House Banking Committee Chairman Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.) said yesterday he makes "no apologies" for investing in a Florida savings and loan association that, according to a published report, had received help before a federal agency from St Germain's senior aide.
According to an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, St Germain's chief aide made repeated phone calls to federal regulators in 1973 while they were considering an application from a Florida thrift to issue stock to its depositors.
Shortly after the application was approved, St Germain bought $15,000 of the stock, The Journal reported.
The newspaper also reported that the Internal Revenue Service is investigating four tax shelters for which the Rhode Island Democrat put up $120,000 for promised tax deductions of $405,000.
The Journal article said that St Germain had become a millionaire during his 24 years in the House. It estimated his net worth at between $2 million and $2.6 million.
Among his holdings, the article said, are five International House of Pancakes restaurants purchased with $1.3 million in mortgages from Rhode Island financial institutions that put up nearly 100 percent of the purchase price.
Without addressing any of the specifics in the Journal story, St Germain issued a brief statement attacking the story for containing "unfair and unsupported innuendos.
"I have made investments with the objective of providing for my family," St Germain said. "I made no apologies for making this effort . . . . "
The congressman also said that he had "scrupulously avoided any official actions on my part which would have created conflicts of interest in connection" with his investments.
According to The Journal, Paul Nelson, staff director of the Banking Committee, made repeated phone calls to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) in 1983 to check on the status of an application by the Florida Federal Savings and Loan in St. Petersburg to switch from a depositor-owned mutual association to a stock corporation.
Nelson did not return a phone call from a reporter yesterday, but he was quoted by The Journal as saying through a spokesman that he was merely checking on the status of the application.
The chairman of Florida Federal is Raleigh Greene Jr., who once served as the president of an industry lobbying arm then called the National Savings and Loan League. Greene arranged for St Germain to take part in several lucrative investments in Florida real estate, the Journal story said.
Greene was out of the country yesterday and unavailable for comment. But H. E. Rummel, senior vice president of Florida Federal, said the thrift had never asked for, and did not need, St Germain's help before the FHLBB. The application was submitted in "January or February" 1983, and approved by March of that year, according to Rummel.
"We didn't ask for any assistance," said Rummel. "The application was a complicated procedure but we were basically pleased with they way it had been handled."
Asked why Nelson would have been checking on Florida Federal's application, Rummel said, "He may have had his own reasons for following it. We were a major conversion."
Rummel also said that St Germain was offered stock in Florida Federal because, as a depositor, he was eligible once the conversion was approved. "We offered him stock like we had 500,000 others," said Rummel.