An investigation by the comptroller of the currency released yesterday cleared budget director Bert Lance of any criminal wrongdoing in his complex personal financial dealings, but outlined a number of questionable banking and borrowing practices while Lance headed two Georgia banks before coming to Washington.
"We do not believe the information developed to date in the inquiry warrants the prosecution of any individuals," Comptroller John G. Heimann, whose office regulates national banks, concluded in a letter to Congress accompanying the detailed 56-page report and two thick volumes of exhibits.
At the same time, the report details a pattern of large personal loans obtained by Lance from banks where his own banks opened or maintained correspondent balances, including a $150,000 loan from the Chemical Bank of New York, where the comptroller says there appeared to be a quid pro quo.
"This recurring pattern of shifting bank relationships and personal borrowing raises unresolved questions as to what constitutes acceptable banking practice," said Heimann, who said he wondered whether in the future "to require public disclosure of such practices or other remedial action."
The summary also charges that Lance failed to file reports, as required by federal banking rules, on his outside business interests, personal borrowing and the borrowing of affiliates while he as a bank president.
And it cites repeated overdrafts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars by his wife LaBelle, other relatives and friends between 1972 and 1975 at the Calhoun First National Bank when Lance was the chief executive officer there. The practice was stopped only after examiners from the comptroller's office intervened.
Several areas remain unresolved, according to the report, and investigations that the National Bank of Georgia may not have kept proper books on Lance's personal and political use of the bank's corporate airplane.
Another area focuses on whether officials of the comptroller's office followed proper procedures when investigations into the matter of the overdrafts were closed just before Lance was nominated to be director of the Office of Management and Budget last fall.
One of these officials is believed to be Robert Bloom, acting comptroller at the time Lance was nominated and confirmed by the Senate, and currently deputy comptroller of the currency.
The Internal Revenue Service is handling this probe, since it involves the comptroller's staff, and the results will not be available for several weeks, the report says.
The report is careful to address only matters that are within the regulatory responsibility of the banking agency, and does not pass judgments on the propriety or morality of the Lance transactions it details.
Heimann, in his cover letter to Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, which confirmed Lance, stressed that the report "has not dealth with matters which fall outside of the general jurisdiction of his office."
A major part of the report deals with a number of large loans Lance obtained from banks where the National Bank of Georgia had correspondent accounts. A smaller bank frequently establishes a correspondent relationship with a large bank in another city and maintains a balance in an interest-free account to take care of check clearing and others services provided to its customers.
It is, however, considered to be a misapplication of bank funds if the correspondent account serves as a quid pro quo so a bank officer can obtain a loan at preferential interest rates, while the bank which deposits the funds doesn't get commensurate services.
The comptroller's report is inconclusive on a $2.6 million loan Lance obtained from the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. of New York in 1975 so he could purchase his 21 per cent share of NBG stock. The transaction took place one month before NBG opened a correspondent account with Manufacturers Hanover.
"There is some documentary and circumstanial evidence suggesting the possibility that a 20 per cent compensating balance from NBG was a condition of the loan to Mr. Lance" from Manufacturers Hanover, according to the report, but added that both Lance and the bank's officials denied under oath that an arrangement existed or was even discussed.
The report, however, traces in detail the steps leading to the loan and the establishment of the correspondent account. And the documentation indicates that the bankers at Manufacturers Hanover fully expected Lance to switch his bank's correspondent business in New York to them after they made him his personal loan.
"Balances of 20 per cent of the facility will be maintained in a National Bank of Georgia account," one bank officer wrote in a memorandum approving Lance's loan application, "and we anticiapte in addition, having all the New York activity for the bank flow through this account yielding balances up to $1 million on a monthly average."
And the interest rate spread, which determines how much a bank earns on a loan, was calculated by Manufacturers Hanover in the case of Lance loan on the basis of a 20 per cent balance on the basis of a 20 per cent balance in the NBG correspondent account, which hadn't even been established.
Furthermore, the comptroller's report contains a memo from an officer of Citibank, where NBG previously had a correspondent relationship in New York and where Lance went first for his loan but was turned down.
The memo, supposedly written after the Citibank officer talked with an account officer of Manufacturers Hanover at a Georgia bankers convention a few weeks after Lance got his loan, states that, as a result of the loan to Lance, Manufacturers "will get the New York correspondent relationship as part of the deal." That switch took place soon afterward.
The comptroller's report on Lance's $150,000 loan from the Chemical Bank, which was repaid just before Lance assumed his budget director's post, raised other questions.
"It appears that Chemical became a correspondent bank of NBC in part because Chemical lent money to Mr. Lance" and to a company owned by a Daniel B. Pattillo, another major shareholder in NBG, according to the report.
But it added that "no evidence" was found that the loans were made at a preferential interest rate as a result of the correspondent balance and concluded "there appears to be no violation of the application laws and regulations" pertaining to national banks.
Daniel Pattillo's family owns Gwinett Industries, Inc., and he approached Chemical to borrow $3 million in the company's name so he could buy a 25 per cent interest in NBG. An interoffice memo at Chemical encouraged the loan and cited the "probability of an account from NBG" as a reason for making it.
The report also notes that Pattillo consulted with his borther, Patrick Pattillo, who is chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Pattillo and Lance, in buying into NBG, had said they were planning to turn the bank into a holding company, a matter that would eventually have to go to the Federal Reserve Board for approval.
And an interoffice memo at Chemical dated Dec. 13, 1976, from a lending officer to R. D. S. Bryan, an executive vice president of the bank, takes note of the importance of Lance's upcoming job in the Carter administration and of his close relationship with the then President-elect Carter.
"It is quite evident that Lance will be a very active and close adviser to Carter," the memo said, and concluded:
"We will certainly keep you abreast of any development regarding this relationship as this is undoubtedly a very important contact for us over the next four years."
The report also surveys numerous other loans Lance obtained from banks that had correspondent relationships with either NBG or Calhoun First, but said no apparent violations of banking laws occurred here either.
When Lance ran unsuccessfully for the 1974 Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nomination, his campaign committee's two checking accounts maintained at the Calhoun bank were regularly overdrawn, the comptroller reported.
In December, 1975, the board of directors agreed in writing "to cease allowing the campaign committee to overdraw its account."
The comptroller's investigation of campaign overdrafts had been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, and the comptroller's report concluded "a criminal referral was appropriate."
The case was terminated by the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta just before Lance was named OMB director. It was found to be "unprosecutable," a decision by the U.S. attorney that was reviewed and upheld by his superiors in Washington.
The report also describes hundreds of thousands of dollars of overdrats on the Calhoun bank between Jan. 1, 1972, and January, 1976, by Lance, his wife, relatives and friends.
The bank, according to the report, "automatically approved NSF [not sufficient funds] checks for all directors, officers, employees and their families."
Mrs. Lance's account was generally overdrawn "in the $25,000 to $110,000 range," the report said.
The report said that at times Lance's personal overdrafts "exceeded the limits on extensions of credit to bank executive officers."
Calling the overdrafts "unsafe and unsound banking practices," the comptroller in December, 1975, put a halt to overdrafts by Lance, other directors, their families, friends, and associates.
The formal written agreement, which might have been embarrassing to Lance if it had come out at his confirmation hearings, was terminated on Nov. 22, 1976. The report does not deal with questions raised by the timing of this decision to end the comptroller's oversight of the bank's accounts.
The comptroller's report raises troublesome securities questions, especially with the Securities Exchange Commission already looking at the financial reports of Lance's two banks.
The report said: "On the basis of the information presently available, [the comptroller's office] cannot determine whether the extensions of credit to directors, officers and others disclosed in Calhoun annual meeting proxy statements included those extensions of credit which were in the form of overdrafts."
The report also rasises questions as to whether Calhoun fully disclosed the overdrafts, which are actually loans, to the stockholders of the bank. This is significant because the Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing the financial statements of Lance's two banks.
The report also cites 50 instances in which Lance failed to file any of the federally required statements with his bank directors on personal outside loans and business interests. It also says that Lance filed incomplete reports in six cases.
There are no penalties for violation of this federal statute, Section 12 of the U.S. Code.
Another memo, written on April 16, 1975, by Thomas A. Gerwin of Manufacturers Hanover, speaks to the same point:
"For the records, Citibank is currently the National Bank of Georgia's principal New York correspondent, and although it was not promised to us today, one would assume that should we make this loan we would undoubtedly be receiving significant new business from the bank."