Revelations of conflicts of interest and slipshod accounting practices continued to spill out at a congressional hearing held yesterday to investigate the circumstances of the failed Beverly Hills Savings and Loan Association.
In one of the largest savings and loan rescue operations ever, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board took over the association in April, after it was found to be insolvent following a series of high-risk deals with developers. Thus far, the board has put up $140 million to bail out the bank.
The oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), is holding hearings to examine the savings and loan association's collapse as part of a general investigation into the credibility of independent auditors and the oversight capacity of regulatory agencies.
One of the main issues yesterday was how Beverly Hills officials took what Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) termed a "financial joy ride" under the eyes of Touche Ross & Co., the bank's auditor until the end of 1984, and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.
In April 1984, Touche Ross issued a clean audit opinion of the savings and loan association's financial statements for the year ended Dec. 31, 1983. The subcommittee, however, produced a number of documents showing that during that year bank officials inflated the values of some of their assets, as well as engaged in questionable accounting practices.
Creative accounting, for example, was at work in the association's recording as a loan the approximately $150 million it sunk into a series of real estate ventures with the J. D. Stout Co. of Irvine, Calif., said Wyden, who chaired the hearing.
Under questioning from Wyden, Donald Tipping, Beverly Hills' current senior vice president, acknowledged that -- had that investment been recorded as the joint venture it orginally was, the 1983 financial report would have shown big losses rather than a profit on the deal.
Tipping also said that the company should have written down losses in 1982 and 1983 for a number of real estate ventures and loans that did not do well.
Despite these problems, however, an executive with Touche Ross said the bank's precarious financial position could not be determined at the time his firm performed audits of the company's 1982 and 1983 financial statements.
"We are confident that the problems of this company were not predictable," said Joe Burns, national director of accounting and auditing standards for the Big Eight partnership.
Burns acknowledged under questioning, however, that he had not been intimately involved with the actual audits. At this point, Wyden accused the company of not cooperating with the subcommittee by producing officials with first-hand knowledge of the Beverly Hills situation. Touche Ross denied the allegation, and offered another witness to explain. Wyden refused to hear from the additional witness, however.