First Maryland Savings and Loan, a Silver Spring thrift where deposits are frozen, was told this week it must raise $39 million in order to obtain federal insurance and is negotiating with two wealthy Washington area builders who have offered $10 million to take over the association.
First Maryland is continuing talks with builders Sidney J. Brown and Saul Bernstein. The $39 million requirement represents a substantial hurdle for the thrift, which is operating under a state-imposed ban on withdrawals and government pressure to join the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. (FSLIC) by the end of the year or face a state conservatorship.
FSLIC protection for First Maryland, whose negotiations for a takeover by a Citicorp subsidiary collapsed last month, is central to Gov Harry Hughes' efforts to extricate the state from a six-month-old savings and loan crisis in the $9 billion industry. Hughes told two New York bond rating services on Tuesday that Maryland's net losses may be $93 million, a figure far lower than some industry experts have predicted. Hughes said he may put $50 million in the state operating budget next year to help defray that cost.
Meanwhile, Wilbur D. Preston Jr., a lawyer who is investigating the origins of the thrift crisis at the request of Hughes, has recommended to the governor that he tighten the state government's regulation of savings and loans by an emergency executive order.
Though the offer to First Maryland by Brown and Bernstein would improve the thrift's financial picture, it still would need an infusion of millions of dollars from the state to win federal insurance, according to sources familiar with the industry.
There is also some question whether control of the thrift by Brown and Bernstein would be acceptable to federal regulators, who regard the soundness of an institution's management as a critical barometer of its fiscal health. Several state government sources have said federal examiners already are insisting that First Maryland President Julian Seidel sever his connection with the association as a condition of federal insurance.
Brown, a multimillionaire developer and owner of commercial real estate in the Washington area, has a colorful history that has already caught the eye of federal examiners. In 1969, Brown was given a 60-day jail term for failing to provide heat in the Clifton Terrace Apartments he owned, a sentence that was later voided by the D.C. Court of Appeals. In 1971, Brown paid a $5,000 fine for 1,200 housing code violations at Clifton Terrace, located in Northwest Washington.
Bernstein has a longstanding personal and professional relationship with Seidel, according to the two men. In 1972, Seidel and Bernstein founded Willowdale Associates, Inc., a firm that developed apartments in Frederick County and between 1981 and 1983 received nearly $2.4 million in financing assistance from First Maryland and a subsidiary of the thrift.
Brown, in a telephone interview today, claimed that "an undercurrent of opposition from the state" has threatened to undermine his effort to take control of First Maryland. Brown charged that at least one of the federal officials who examined First Maryland's books had been led to believe by unnamed state officials that he and Bernstein were "not suitable" to take over the thrift.
"There is a criticism in the sense of our character," said Brown, who said his main goal is to "rescue First Maryland."
Alan S. Kerxton, First Maryland's executive vice president, declined comment about the association's most recent talks with Brown, which took place this morning. Nor would Kerxton confirm that the savings association needs $39 million to meet the key FSLIC hurdle.
Kerxton did say, though, that he, Seidel and other First Maryland officers "have rolled up our sleeves to make a diligent effort to obtain conditional FSLIC" protection. "We have reasonable prospects of reaching that goal, but no assurances we will."
First Maryland, which along with Old Court and Community Savings and Loan is still crippled by the crisis that began in May, reported in September that its $443 million in assets in May had decreased to $397 million, a $46 million loss.
Most of that loss occurred before the state granted First Maryland a 60-day ban on most withdrawals last August. The ban was renewed three weeks ago for another 60 days. One First Maryland source said the association is drafting a plan to allow limited withdrawals in hardship cases.
Brown said that in addition to the $10 million he and Bernstein offered Seidel, First Maryland's president has pledges from other sources for an additional $5 million. The state government, under a program enacted after the crisis began last spring, could make about $9 million available to First Maryland in the form of bond anticipation notes. Those notes would be a kind of IOU from the thrift to the government.
In addition, the state could make a one-time cash contribution to First Maryland, as it did last week when it gave Chase Manhattan Corp. $25 million to acquire the distressed Merritt Commercial Savings & Loan of Baltimore.
In a related development, H.G.B. Construction Co. of New York City was announced today as the winning bidder to acquire Merritt's $38 million skyscraper in downtown Baltimore. The firm will pay $31.1 million for the building.
Preston, the special counsel, recently urged Hughes to close existing "loopholes" in state regulations that have permitted some thrift officers to make lucrative "insider" loans to themselves and also receive exorbitant fees for performing routine work. Preston said Maryland needs "absolute and unequivocal" requirements that thrift owners and officers not abuse their duties.