Top officers of the EPIC real estate syndication group were accused in a lawsuit filed yesterday of systematically diverting millions of dollars worth of property and rental income from their creditors and Maryland state conservators.
Lawyers representing several of EPIC's secured creditors charged that the officers devised a scheme to transfer valuable assets out of corporations and partnerships before they were placed in bankruptcy or under the control of Maryland officials.
The allegations were made in an ongoing lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. Lawyers for the creditors asked Judge Claude Hilton to find the EPIC officials in contempt of court for violating court orders to protect EPIC's assets and to order them to pay $100 million in punitive damages.
Defendents named in yesterday's new complaint include EPIC's founder and former chairman, Tom J. Billman, his top lieutenant, Clayton L. McCuistion, and Barbara A. McKinney, a vice president of EPIC, and six corporations affiliated with EPIC.
A lawyer for the EPIC officers said the complaint was without foundation. "Every property and every mortgage has been fully accounted for. There's been no diversion of any kind," said Mark Touey. "To see language like 'scheme' . . . is unfounded and unfair. I question the good faith of such representation."
EPIC's centerpiece, Equity Programs Investment Corp., set up some 350 tax-sheltered partnerships that invested in single-family homes around the country. After EPIC defaulted on more than $1 billion worth of mortgage debts, most of the partnerships filed for reorganization in bankruptcy, and Maryland regulators appointed a conservator to run Community Savings & Loan, one of EPIC's affiliates.
Lawyers for the creditors said the latest legal action could provide important information about EPIC's finances and could increase the pressure on these officials to cooperate with efforts to bail out the bankrupt partnerships.
The filings charge for the first time that Billman was given EPIC books and records months after he had supposedly left the organization. Lawyers for the creditors said that Billman's continued involvement at EPIC could provide the grounds for legal action to seek control of Billman's assets, which are legally separate from EPIC.
The papers filed yesterday focus on more than 6,000 EPIC properties not covered by the bankruptcy proceedings or the conservatorship. These properties are part of partnerships in which EPIC insiders, rather than outside parties, are the limited partners.
On Sept. 5, the day on which both the rest of the partnerships filed for bankruptcy and Maryland took control of EPIC and Community, some of these partnerships were taken out of the control of EPIC and put in the hands of EHL Management Co., a company owned by EPIC officers but outside the control of the Maryland conservators. A week later, more partnerships also controlled by an EPIC affiliate were also placed in the hands of EHL Management.
In a recent interview, McCuistion, the former president of Community Savings & Loan, said the moves were an effort to consolidate control of the insider partnerships. "It just seemed administratively a lot easier to handle. I didn't know that the conservatorship would happen at the time." In addition, he and Touey have said Maryland officials were notified of the changes soon after they were made, and rental money from these properties has been earmarked for the state.
Lawyers for the creditors, however, alleged that regardless of the ostensible business reason advanced for these moves, they were part of the defendants' effort to circumvent the bankruptcy proceedings, the conservatorship, and Hilton's Sept. 4 ruling freezing income from the EPIC properties held by EPIC's mortgage banking affiliate.
McCuistion said yesterday the restructuring "wasn't a grand plan to grab something for ourselves." He said the EPIC insiders wanted to keep their personal investments out of bankruptcy for tax reasons and to gain leverage in negotiations with creditors.