The state conservator of Community Savings and Loan said today it may be at least two years before depositors at the beleaguered Bethesda thrift gain full access to their money.
Melville S. Brown, the newly appointed director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), told members of the General Assembly that the financial crisis that prompted a state freeze on deposits "has the potential for dragging on for years."
Brown said that one of the state's long-term options is to create a system of "priority payments," under which consumers could recover their deposits over a period of months. "We're not sitting on a pile of cash," Brown said. "I don't think the public understands that."
Brown, flanked by three state government officials, appeared today before nine members of a House of Delegates committee, many of whom said they have been bombarded by complaints and questions from voters about the crisis that has paralyzed wide segments of Maryland's savings and loan industry since mid-May.
Rather than easing over time, despositor frustration with the crisis and the state's handling of it appears to be increasing, officials said. The staff of the state hot line for depositor complaints and inquiries fielded a record number of calls on Monday, a spokesman said.
George Rayburn, a hot line manager, said his Baltimore office answered 375 telephone calls in eight hours Monday. The calls focused "almost exclusively" on problems at Community, First Maryland Savings and Loan of Silver Spring and Old Court Savings and Loan of Baltimore, three of the four thrifts at the center of the crisis, Rayburn said. MDIF is the conservator for Community, Old Court and Merritt Commercial Savings and Loan of Baltimore.
Brown said the state government has "no liability" in the operations of Equity Programs Investment Corp. (EPIC), Community's faltering real estate investment arm.
"This issue is how much money Community loaned to EPIC," said Brown, who put that figure at roughly $70 million.
Brown and other state officials, who are being pressured by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge to allow limited access to Old Court deposits, declined to predict when they could allow such access for Community's 30,000 depositors.
"You have an obligation to say some date, whatever that date is," said Del. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard). "Justice delayed is justice denied, and that's true when you separate someone from their money," said Del. Diane Kirchenbauer (D-Montgomery).
Frederick L. Dewberry, who was acting MDIF director until last week, reacted angrily to the legislators' suggestion that the state was dragging its feet in resolving the savings and loan crisis. He added that the state hopes to allow limited access to Old Court deposits in less than two months.
"It's not a case of not understanding or not having concern for the depositors," Dewberry said heatedly. "We have another concern: the four million-plus taxpayers of this state who are going to pick up the bottom line when we tally it all up."
In other developments today, banking sources familiar with the negotiations on the planned sale of First Maryland to a Citicorp subsidiary said those talks have centered in part on a $7.5 million cash offer from the subsidiary.
These sources said the sale agreement would probably include a provision protecting First Maryland President Julian M. Seidel from any liability in previous transactions by his thrift association.
Profits for Seidel, as a major stockholder in First Maryland, could exceed $1 million if the sale to Citibank Maryland goes through, according to thrift industry sources.