DALLAS, DEC. 20 -- A former Texas thrift owner, dubbed the "highest of the high fliers among the savings and loan crooks" by U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, was convicted today of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from depositors and spending it on himself.
An eight-woman, four-man jury said Don R. Dixon of Dallas was guilty of illegally spending money from his Vernon Savings Association on a California beach house and prostitutes. The jury cleared him of charges that he made illegal campaign contributions.
Dixon, 52, was the 11th person and eighth Vernon officer to be convicted of criminal wrongdoing that contributed to the thrift's 1987 failure, which cost taxpayers $1.3 billion and was one of the first costly collapses of the savings and loan crisis.
"I've felt better, but I have no comment," Dixon said as he left the courthouse.
U.S. District Judge A. Joe Fish set Dixon's sentencing for Feb. 19.
Convicted on 23 counts of fraud out of 38 counts against him, Dixon faces a maximum sentence of 115 years in jail and a $5.75 million fine, said Marvin Collins, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Prosecutors will seek a lengthy sentence, he said.
Dixon's attorney, Billy Ravkind, said he had not decided whether to appeal.
"Don Dixon was the highest of the high fliers among the savings and loan crooks," Thornburgh said in Washington. "His excessive lifestyle and illegal management practices stood as a symbol of the wrongdoing in our national thrift industry."
Woody Lemons, who was Vernon's chief executive officer, was sentenced in April to 30 years in prison, the stiffest penalty yet handed any figure in the savings and loan crisis.
Dixon, Lemons and other Vernon executives are also defendants in a $540 million federal fraud lawsuit that was filed in 1987.
Dixon owned Vernon from 1981 to 1986. It grew 10-fold under his leadership with brokered deposits and speculative real estate deals and made a $50 million profit one year. When Dixon sold Vernon in 1986, more than 90 percent of its loans were not being repaid. Regulators took Vernon over the next year.
Testimony in the trial lasted more than five weeks with about two dozen witnesses, including Dixon. The jury deliberated for 10 days.
"We believe it sends a message to the S&L community in the state of Texas that their own citizens will hold them responsible," said Robert Hauberg, an assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Dixon.
Jurors apparently disbelieved some former Vernon employees who testified that Dixon directed them to reimburse themselves with the thrift's money for making political contributions. Dixon testified that he told the employees to check with attorneys before reimbursing themselves.