An un-Wise Hire


The Denver Post

May 6, 2007  

Decision to take Wise guy under wing seems unwise

By  Al Lewis 

Denver Post Staff Columnist

Savings-and-loan villain and convicted criminal Michael Wise is out of prison and back in business.

I called Wise, 62, at his office in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he's involved with a firm called CFIC Home Mortgage, which boasts about 350 branches in 48 states.

"I have no interest in talking with you," the former chairman of Denver's failed Silverado Banking said. "I have nothing to talk with you about."

I was crestfallen. There was so much I wanted to ask Wise - such as, do loan applicants know that a convicted felon is working for their mortgage brokerage firm? But Wise was too wise for me.

So I called Wise's boss, Chris Likens, owner of Prairie Village, Kan.-based Nations Holding Co., the parent of CFIC Mortgage. Likens is a notable philanthropist and businessman who owns the Kansas City Brigade arena football team.

"I think everybody deserves a second break," Likens explained.

I reminded Likens that this actually represents Wise's third break.

"That's true," he said. "I didn't necessarily realize the timing between Silverado and the other thing."

When Silverado collapsed in 1988, Wise became a national symbol of the savings-and-loan debacle. The demise of the $2 billion thrift was spectacular, not just for the tab it left taxpayers, but because it involved President George H.W. Bush's son Neil, who served on Silverado's board.

Wise was acquitted on bank-fraud charges, but regulators barred him from the S&L industry. So he moved to Aspen and started Cornerstone Private Capital, which made high-dollar, high-interest real estate loans.

Over the next few years, Wise allegedly stole nearly $9 million from investors. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud and received a 3 1/2-year sentence, which he served at a federal prison camp in Leavenworth, Kan.

At Leavenworth, Wise met a man close to Likens.

"It's not that I cohort with these people," Likens explained, "but actually one of my best friends from college had some problems."

After getting an introduction, Wise wrote to Likens.

"I was moved by the letter," Likens said. "I thought, here's a guy who could use a second chance in life."

When Wise was released in August 2002, he went to work for Nations. Wise started off with administrative jobs at a "minimal salary," Likens said. He now has an unspecified title with Nations, Likens said. His office is at CFIC, but Likens said Wise doesn't run the mortgage brokerage, he's just helping it expand.

"His principal involvement deals with marketing, getting additional branches and things of that nature," Likens said. "He's a very articulate guy. … He's a good communicator. That's really what we were using him for."

Wise, who lost his wife in 1997, also has found a new wife through Likens.

"His wife worked for me running my foundation here in Kansas City, and that's how they first met," Likens said. "She's just a lovely, lovely person."

Wow, Wise owes everything to you, I told Likens. I hope he doesn't rip you off.

"He has no access to anything as far as money or check writing," Likens said. "He's strictly an employee."

So is Wise reformed? "You can't look into a person's heart," Likens said.

But you trust him? "There's a limit he will ever go in our organization … because of his past," Likens said.

Likens is known for single- handedly funding the Helping Hand Foundation, which gives away $750,000 a year directly to needy people in the Kansas City area. The foundation has purchased everything from eyeglasses and wheelchairs to used cars for individuals.

"People have these instances in their life where they have something happen that's out of their control," Likens said. "All they need is just this one click and they are back on their feet."

Sometimes people can disappoint.

"I've had two people steal directly from my company," Likens said. "One lady stole $1 million. And another person stole a few hundred thousand. I didn't prosecute either one. … My personal feeling is that there are higher courts."

So Wise has found a benefactor. "I'm just that kind of guy," Likens said. "I find a stray dog and … well, that's just me."

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Lewis at

lewis, 303-954-1967 or