The D.C. Public Service Commission is expected to decide in the next two weeks whether to confirm or revoke the license of a securities agent because of a felony conviction.
Owen N. Cummins was convicted in 1981 of running a check-kiting scheme, together with partner Edward B. Ballows, through their now-defunct Washington real estate firm, Boss & Phelps. The two, who pleaded guilty, obtained more than $900,000 from the National Bank of Washington and First American Bank by writing worthless checks.
Under the D.C. Securities Act of 1964, the PSC may revoke or deny a license if an agent has committed a felony within the last 10 years and the commission determines such action is in the public interest.
When Cummins applied to the PSC for his license, a staff member misread the filing date on Cummins' application, and it automatically went into effect before the mistake was caught, a PSC spokesman said. Under D.C. law, an applicant is granted a license automatically 30 days after the filing date unless the PSC rejects the application. After the mistake surfaced, the PSC and Cummins agreed that he will not sell securities until the case is resolved.
"Any commission considering such a case, by barring or revoking the license, undoubtedly would be sending a signal that felons should not apply for a securities license in D.C.," one PSC official said. Such a case has not come before the PSC in the 1980s.
"It's important to the public because he was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude," said Howard Davenport, general counsel for the commission. "It's a question of balancing . . . the harm he could do to some unsuspecting person."
Cummins, his lawyer, and two associates have argued before the PSC that Cummins deserves a license.
"It would be a nice step forward in my efforts to get back into society and make a decent living," Cummins said in a telephone interview. "I've done everything I could to make restitution."
Cummins said he committed the crime because he was "trying to keep the poor firm afloat" at a time when real estate firms in the Washington area were hard hit by interest rates as high as 22 percent.
John C. Lenahan, Cummins' lawyer, told the PSC at a recent hearing that Cummins had been in the securities and banking business for almost 24 years, between 1955 and 1978, first with Riggs National Bank, then as a manager at Orvis Bros. & Co. and finally with E. F. Hutton after it acquired Orvis.
Throughout that time, Cummins had an "unblemished" record, Lenahan said. "He has in all respects . . . redeemed himself from this terrible mistake of judgment and criminal act which he has been found guilty of."
Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb has restored Cummins' civil rights, and he also is licensed to sell insurance in the District, Maryland and Virginia, Lenahan said.
David Allen Hall, an associate and former colleague of Cummins who is with the Washington office of E. F. Hutton, told the PSC he had "no qualms" in recommending Cummins' reinstatement.
Stephen Regis Bathon, president of Insurance Service Associates Inc., a Rockville insurance service and securities business, said Cummins had been selling insurance for the company since he was released from prison several years ago. Bathon, a personal and former business associate, said he did not doubt Cummins' honesty or integrity and thought he had "paid for his crime."
Cummins wants to work as a registered securities agent for Heritage Securities in McLean, which has agreed to hold his license if it is granted, he said. This practice is standard because securities firms are held legally responsible for their agents. Heritage holds licenses for Insurance Service Associates' securities agents, according to Bathon. Heritage has declined comment.
Cummins also must be licensed by the the National Association of Securities Dealers, a self-regulating body overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The NASD has declined to comment on the case. State and NASD officials said that, if the states approve Cummins' application for a license, he still would need NASD approval to practice. Likewise, the NASD would take state denial of his license into consideration in its own determination.
Cummins is seeking licenses from the Virginia State Corporation Commission and the Maryland Attorney General's division of securities. Those states have similar laws barring felons from holding licenses. Virginia officials said they would not review the application until the NASD makes its decision. Maryland officials said the application is listed as incomplete and is not being processed.