A group representing thousands of Maryland savings and loan depositors accused Gov. Harry Hughes yesterday of lying about problems in the thrift industry earlier this year and called for a federal investigation into the state's handling of the five-month-old thrift crisis.
In a statement, the Maryland Savings and Loan Depositors Committee, which claims to represent 5,000 people with money in three crippled savings associations, said that "despite his knowledge of the self-dealing and the corruption in that industry as early as October 1984, he Hughes has lied to the citizens of Maryland.
"We hold Gov. Hughes fully responsible for the current crisis," said the committee, which called for "federal intervention and investigation" of Maryland's continuing thrift industry crisis.
The committee's statement followed a Washington Post report yesterday that a trusted adviser to Hughes had warned the governor seven months before the collapse of Old Court Savings & Loan that "self-dealing" by several "high-flying" thrifts threatened the fabric of that industry and could spell disaster for the state government.
In a memorandum dated Oct. 5, 1984, George W. Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer who was then serving as a consultant to the governor on other issues, said that the "extreme permissiveness" of Maryland regulations had allowed some thrifts to engage in "an extraordinary amount of self-dealing."
The Liebmann memo contradicts earlier assertions by Hughes and his aides that it was not until early May -- just prior to the Old Court collapse -- that senior administration officials first learned about the shakiness of state savings and loans. The problems at the Baltimore thrift triggered runs at other privately insured savings associations in Maryland.
In an interview in his Annapolis office late Friday, the governor stressed that it was not until May 2 that he was "really made aware" of self-dealing by savings and loan officers.
"All I can say is, we did refer it to the regulators and they came back with no alarm being sounded," said Hughes, referring to Liebmann's memo and the concerns it raised.
Lou Panos, the governor's press secretary, yesterday echoed Hughes, saying, "The governor got an indication of problems in the Liebmann memo, and to say he didn't investigate is to ignore the truth. He got back a reply that said there was no cause for alarm."
Frederick L. Dewberry, the cabinet secretary who supervises the regulatory Division of Savings and Loan Associations, said in a telephone interview yesterday that after reviewing Liebmann's memo last year -- and the division's reply -- he informed the governor's staff director that he was prepared to meet Liebmann to discuss it.
"The direction was coming out of the governor's office, and we were ready to take that direction," said Dewberry. "But there was no further discussion, and we did not meet with George."
John McHale, a cochairman of the depositors committee, said the Liebmann memo "shows that the governor is so much a part of the problem that he can't possibly provide a solution."
McHale, whose elderly mother has $100,000 tied up in a crippled thrift, said he wants a federal agency, possibly the Federal Reserve, to investigate the Hughes administration's handling of the thrift crisis.
A special counsel -- appointed by Hughes in June -- is already investigating the crisis. But McHale said that counsel cannot be truly independent.
"He was charged by the governor to do his job and serves at the governor's pleasure," said McHale. "We need the federal authorities to look into the great bank robbery of Maryland."