(Orange, Texas)

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December 12, 2012

Joe Allbritton, 87, DC media, banking giant dies


McLEAN, Va. —

In 1997, Allbritton wrote to Pinochet: "I am pleased to report the business relationship between Riggs and the Chilean Military is prospering. I am also grateful for our thriving personal friendship, which you have demonstrated through your gracious hospitality and stalwart support of the Riggs. .You have rid Chile from the threat of totalitarian government and an archaic economic system based on state-owned property and centralized planning. We in the United States and the rest of the western hemisphere owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude."

In 2004, federal officials ordered Riggs to pay a then-record $25 million civil fine for alleged violations of money-laundering laws. The following year, Riggs pleaded guilty to a felony charge of failing to report suspicious transactions involving foreigners, including Pinochet and family members. Riggs also agreed to pay a $16 million criminal fine. A federal judge said the bank had become "a greedy corporate henchman of dictators and their corrupt regimes."

Shortly thereafter the bank, which had hosted the accounts of 23 U.S. presidents and had a prominent location on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House, was acquired by Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

Allbritton stepped down as Riggs CEO in 2001; at the time, the Allbritton family controlled roughly 40 percent of the bank's stock.

Former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, an Allbritton friend who served on the Riggs board, said Allbritton was "a 20th century banker in that he had relationships with all of his major clients. He loved working with the ambassadorial community and being a player on the world stage." That style was not as well-suited for the changes that gripped modern banking, as community banks were getting squeezed out and federal regulators demanded greater transparency.

He was a fixture on the D.C. social circuit, though he rarely gave interviews. He was friends with Britain's Prince Charles and was reportedly invited to the wedding last year of Prince William and Kate Middleton. When Prince Charles visited the U.S. in May 2011, he traveled on a private jet lent to him by Allbritton.

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