THERE IS NO assurance that even one cent of the $6.5 million in Latin Investment Corp. deposits will be recovered from that bankrupt company or its officers. But thanks to an enthusiastic response from the legal, business and nonprofit communities and the vigorous intervention of the Securities Exchange Commission, Latin Investment's 3,000 mainly Hispanic immigrant depositors are no longer alone in their search for justice and a decent remedy. In the few weeks since Murray Drabkin agreed to serve as bankruptcy trustee and called for help, two law firms have signed on, and the Arthur Andersen accounting firm has dispatched six accountants to work full-time -- from 8 a.m. until late at night they have been poring over Latin Investment's books and records, all without charge.
Thus far, they've found as many as 20 apartment buildings owned and occupied by Latin Investment. They also discovered unpaid fuel bills and tenants without heat. A retired government worker who is a full-time legal volunteer purchased 500 gallons of heating oil for the apartment -- with his own money -- until the trustee's recovery effort could locate money from Latin Investment interests to reimburse him. The trustee is now scrambling to find funds to pay security guards and to cover bills for utilities and insurance, since rental income doesn't fully cover costs. The enormous problem of locating Latin Investment assets and reducing them to money for the depositors is being undertaken pro bono; the value of this effort is estimated at $25,000 a day.
The effort could be helped by a class action suit, filed by attorneys representing the depositors, that seeks to recover assets of Latin Investment officers. Similarly, an SEC temporary restraining order freezing the assets of Latin Investment officers should boost recovery prospects. Most of the depositors are thought to be here illegally, but they are now eligible for temporary clemency from U.S. immigration laws. There is reason to find reassurance in the SEC's involvement in the case. It gives the depositors as an ally a U.S. government agency, which is trying to freeze assets in El Salvador on their behalf.