Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), completing a series of hearings into the controversial acquisition of 15 failed Texas savings and loans by an Arizona businessman two years ago, said yesterday he will press the Bush administration to renegotiate several of the dozens of subsidized thrift deals hurriedly put together by the federal government in 1988.
"There is an obligation to renegotiate some of these deals," said Metzenbaum, arguing that investors in the so-called Southwest Plan transactions had reaped billions of dollars more in federal subsidies than they deserved.
Metzenbaum's criticism of the wave of thrift mergers and sales in 1988 came as he and other members of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on antitrust, monopolies and business rights wrapped up an extended inquiry into the acquisition by Arizona businessman James M. Fail of 15 thrifts that were merged into what is now the Bluebonnet Savings Bank. That transaction, for which Fail put up only $1,000 in cash and $70 million in borrowed funds, will cost taxpayers up to $3 billion, Metzenbaum has argued.
Illustrating the soaring cost of the deal, Metzenbaum said yesterday that the federal subsidy for Bluebonnet will total $573 million next year, almost 60 percent more than earlier predictions.
"James Fail was not the only shark attracted to these deals," said Metzenbaum.
Members of the subcommittee yesterday sharply questioned Robert J. Thompson, a lobbyist who had been an aide to George Bush when he was vice president. Thompson helped Fail win approval for the thrift acquisitions despite a history of legal and regulatory problems that regulators have since said should have disqualified Fail.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) charged that some of the compensation and benefits received by Thompson for his work was "highly irregular." In addition to a $160,000 bonus for completing the transaction, Thompson got a $350,000 loan from Bluebonnet and another $150,000 loan from a company owned by Fail, and stands to earn 2 percent of whatever profits Fail receives from the thrift.
Thompson, replying to claims by Metzenbaum that he had traded on his relationship with senior government officials, said, "I feel very strongly one reason I am here was that I used to work for George Bush."
"This matter doesn't involve George Bush," responded Specter. "This matter involves Robert Thompson and James Fail and the acquisition of thrifts under highly suspicious circumstances."
The subcommittee also released documents that show that some federal regulators were aware that a company controlled by Fail had been convicted of securities fraud in a 1976 Alabama case. That disclosure was made to the Texas regional director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. nine months before regulators approved Fail's application to take over the 15 Texas thrifts. Some regulators had previously testified they were unaware of the conviction.