An owner of a Prince George's County construction firm has laid off more than 125 workers from an $8 million office project since mid-May, and is placing the blame on Gov. Harry Hughes and the current savings and loan crisis.
Jerry Warder, a partner in Warder-Mona Inc., a construction contracting firm, said work had just begun on the project in Camp Springs when he was forced to lay off workers because Jim Fisher, the project owner, could no longer withdraw funds from Old Court Savings and Loan. The thrift had just been placed in conservatorship after a run by depositors. Warder and Fisher said no one at Old Court has fully explained why the funds are being held up.
In fact, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, who is overseeing the conservatorship of the beleaguered thrift, said yesterday that he knows of no reason for the thrift not to honor the contract.
"Nobody knows what's going on," Warder said. Out of frustration, Warder put up a sign at the deserted site of the Beech Road Industrial Complex asking Hughes when he can rehire his workers.
"It's ridiculous for this project to lie dormant," Warder said yesterday. "I've sent telegrams and letters to the governor and legislators, but no one is responding."
Yesterday, state government and Old Court officials were unavailable for comment on the matter. Ralph Campbell, an official from Chevy Chase Savings and Loan, the newly appointed managers for Old Court, said that he had just arrived and knew nothing about the construction company's problem.
"It's the state that's preventing us from going back to work," Warder said, explaining that when he asked Old Court officers why there was a hold on funds, he was told that state regulators, who have been overseeing the recent problems at Old Court, had placed a $1,000 limit on withdrawals.
Last evening, however, Kaplan, who placed new restrictions on Old Court last week when he handed over daily management of the thrift to officials from Chevy Chase Savings and Loan, said his order did not apply to existing Old Court contracts. While Kaplan said he was unfamiliar with Warder's project, he added, "As far as I know, the conservator for Old Court is honoring all of their commitments."
In fact, Kaplan's order last Friday included a clause giving the conservators "discretion to allow withdrawals from any account for the purpose of funding construction loans . . . under commitments existing on the day of this order . . . . "
Warder said he continues to be confused about who is making the decisions at Old Court and is angry that he has been given little in the way of explanation. "We're in hell over here and I've been listening for weeks to Old Court saying they will get it straight tomorrow," he said.
Late in 1984, Jim Fisher and Sons, owner of the property where the industrial park is going up, settled on a loan with Old Court. According to Fisher, about $3.5 million of the loan was placed in an escrow account at Union Trust Bank in Baltimore. At that time, Fisher also joined a limited partnership with Old Court under an agreement that the thrift would share in the profits when the project was completed.
In order to pay monthly construction costs, Fisher said he would send a requisition to Old Court, which would in turn take the necessary funds out of Union Trust and place it into the partnership account at Old Court so Fisher could draw from it. Fisher said the system worked smoothly for several months, then, in May, he sent in a $57,000 invoice for excavation costs. He waited the usual 10 days, then wrote a check for the same amount against the partnership account. The check bounced, and on May 17, Warder said, 125 laborers were sent home.
Fisher said Old Court officials told him that because of the governor's May 14 crackdown on withdrawals from savings and loans, "nobody could get out but $1,000 a month." He said he was told that he could not withdraw the money at Union Trust because under the conservatorship officials at Old Court could not authorize the release of the funds.
Now Fisher said he feels trapped and fears the entire project may go down the drain. "I'm going to end up losing everything," he said. CAPTION: Picture, Contractor Jerry Warder with sign he put up at site of stalled $8 million Camp Springs industrial complex. By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post