Maryland officials and other creditors of Equity Programs Investment Corp. are trying to determine the legal status of more than 5,000 houses that are not involved in the bankruptcy proceedings tying up the rest of the assets of the failed real estate investment group.
Rents generated by these properties are unaccounted for in either federal Bankruptcy Court or in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, where some EPIC creditors have asked that EPIC's income be placed in escrow to protect mortgage holders. These creditors have charged that rents are being diverted to the personal use of various EPIC officers.
Equity Programs Investment Corp., the centerpiece of EPIC, set up investor partnerships, which bought single-family homes as tax shelters. After they missed payments on $1.4 million worth of mortgage debt that financed these purchases, 341 of those partnerships filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 5. Sixteen more partnerships filed for bankruptcy on Thursday.
These bankrupt partnerships together own roughly 15,000 houses, according to court documents and officials familiar with EPIC. EPIC, however, set up partnerships owning more than 20,000 houses, and there has been no official accounting yet as to the status of the remaining houses.
Several sources said that this shortfall is partially made up of 800 houses in partnerships of which both EPIC and another company, the U.S. Home Corp., are co-general partners.
In addition, according to an analysis by the trustee for holders of about $500 million of EPIC mortgage-backed securities, approximately 2,535 properties with mortgages amounting to $181 million are owned by EPIC-controlled limited partnerships not filed for bankruptcy. Although rents from these properties should have been frozen by a recent District Court order, they are believed to be in control of some one of a number of EPIC affiliates, stated a complaint filed this week in federal court in Alexandria by lawyers for the trustees.
"Even after the peculiar last-minute filing of 16 new partnerships, which were 'not found' in time for the first round of bankruptcy filings , there appear to be hundreds and perhaps thousands of properties still unaccounted for," said Warren Dennis, a lawyer representing the trustees, the National Bank of Washington and First National Bank of Maryland.
Dennis said he was uncertain as to the status of the other houses, and that finding this out was part of the reason for a complaint the trustees filed in court Thursday. That complaint asks the court to hold EPIC Mortgage Inc. in contempt of court for failing to account for the missed mortgaged payments, and also to extend to EPIC Realty Services an order to account for income and expenses.
In a response filed in court yesterday, EPIC Mortgage denied the allegations, saying it had given over all the information it can legally provide. A lawyer for EPIC Realty also said that charges that its owners had diverted funds for their personal use were groundless.
In their complaint, the trustees alleged that EPIC Realty's owners, including two of the principals in the EPIC network of companies, are improperly siphoning funds out of the company. But Charles Docter, a lawyer for EPIC Realty, said, "That's an allegation. I don't think they can prove it."
Docter said he was not aware of the status of the houses not in bankruptcy, which he said were not his client's responsibility. EPIC Realty managed the properties and collected the rents, but does not own any of the houses in the EPIC system.
Several Maryland officials contacted also said they did not know the status of the houses. Daniel Lewis, a Washington lawyer representing Maryland in negotiations over EPIC, could not be reached. The Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund has been appointed conservator for EPIC companies and Community Savings & Loan, the Bethesda affiliate of EPIC whose troubles were sparked by EPIC's difficulties.
One possibility is that at least some of the houses are in partnerships that have not been sold to the public, said several sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations to work out EPIC's problems. It is unclear, however, which lenders financed the purchases of these houses, and whether or not any EPIC companies are actually in default on any payments related to the property, they said.
In a related development today, the counsel to the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund said that the state will shortly remove the top officers of EPIC and Community to solidify its control following the forced conservatorship of the thrift.
Francis X. Pugh, an assistant attorney general who serves as counsel to the state insurance fund, said the removal of "three to four" senior officers would come within a few days.
"It's a normal process that has to happen whether they are good or bad," said Pugh. "The state has to take control of this thing. If the officers were St. Joseph, St. Patrick and the apostles Peter and Paul, they would still have to be removed."
Pugh said that the senior officers, including Community Chairman Clayton C. McCuistion and vice president James B. Deerin Jr., have "been cooperative . . . and will graciously step down."
The action would be similar to steps taken by the state at two other thrifts that went into conservatorship in May.