
Then in May 2019, the Texas Department of Banking scheduled an in-person examination of the bank’s records, according to emails obtained via a public records request. But the weekend before an examiner was set to arrive, Moody would later admit in a court filing, she “attempted to damage or destroy” the bank by setting a fire in the conference room with loan paperwork.
Even before her confession, Texas Banking Commissioner Charles Cooper said the fire and what examiners found at the bank afterward raised red flags.
“Something unusual will show up,” he said in a July 2019 interview about bank failure investigations. “It will be like a string, and you start pulling on that string, and it leads to something else that doesn’t quite make sense, and that leads to something else.”
Less than a month after the fire, scrutiny by his department revealed circumstances that forced Cooper to close the bank.
Enloe was insolvent and unable to meet its obligations to depositors. The bank was tendered to the FDIC, which arranged the sale of the bank’s insured deposits and some of its assets to another institution, the Bowie, Texas-based Legend Bank.
Legend swiftly re-opened the bank under new management, but kept many of the old bank’s tellers. Enloe became Legend’s Cooper branch.
Legend only chose to acquire about 14% of the failed bank’s assets, one indication of the extensive problems hiding under the surface at Enloe.
So regulators began to comb through the bank’s books.
The FDIC staff wheeled in dollies stacked with boxes, and for at least five weeks they sifted through the bank’s files, renting out space between wooden pews at a nearby church in Cooper, where, coincidentally, Noel Bailey is now a minister.
Then the letters started going out.
Frank Lundberg, a retired farmer, was one of the scores of locals who received one. The letter, which Lundberg showed a reporter, said he owed almost $73,000 to the failed bank.
He had been a customer for decades, using loans to cover the cost of seed, fertilizer and equipment each season. But he’d paid off his debts, he said.
When Lundberg went to the FDIC representatives posted in town, they weren’t surprised.
“You’re just one of a bunch who’ve been here claiming that you know this is all a fabrication,” Lundberg remembers one representative telling him.
Many loans lacked proper documentation, or were signed with handwriting that appeared again and again in separate files.
“They all look the same. All the letters slant the same way,” Lundberg was told.
But months passed before Lundberg and other Delta County residents knew the extent of the fraud. In September 2019, the FDIC released a short memo blaming the bank’s failure on “insider abuse and fraud by former officers.”
The bank’s board couldn’t adequately monitor and control “a dominant bank president,” the memo read.
“The board obviously should have been more attuned to the situation,” said Walker, the state banking regulator.
As for his own inspectors, Walker said the failure resulted in a review of their processes. How did the fraud go undetected for so long? He pointed to “an active effort to deceive bank regulators” that was “successful for a period of time.”
Even small banks merit close attention, he said.
“The message to my staff,” he added, “is that these are ones that it’s important to evaluate corporate governance and the controls in place to make sure there’s not too much power vested in too few people.”
“Time is always the enemy in these situations,” Cooper, the banking commissioner, said. “You can’t do it forever.”
A confession — and unanswered questions
It would be more than a year before the public knew exactly what Moody had done.
In all, at least 110 fraudulent loans made up the more than $11 million Moody stole from the bank during her tenure as president, according to plea documents. In a federal court document, the initials “F.L.” are listed next to a dollar amount matching the exact value of the loan Frank Lundberg said was fraudulently made in his name.
The majority of the fake loans were in the names of individual customers. But one of them was created in the name of “B.D.A. Enterprise, LLC,” according to a court document. Registration records filed with the Texas Secretary of State list Ricky and Stephanie Burleson as the managing members of the company.
Reached by phone, a woman who identified herself only as Ricky Burleson’s wife said the business, a construction firm, had never banked at Enloe, and she was not aware of the bank failure or criminal charges.
Moody admitted in a signed confession that the money benefited “her close friends and family members” and that the fake loans helped pay off other loans to herself and other bank customers. She said she used a cashier’s check to buy a $50,000 silver Jeep Wrangler Sahara and used another $109,000 to pay off a loan to her daughter.
Court documents also list roughly $108,000 moved into a checking account owned by someone with the initials “C.M.” and other transactions, but don’t reveal a full accounting of how the millions were spent.
According to prosecutors, Moody has agreed to a sentence of seven years in federal prison — far less than the maximum combined penalty of 50 years for the arson and fraud charges — but still awaits the finalization of her sentencing process. She surrendered her passport in mid-June and, after the court rejected her initial plea agreement, is currently scheduled to go before a judge Dec. 4 in Sherman.
As a part of her plea deal, she will have to return the millions fraudulently taken from the bank.
Who else benefited from Moody’s scheme is a topic of debate in Cooper. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, declined to comment, citing pending steps in Moody’s sentencing process.
In a news release, prosecutors said Moody “admitted to using the fraudulently obtained money to fund her boyfriend’s business, other businesses of friends, and her own lifestyle.”
Over half a million dollars in fictitious loan proceeds were deposited into the checking account owned by Highway 24 Lumber in Cooper, just down the highway from the bank, between 2018 and 2019, according to court documents.
Corporation records show the business is owned by Jason Ingram, Moody’s longtime boyfriend, who also co-owns a home with her in the eastern part of Delta County, according to Delta County property records.
Ingram, reached by phone at his lumber yard, wouldn’t speak with a reporter. “You’ve got the wrong guy there, buddy,” he said, and hung up.
Plea documents refer to “other unnamed co-conspirators” who worked with Moody. So far, Jeannie Swaim, the vice president, is the only other bank officer who has ended up in court.
Swaim created nine fake loans totaling $410,675 to pay off a $55,000 line of credit and other loans in her and her husband’s name, according to a court document.
Swaim has not been sentenced.
Both Moody and Swaim are prohibited from working at any Texas bank in the future, according to consent orders issued by the Department of Banking at the end of July.
Bailey, the former bank president, wonders how the scheme went on for almost 10 years without being discovered. When he ran Enloe, every loan went before the bank’s board.
“Everybody in a bank that small knows everything that’s going on,” he said. “I just don’t see how it could have been accomplished unless there was extenuating circumstances that we’re not aware of,” he said.
“Somebody else had to have been involved.”
Because of the extent of the fraud and the percentage of lost assets, the FDIC’s Office of Inspector General conducted an in-depth review of the failure, which determined the bank “did not maintain adequate internal controls” and faulted regulators for failing to identifying signs of fraud and the extent of Moody’s control over Enloe’s operations in time to save the bank.
The fraudulent lending scheme caused the bank $16.8 million in losses, or about half of the dollar value of the loans on the bank’s books when it failed, the report said.
The FDIC denied a public records request for investigative documents, saying their release would interfere with law enforcement proceedings.
Cooper said he wouldn’t call the late discovery of Enloe State Bank’s secrets a “failure,” but he would have liked his department to uncover the issues earlier.
Delta County residents’ trust was broken, he said.
“Any time a bank fails,” he said, “there’s always going to be some people that get hurt, regardless of what the situation is.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with details from Moody’s sentencing hearing on Oct. 1 and figures published in a FDIC report on Enloe State Bank that same day.
Reporter Lucas Smolcic Larson first began reporting on the failure of Enloe State Bank in June 2019 as an intern at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, a nonprofit news organization based at American University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C. For over a decade, IRW has published FDIC data on the nation’s banks as part of its BankTracker project. When Enloe State Bank failed under suspicious circumstances, IRW sent Smolcic Larson to Delta County in July 2019.
Smolcic Larson now works as an investigative projects reporter at The Hilton Head Island Packet newspaper, also owned by the Star-Telegram’s parent company McClatchy.