Gov. Harry Hughes today closed legal loopholes that allowed officers of some of Maryland's largest savings and loans to funnel millions of depositor dollars to themselves, plunging the associations and the state into a severe financial crisis last May.
Hughes' order, which is aimed at preventing so-called insider loans, excessive fees to thrift officers and other risky practices, came on the six-month anniversary of the day when state officials finally decided to force Old Court Savings and Loan of Baltimore into government conservatorship.
That action, one milestone in a savings and loan crisis that crippled several thrifts and froze funds for thousands of depositors, was largely prompted by disclosures that Old Court principals had engaged in a variety of questionable practices between 1983 and this year.
Today, with Old Court in state receivership, a condition similar to bankruptcy, Hughes moved to end such practices for good, saying new restrictions were needed to "protect the welfare of depositors."
The regulations, issued under emergency powers granted to Hughes by the General Assembly in May, also incorporate federal rules and new state safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest among thrift officers and directors and "unjustifiable" payments. Another regulation is aimed at preventing thrift officials from using overdrafts of NOW accounts as "unsecured interest-free loans."
The executive order also changes the definition of "affiliate, parent and subsidiary" companies of savings and loans to prohibit thrift officers from using dummy subsidiaries to enrich themselves.
The new regulations were suggested by Wilbur D. Preston Jr., a Baltimore lawyer who is investigating the origins of the thrift crisis for Hughes and the legislature.
Also today, Hughes met for two hours with nine members of a new legislative committee that monitors the state's progress in coping with the crisis.
House of Delegates Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) said he and other legislators had urged Hughes to quickly devise a plan to distribute at least some funds to all depositors at three thrifts where money is still frozen, Old Court, Community of Bethesda and First Maryland of Silver Spring.
Cardin said he is confident that the Hughes administration will issue such a plan by the end of the year, but the governor has said only that he intends to present the general distribution formula after the legislature convenes in January.
Meanwhile, a Washington area builder who planned to inject $10 million into First Maryland in return for control of the association said publicity about his ownership of a District apartment complex in the 1960s may have killed negotiations on the takeover of the thrift.
Sidney J. Brown, who was cited back then for hundreds of housing violations at the Clifton Terrace apartments in Northwest Washington, said a recent Washington Post report about those infractions "has got to affect my acceptance" by federal officials as a possible new owner of First Maryland.
The report "has created an atmosphere in which I just don't want to go out and lend $10 million, which is a risky loan anyhow," said Brown. "It's bound to hurt the depositors and deprive these poor slobs of their money."
In other developments, lawyers working on the Old Court receivership identified the two sets of projects that Jeffrey A. Levitt, the former president of the thrift, will attempt to refinance in a cooperative effort with the state government.
Levitt will try to raise cash by selling loans that Old Court issued to Rockville builder William S. Bach. Bach received $58 million from Old Court to help finance 17 real estate projects in Maryland, Georgia and Florida, according to lawyers for the state agency that controls the Old Court.
Levitt, the target of a federal-state investigation into alleged criminal misconduct at Old Court, also will try to refinance several ventures involving time-sharing in Eastern Shore condominiums.