A Circuit Court judge agreed today to let the owners of the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team withdraw more than $500,000 from its account at Old Court Savings & Loan Association to meet payroll and other expenses, despite objections by state lawyers that the action could further jeopardize the financially imperiled Baltimore institution.
Lawyers from the Maryland attorney general's office immediately obtained a stay of the withdrawal order from the state Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis. A hearing before a three-judge panel of that court will be held at 3 p.m. Monday on whether to continue the stay.
During today's hearing before Baltimore City Circuit Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, it was disclosed that Jeffrey A. Levitt, principal owner of Old Court, also is a minority owner of the Blast, the popular soccer team that currently is playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League championship series.
Attorneys for the Blast would not specify Levitt's ownership interest, but state sources said Levitt has a 10 percent interest in Blast Soccer Associates, the partnership that owns the team.
Depositors at Old Court have been limited to withdrawing $1,000 per account per month since allegations of mismanagement and insider deals -- now the subject of criminal investigations by state and federal prosecutors -- triggered a run on the institution earlier this month. Old Court, the state's second largest privately insured S&L, and a second Baltimore association, Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan Association, are governed by court-ordered conservators, who imposed the limits, which match a May 14 order by Gov. Harry R. Hughes that covered the other 100 then-privately insured thrifts.
Today's court action came as officials of the association representing 25 state-charterd but privately insured credit unions reported a rash of withdrawals similar to those that sparked the crisis in the savings and loan industry two weeks ago.
Officials of the Maryland Credit Union Insurance Corp. issued a lengthy statement decrying a "crisis" that has reduced deposits in larger credit unions by 10 to 12 percent.
On the bright side, Hughes announced he was lifting restricitons on eight more thrifts, bringing to more than half the number that now can operate freely of his emergency order.
Legislation passed at a special session of the Maryland General Assembly last Friday abolished the S&Ls' private insurance plan and set up a state agency that will insure depositors until the thrifts can get federal insurance. Attorneys for Blast Soccer Associates and majority owner Nathan Scherr asked Kaplan to make an exception to the withdrawal limit so the team could meet an $80,000 payroll June 1 and other operating expenses, as well as a $228,000 purchase installment payment owed to the previous owners of the team, according to Assistant Attorney General John K. Anderson.
Anderson argued that it was dangerous to make individual exceptions to court-ordered restrictions on withdrawals and that the owners had failed to show that they could not find the money they need elsewhere. In addition, he said, granting an exception would create a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize the delicate process of "rehabilitating Old Court."
As for Levitt's interest in both Old Court and the Blast, Anderson said he told Judge Kaplan it would be "unfortunate if Levitt or any entity in which he has an interest would . . . benefit in a way that other depositors at Old Court could not."
Anderson said Blast Associates has an $80,000 account at Old Court for its payroll and that Scherr, a 52.5 percent owner of the team, maintains about a dozen accounts with a total of more than $500,000 for various operating expenses. Anderson said Kaplan granted the owners' request for "general access" to all their accounts.
The spate of runs that shook Maryland's $9 billion savings and loan industry was blamed today for causing a "heavy" number of credit union withdrawals.
"We're becoming a victim of public perception," said S.J. Domenick, president of the Maryland Credit Union Insurance Corp. (MCUIC).
Domenick stressed that the credit union system, in which 200,000 people have $550 million in deposits, is in no danger of collapse. But he and MCUIC Chairman Charles L. Benton faulted the General Assembly for requiring Maryland credit unions to be insured by their corporation, while making similar federal insurance optional.
Benton and Domenick compared the credit union situation to that of 102 state savings and loan associations that until this month were also insured by a private corporation. That corporation was abolished last week by members of the General Assembly, who were called into special session to cope with the thrift crisis.
Since then, the giant Chevy Chase Savings and Loan Association has received federal insurance and 55 other associations have been permitted to resume normal operations under the protection of a $100 million state-supported insurance fund.
The state's top banking regulator, Banking Commissioner Margie Muller, disputed the thrust of Benton's statement, saying there was "no run" on any Maryland credit union.
A spokesman for the credit union at the National Association of the Deaf in Silver Spring, the only state-chartered credit union in the Washington area, said there had been no unusual activity at that institution, with assets of $17,000.
Domenick, who was unable to provide precise dollar figures showing a drain of cash from credit unions, said the withdrawals had been "silent" -- by mail -- with none of the long lines of anxious customers that marked recent runs at some savings and loans associations.
He also said that MCUIC was financially sound. "Our liquidity is very high," Domenick said. MCUIC has a cash reserve of $7 million, and members' reserves could repay customers $1.06 on the dollar in case of a severe run, Domenick said.
Before the 1975 law requiring private insurance, many credit unions, including the 45,000-member Baltimore City credit union now headed by Benton, had federal insurance.
Domenick said that none of the 25 state-chartered credit unions have federal protection, although a spokesman for the Fort Meade Credit Union in Anne Arundel County said that union also had federal insurance.
Here are the 26 state-chartered credit unions in Maryland, all but one of which are located in the Baltimore area:
National Association of Deaf, Silver Spring; Armco Baltimore Employees; Baltimore Federal Employees; Baltimore International Harvester; Baltimore Procter & Gamble; Blue Diamond (Baltimore Towing Co.); Brotherhood of Railway Clerks; Central; Doxsee Foods; Esskay; Fort Meade; Greater Baltimore Merchants; Green Spring Dairy; Lever Brothers; Lord Baltimore Laundry; Maryland Steel Workers; MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority); Municipal Employees; Patapsco Council; Point Breeze (formerly Western Electric); Post Office; Reliable Stores; State Employees; U.S. Coast Guard; Vista (Continental Oil Co.).
Also today, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board granted conditional approval for federal insurance to three more Maryland S&Ls. The approval was given to Custom Savings Association of Pikesville, with assets of $307.2 million; Fairmont Savings and Loan of Baltimore, assets of $13.1 million; Slavie Savings and Loan, Baltimore, assets of $36.5 million.
The action brought to 19 the number of formerly privately insured Maryland S&Ls to win that status, including Chevy Chase, which Tuesday became the first to win full protection of the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corp. (FSLIC).
Andrea Johnson, a spokeswoman for the board, said conditional approval means that the institutions have met the basic requirements for federal insurance, but that technical conditons remain to be met.
The eight additional savings and loans allowed to resume normal operations are: Cowenton Savings & Loan Association, White Marsh; Ellwood Permanent Building & Loan Association, Baltimore; Greater Baltimore Savings & Loan, Baltimore; Perry Hall Building & Loan Association, Baltimore; Spartan Building & Loan Association, Fallston; and three that previously won conditional approval from FSLIC: Vanguard Savings & Loan, Baltimore; Midstate Savings & Loan Association, Baltimore, and Kosciusko Permanent Loan & Savings, Baltimore.