Thomas Tew, the court-appointed receiver for E.S.M. Government Securities Inc., said yesterday that Cincinnati financier Marvin L. Warner made millions of dollars by arranging special insider transactions and closing his own account at E.S.M. before it failed.
Tew, who testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the failure of E.S.M. and the resulting crisis in the Ohio savings and loan industry, said Warner kept E.S.M. in business by directing S&Ls he controlled to put money into the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firm.
Tew, using diagrams to explain how E.S.M. hid its losses from the public, agreed with a description of Warner's role in the scheme as that of a "sugar daddy."
Warner, a former ambassador to Switzerland in the Carter administration and a financial backer of Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste, issued a statement later denying Tew's assertions, which he said "go far beyond the bounds of fairness, especially for an officer of the court."
Warner added, "I am shocked [that Tew] he would venture opinions and theories when he admits to not having studied all the facts and records in the case. His theory that I was in the 'driver's seat' is totally inconsistent with the facts."
Tew gave the subcommittee copies of a report, filed yesterday with a Florida court, outlining the findings of his investigation into E.S.M.'s operations and how its problems escaped detection.
His report concluded that the firm was losing millions of dollars trading government securities, but hiding its losses in order to continue to attract new funds, while its management pursued a lavish life style.
"That was the most abusive corporate raping I've ever seen," Tew said, referring to the way in which insiders benefited while the firm was sustaining large losses.
The report about E.S.M. said Warner made more than $4 million in one series of transactions in which E.S.M. gave him preferential treatment. Tew also told the committee that Warner closed his account and withdrew his funds on the advice of his lawyer, who realized that a collapse was imminent.
Warner owns Home State Savings Bank, the Ohio institution that collapsed after the E.S.M. failure and touched off a run on privately insured S&Ls in the state. He also is a former director of Fort Lauderdale-based American Savings and Loan.
Both Home State and American Savings did significant business with E.S.M. Warner was one of a small group of individuals who had a personal account with E.S.M., which dealt mainly with large institutions, Tew said.
It is not clear yet how much control Warner exercised over daily decisions at E.S.M., but several congressmen at the hearing indicated they believe he played a central role in the scandal that led to E.S.M.'s collapse.
The hearing, called to examine the causes of the S&L crisis in Ohio, also indicted the accounting profession as Tew testified about the failure of three of the nation's biggest accounting firms to detect fraudulent activities at E.S.M.
The crisis of depositor confidence touched off by the failure of Home State Savings Bank could have been avoided if the three accounting firms had used standard auditing procedures, Tew said.
The two firms Tew criticized publicly for the first time at yesterday's hearings were Arthur Andersen & Co., Home State's auditor, and Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, auditor of Fort Lauderdale-based American Savings and Loan. Alexander Grant & Co., E.S.M.'s auditor, was criticized again yesterday for giving E.S.M. a clean bill of health when the company was losing millions of dollars, and because one of the firm's partners allegedly received at least $125,000 from E.S.M. officials to cooperate in a scheme to hide those losses.
Tew said Arthur Andersen and Deloitte would have uncovered the problems at E.S.M. several years ago if they had made sure that Home State and American Savings, the S&Ls they audited, had possession of government securities that were collateral for loans the S&Ls made to E.S.M. The auditors apparently never asked whether the S&Ls had taken physical possession of the securities, the S&Ls never took possession of the securities, and E.S.M. apparently used them as collateral to get multiple loans from other municipalities and S&Ls.
"We are little by little building a record where somebody has to regulate themselves or we are going to regulate them," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the committee chairman said, referring to accounting firms. Dingell recently held hearings on the role of accounting firms in recent financial industry failures. Several accounting firms have given companies clean bills of health recently when those companies, in reality, were in financial trouble.
Alexander Grant chief executive Robert Bleckner said yesterday his firm has no internal mechanism to catch dishonest senior partners who are in charge of certain audits because those partners have the power to control the flow of information on those audits.