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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Business

Bortner out as chief of state securities office

Deborah Bortner, the state’s securities chief and a tenacious critic of Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Inc., has been demoted as part of a political shake-up.

As head of the securities division within the Department of Financial Institutions, for the past 10 years she’s been the state’s top cop investigating investment scams, crooked stockbrokers and the wrongdoings of major investment firms. Bortner said her style clashed with that of Helen Howell, the director of the DFI, who was appointed by Gov. Gary Locke 20 months ago.

DFI spokesman Scott Kinney said Bortner’s handling of Metropolitan had nothing to do with her reassignment to the department’s consumer services division.

Rather, Howell wanted the securities division managed a different way, Kinney said. He declined to elaborate.

Taking over for Bortner is longtime enforcement officer Mike Stevenson.

Howell was unavailable for an interview.

Reached at home over the weekend, Bortner said she was disappointed she was terminated from her supervisory role in late April. She said disagreements with Howell led to the problem.

“I think my record speaks for itself,” she said. “I’ll let other people decide whether moving me was good idea.”

Bortner’s new assignment will be to examine businesses such as mortgage and loan companies, and payday lenders.

Securities division attorney Kristina Kneip resigned her position over Bortner’s termination as chief. She did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

Bortner has been an important regulator in Spokane during the past nine months.

As Metropolitan Mortgage collapsed into bankruptcy and scandal, Bortner was at times the only official in Olympia offering any sort of advice or insight to thousands of bewildered investors who were losing their money, those investors have said. Many had their life savings invested with the 50-year-old Spokane financial institution.

She had battled the company’s attempts throughout the 1990s to raise more money from investors than the business could repay.

Eventually, Metropolitan used new national laws to shed oversight from Bortner’s office. The result: Metropolitan’s debt ballooned and the company went bankrupt.

Bortner has been with DFI for 23 years and said she hopes that under a new governor’s administration she might be reappointed.

Howell was first hired as Locke’s director of intergovernmental affairs in January 1999. She arrived with top-notch educational training and experience working in the Clinton Administration and Sen. Patty Murray’s office.

In December 1999, Howell was appointed by Locke as deputy chief of staff of the governor’s office.

Then in September 2002 she was appointed to Locke’s cabinet as director of DFI.

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