The State of Maryland filed a $10 million lawsuit today against the former directors, officers and attorneys of the Ridgeway Savings and Loan Association, accusing them of "the gross mismanagement and plundering" of the Baltimore County thrift.
The suit, filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, is the fourth civil action brought by Maryland officials since the beginning of the state's savings and loan crisis more than a year ago.
Ridgeway, which has $16.2 million in assets and offices in Catonsville and Ellicott City, has been under state conservatorship since Dec. 13.
In a related development, the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund announced that the conservatorship was extended today by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge pending the sale of the thrift. State officials said they have a letter of intent from a prospective buyer, whom they declined to name.
The 67-page suit brought by the state accuses 14 defendants, including 12 current or former directors and officers, the thrift's law firm and a used car dealer, of "reckless" management of the thrift that benefited insiders and defrauded the association's 1,700 depositors.
"In almost every conceivable manner and in almost every transaction and aspect of Ridgeway's business, one or more of these defendants benefited at the expense of Ridgeway for personal gain, while the remaining defendants looked the other way," the suit charges.
The suit paints a picture of a savings and loan whose financial procedures were ludicrously lax, whose records were in hopeless disarray and whose deposits were used to benefit the business enterprises of insiders. One state official today called Ridgeway a "Keystone Cops" savings and loan.
The suit charges, for example, that Individual Retirement Account records were kept in a shopping bag "where they obviously had remained abandoned for months." In addition, the suit alleges that uncashed mortgage checks, some up to four months old, were discovered in the unlocked desk drawer of a former director when the state took over the association.
The thrift's operations were so "casual and sloppy," the suit charged, that tellers regularly "were allowed to decide how much cash they needed for their teller drawers each day, to write checks to themselves for the amount they determined, and to drive to a nearby bank, cash the checks, and obtain cash for their drawers."
According to the suit, the thrift lost well over $1 million because of its associations with two used car dealerships, one of which was half-owned by a former officer and director. The dealerships "made virtually no payments" on their large loans from the thrift, the suit charged, and secured auto loans for customers from Ridgeway without requiring either contracts or credit checks.
"The haphazard procedure that developed was for staff of the dealerships to call Ridgeway and give them the name of the consumer, the total loan amount, the type of car, and the name of the used car lot location," reads the suit. "On the basis of this information alone, Ridgeway personnel would issue a check to the dealer."
In addition, the suit alleges that the association on several occasions made loans to business entities in which directors had interests that far exceeded the thrift's total net worth. One such loan allegedly exceeded the association's net worth nine-fold.
Three separate boards of directors, concludes the suit, "permitted the 'owners' or principal players . . . to treat Ridgeway, its assets and its staff as their personal domains."
Two of the principal defendants in the suit, David L. Rouen and W. Walter Farnandis Jr., could not be reached for comment. A third, Robert B. Greenwalt, who served as the thrift's counsel as well as president and director at one time, said he had not seen the declaration and declined to comment.