Tonight, on the first anniversary of his forced resignation as federal budget director, Bert Lance will be in Tulsa, Okla., to give a rousing fund raising speech for the county Democratic Party.
That's the way it has been since he returned home to his rural northwest Georgia town.
Viewed by many people as a victim of the system, Lance is a favorite on the banquet circuit where he collects as much as $5,000 a speech. An Atlanta - television sation pays him $50,000 a year for commentaries on economics and politics.
And while only a few years ago, as a country banker here, Lance's daily concerns were hog prices and home mortgages, he has become an international deal-maker. In August, he was in London and Scotland on one of his numerous foreign sojourns. And in October, sources here say, he will fly to Karachi.
Lance's international shuttling is reportedly financed by Pakistani-born London banker, Aga Hasan Abedi. Abedi, in turn, is financed by Arab investors in his fast-growing British bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Lance, who sold his stock in the Atlanta-based National Bank of Georgia to an Arab investor at a premium price, has recieved a handsome retainer from Abedi's enterprises. Moreover, foreign banking sources have apparently picked up the immense debts of Lance, his family and friends.
Lance still maintains a house and a farm here, a 50-room antebellum mansion in Atlanta and a beach retreat at posh Sea Island. Even Lance's passion for private aircrafts has been satisfied.
A Gulfstream turboprop sits at nearby Rome airport, pilot and copilot at the ready.So when Bert, LaBelle and their two sons returns to Kennedy Airport from their trips abroad - often by Concorde - they board their waiting Gulfstream, which whisks them back to northwest Georgia and home.
But even as Lance Jets between continents, apparently freed to financial woes, 23 members of a federal grand jury meet in the basement of the old Post Office building in Atlanta to determine whether Lance should be indicted on criminal charges.
A 15-person team of Justice Department lawyers, FBI agents, bank examiners and supporting staff have spent 9 months combing through bank records, amassing literally miles of documents. This paper chase continues right up to today.
Audits have been done on some 15 Georgia banks, and top executives of those banks subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Some of these bankers have been told they are "targets" of the investigation because of their dealings with Lance.
Lance's loans from banks in New York and Chicago have also been crutinized by the grand jury.
The Atlanta Constitution reported that among the NBG records subpoenaed by the grand jury were those of Jimmy Carter and Presidential imagemaker, Gerald Rafshoon.
The Carter peanut warehouse, which had $1 million in loans from NBG, also had a revolving credit line of $3.7 million making the operation the bank's biggest borrower.
Rafshoon's Atlanta advertising firm, Gerald Rafshoon Inc., handled advertising for the Carter presidential campaigning. It is being run by an associate while Rafshoon is in Washington.
Now, sources say, the grand jury will decide - within a few weeks - whether to indict Lance and others for criminal abuse of the federal banking laws.
A target of the investigation as well as other sources report that the criminal investigation has followed closely the allegations of a civil suit filed in April against Lance and the two banks he once headed, Calhoun First National Bank and National Bank of Georgia.
Lance resigned from those banks in January, 1977, to become budget director in the Carter Administration.
That suit, brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Comptroller of the Currency, charged Lance with "fraud" and "deceit" for allegedly violating federal banking and securities laws. Lance and the banks settled the suit by signing consent decrees neither admitting nor denying the allegations but agreeging to take remedial measures.
While the findings of a civil suit need be supported only by the preponderance of evidence, in a criminal case the guilt of the defendants must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
According to several sources, the grand jury is focusing on the following areas of possible criminal wrongdoing: Misapplying bank funds as to cause injury to that bank; fraud by mail or wire; securities fraud; knowingly making false statements to a financial institution to influence the actions of that institution; making false bank entries, reports or transactions, and willfully making false loan and credit applications.
While much of the publicity on Lance's finances has concerned loans and overdrafts by his family and friends, the criminal investigation concerns broader banking practices.
One area of particular interest to the investigators, according to sources, is the way Lance and his associates allegedly used the assets of group of mall northwest Georgia banks. The civil complaint called Lance a "dominating influence" over these banks.
The criminal investigators, following leads developed in the 90-page civil complaint, have reportedly found that these group of banks, including Calhoun First National, were used to hide overdue, sometimes unpayable, loans owed by Lance, his family and associates.
Documents presented to the grand jury allegedly show that the Lance group was able to take advantage of the lack of coordination between state and national bank regulators by shifting unpaid debts and overdrafts by relatives and friends between the two types of banks.
Documents in the civil suit, which also reportedly have been a focus of the grand jury probe, show that Calhoun First National was able to inflate its cash position temporarily by getting unrecorded loans from friendly banks.
For example, on Dec. 6, 1974, Calhoun bank borrowed $5 million from Fulton National Bank in Atlanta, whose President is Lance's good friend, Gordon Jones. By Jan. 15, the $5 million was repaid. But the brief loan allowed Calhoun to inflate its balance sheet by $5 million at year end because the Calhoun books did not reflect is as a loan, according to public records.
Following the leads of investigators in the civil suit, the criminal prosecutors have reportedly learned that the Lance group was able to write checks on friendly northwest Georgia banks, even though they kept no funds in those banks.
In effect, these were non-interest bearing loans to cover overdrafts at the Calhoun bank when the management learned that bank examiners were due. After the examiners left, the money was returned to the friendly lending bank.
At times, the Calhoun bank "sold" so-called participations in their loan portfolio to other banks. The effect of this was to relive Calhoun, at least temporarily, of loans that had been criticized by bank examiners.
The network of Northwest Georgia banks under investigation by the grand jury because of these transactions include the Calhoun and Rome banks, the First National Bank also in Rome, Cohutta Banking Co. in Chatsworth, Northwest Georgia Bank, Ringold, First State Bank of Gilmer County and First National Bank of Cartersville.
Last spring, Richard Carr, a former Calhoun bank executive who became president of Northwest Georgia bank with Lance's help, was fired because his debts reportedly amount to $800,000.
Another big borrower and Lance intimate, former local druggist Jack Mullins, did not even have enough income to make the annual interest payments on his $185,700 loans from the Calhoun bank and NBG. Like Carr, Mullins' borrowing activities and his role as manager of Lance's unsuccessful 1974 gubernatorial campaign have brought him to the attention of the grand jury.
Mullins, now manages a news-stand and gift shop owned by a close Lance friend in an Atlanta hotel, says the prosecutors told him he is a "target." But he adds: "I didn't do anything that I knew was illegal."
Many other loans have been called into question, including one to the president's son, jack Carter, for his seed warehouse operation in Calhoun, according to sources here.
The stock prices of the Lance group of banks in this region had been wildly inflated. Lance had pledged the inflated stock as collateral for his many loans.
In some banks the comptroller has forced management to stop paying dividends until the banks' finances were corrected.
The stock prices have plummeted to more realistic levels.