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Byline: Elizabeth Rhodes
Dec. 3--Former Washington Huskies football player Scott Greenlaw led the mortgage company he founded to dizzying heights -- 400 employees, a sprawling new headquarters and kegs of beer at staff meetings. Now he's selling his house to avoid bankruptcy as creditors line up with lawsuits. Merit Financial was barely shut this spring before founder Scott Greenlaw and his top executives opened new mortgage businesses.
But vowing to put the past behind them has turned out to be not so easy. The sudden demise in May of one of Washington's largest mortgage brokerages has left a trail of angry ex-employees, expensive lawsuits, unpaid taxes and government investigations. "I'm not walking out of here penniless; I'm walking out of here with a huge debt load," Greenlaw, 34, confided days before he relinquished Merit Financial's sprawling Kirkland headquarters to its former owner rather than losing the building through foreclosure. Now, the man whose business was built on financing homes for others may be forced to sell his own. Greenlaw is trying to avoid bankruptcy by selling his $4 million waterfront home to pay his debts. It seems a quick turn of events for a former college football star who'd cobbled together $225,000 to start a company in 2001 that grew to more than 400 employees. Merit claimed to write more than $2 billion in loans and Greenlaw basked in its glow as it made him a millionaire publicity magnet. Now all of that is gone. However, pointed questions about his lack of leadership and poor judgment, including his buying kegs of beer for business meetings, remain.
Some wonder if the company's demise hinged on its practice of hiring jocks and stunning but inexperienced young loan officers and managing them loosely. Still others questioned whether Greenlaw's litigious and financially draining divorce and his romance with another woman distracted him. Ambition meets opportunity The story of Greenlaw's rise and fall starts, as many do, on a high note. The Issaquah native was a cornerback for the Washington Huskies from 1992 to 1995, playing in the 1993 Rose Bowl. With a UW business degree in hand and days in Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity behind him, he entered the mortgage business in 1998. He opened Merit three years later. With interest rates falling to 30-year lows, the timing was excellent. "We had all these leads coming in," Greenlaw recalled. …