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, the once high-flying consumer finance giant sunk by a string off ill-advised acquisitions and loans, filed for chapter 11 protection Wednesday, becoming the third-largest U.S. bankruptcy ever.

The company's

descent into chapter 11 has been the subject of numerous

articles by's

Peter Eavis, who

predicted in January 2002 the company wouldn't last the year as then-composed. Conseco's Waterloo was its acquisition of Green Tree Financial in 1998, a purchase that left it perilously exposed to the subprime lending market in the form of financing for mobile-home and manufactured-housing loans.

That acquisition also sounded the death knell for longtime CEO Stephen Hilbert, whose 1990s acquisition binge laid the groundwork for the company's demise. Hilbert was eventually replaced by former GE executive Gary Wendt, who after pocketing a huge signing bonus tried to restructure the firm, but resigned in October after the plan fizzled.

Wednesday's Chicago filing covers the parent company and its Conseco Finance loan unit, but excludes its insurance operations. Conseco recently listed $52 billion in assets and it has roughly $6 billion in debt.

The reorganization calls for the sale of Conseco Finance, to a group of investors calling itself CFN Investment Holdings, in an effort to raise cash. The investors will pay a price equal to the unit's secured debt.