Maryland officials are mapping out a plan for selling Community Savings & Loan of Bethesda before resolving the complicated problems associated with the thrift's troubled real estate subsidiary, Equity Programs Investment Corp.
The state, beset by angry depositors whose accounts are frozen, is anxious to develop such a plan as a way to sell the thrift and open depositors' accounts, officials said. Maryland, which has taken responsibility for insuring deposits at the state's privately insured thrifts, was appointed conservator of Community early in September, shortly after the financial difficulties of EPIC became known.
Officials say the state is discussing a model for the sale of Community based on the way federal regulators assist in the takeover of insolvent banks.
Under the model considered for Community, the state would sell off the thrift's liabilities -- principally its $350 million deposit base -- as well as its sound assets. The EPIC real estate subsidiary would continue under receivership while the state and creditors negotiated an orderly liquidation of its properties, one source said.
The key component of the plan would be for the state to issue a promissory note or other financial paper to make up for the shortfall that would inevitably show up on Community's balance sheet as a result of the absence of EPIC assets, officials said.
The plan would be markedly different than the deal the state struck earlier this year for the sale of Merritt Commercial Savings & Loan and two other thrifts to Chase Manhattan Corp., one official said. In that transaction, Chase assumed all of the thrifts' assets and liabilities after the state agreed to pay it $25 million from the insurance fund it now controls.
While the exact amount of the shortfall at Community is unknown, state officials have estimated that Community poured at least $100 million into real estate partnerships established by EPIC, much of which was in the form of loans unsecured by any property or securities. This amount constitutes the principal "hole" in Community's balance sheet, and by issuing some kind of paper, on which it would make periodic payments, the state would essentially be agreeing to fill this hole over time.
State officials stressed that the plan is still in embryonic stages, and that details -- such as what kind of paper Maryland might issue -- remain to be worked out.
Melville S. Brown, director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, the state agency overseeing Community's affairs, said the state has consulted accountants and federal regulators over what kind of financial paper or other instrument would be acceptable in the transaction. The nature of this instrument also would depend on what a potential buyer would accept, as well as take into account maintaining the state's credit rating, he said.
"It is still very much a matter of negotiation," he said. Brown said that several institutions have expressed interest in Community, and that the state has put together bid packages for the thrift. But he and other officials declined to elaborate on details.
The clear benefit of the plan under consideration, according to officials, is that it would allow the state to free up more quickly the 30,000 Community deposits that have been frozen under the conservatorship.
"We cannot wait until the ultimate resolution of EPIC to solve the Community problem," said Thomas H. Maddux, Maryland's secretary for economic and community development. "We're trying to develop a purchase contract as quickly as we can."
Maryland's ultimate losses at Community could be reduced significantly over time under such a plan. If a successful reorganization plan could be developed for more than 350 EPIC real estate partnerships that have filed for bankruptcy, Maryland could recover more than half of the money Community put into EPIC, officials have said.
In addition, the state could also pay off any financial paper through proceeds from the sale. The key unknown, said one state source, is how much another financial institution would be willing to pay for access to Community's deposit base -- a large base in a very lucrative banking market.