Maryland may gain nearly $30 million more than it normally would be entitled to under a plan submitted last week to settle the Equity Programs Investment Corp. real estate bankruptcy, lawyers involved in the case said.
Major EPIC creditors have been willing to give up their claims to these funds to win the state's support for the plan to liquidate EPIC's real estate holdings and pay off some $1.4 billion in mortgage debt. Maryland also has made a number of important concessions of its own.
More than 350 bankrupt real estate partnerships established by EPIC filed a plan of reorganization last week in the Alexandria federal bankruptcy court -- a critical step toward liquidation.
A group of major creditors and the state support the plan, but other parties and the bankruptcy court also need to approve it.
The workout plan seeks to revive the real estate tax shelter empire, whose collapse last fall triggered the state conservatorship of EPIC and its parent, Community Savings & Loan of Bethesda.
If approved, the plan would give Maryland millions of dollars worth of EPIC assets to which lawyers say Maryland has a weak claim, if any. Maryland stands to lose an estimated $120 million in funds that Community advanced to the EPIC partnerships, but if the reorganization plan is approved, that figure could be cut in half, lawyers have said.
"This is a Maryland plan. Maryland gets the most," said one source familiar with the six-month negotiations aimed at finding a solution to EPIC's woes.
Asked about the state's possible recovery from EPIC, one state representative said simply, "Given Community's position, it is a reasonable return and a fair return."
EPIC assembled tax-sheltered investment partnerships, which together bought more than 20,000 houses around the country. EPIC's default on its mortgage debt triggered complicated negotiations over how to sell the EPIC properties and divide the assets among various creditors.
Maryland's negotiating position has been relatively weak because, except for about $22 million in first mortgages Community made to EPIC, most of its debt is unsecured by any property or securities. Under bankruptcy law, this means most of the state's claims take a back seat to those of other EPIC creditors, in particular the savings and loans that hold mortgages or mortgage-backed securities backed by EPIC houses.
During the negotiations, however, the state essentially improved its claim to some $30 million that normally would go first to secured creditors. The proposed plan also would give the state exclusive right to pursue civil damages against the EPIC principals, claims that could be worth millions of dollars.
The exact amount that Maryland and other EPIC creditors will recover is unknown and depends largely on how much return can be gained from the sale of EPIC's houses. This return generally would go first to holders of EPIC mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, including Maryland to the extent that Community holds first mortgages.
A major exception, however, is a $40 million note that the plan calls for to be paid to Community out of various EPIC assets. Under terms of the plan, this note will be financed largely from payments that secured creditors will make out of proceeds from the sales of the houses.
Lawyers involved in the EPIC negotiations estimate that the value of these payments could total $28 million -- that is, money that Maryland normally would not have a right to until at least after all the first mortgages are paid off.
"They are in some ways edging themselves up to the front of the line or to the same table with the secured creditors," Robert S. Plotkin, a lawyer involved with the EPIC negotiations, said of the state negotiators.
Plotkin and other lawyers involved with EPIC said these concessions were made in recognition of the central role the state has been playing in resolving the problem. They also noted that Maryland is giving up its undisputed right to certain EPIC assets.
For instance, the state has agreed that EPIC's mortgage-banking and property-management affiliates -- which Maryland controls -- can help to liquidate the partnership houses.