Federal bank examiners are engaged in a new dispute with the First National Bank of Calhoun, Ga., over Officer of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance's check-writing practices, the president of the bank confirmed yesterday.
The president, John Davis, said last night the bank examiners believe his bank is continuing to permit Lance to overdraw his personal checking account there, in violation of an earlier agreement to cease overdrafts to Lance.
The bank heatedly disagrees, Davis said.
The Washington Post learned yesterday that federal investigators believe that Lance has been shuffling checks between accounts in the Calhoun bank and the National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta.
Federal examiners say they believe they have evidence that the value of checks outstanding on these two accounts has sometimes exceeded the funds on deposit in both, two independent sources have said.
These sources said that Lance appeared to have overdrawn his account counts by amounts totaling tens of thousands of dollars in recent months, while serving as OMB director.
These overdrafts are new ones. not found in the original investigation of Lance's affairs by the comptroller of the currency, these sources said.
Davis, president of the Calhoun bank, and William E. Greene Jr., executive vice president of NBG in Atlanta, both denied this last night.
In addition, Alex Smith, an Atlanta lawyer who represents Lance, confirmed yesterday that within the last few days he contacted an official he would not name in the comptroller's office after hearing of possible new allegations involving check overdrafts. Smith said he was told "there were no new charges" and that he would be informed if new charges were going to be made.
Davis said "there has never been an occasion" when he could not cover a check Lance had written on his Calhoun account. The Calhoun bank covers many Lance checks by telephoning the NBG in Atlanta and asking for a transfer of funds from Lance's account there, Davis said.
Green of NBG said: "I'm not aware of any time his (Lance's) account was overdrawn." He said he had not examined Lance's statement recently, and "it would take more than a newspaper story to cause me to pull (examine) it," but Green insisted he would be informed if Lance's account had been significantly overdrawn.
Lance was chairman of the Calhoun bank until early 1975. when he became president of the NBG.
Both bankers said last night that bank examiners had returned to their institutions last week for further examinations of their records of Lance's banking practices.
Sources with access to the workings of the Calhoun bank and the renewed federal investigation of Lance's affairs disputed the assertion that no serious overdrafts had occured in recent months.
These sources said it appeared that Lance was exploiting the several days it takes for a check written on one of these two banks to clear the other one to raise what amounts to interest-free loans.
And in some cases the sources alleged, Lance exploited this arrangement to write checks worth more than he had in both banks combined - in effect "kiting" checks, which would be illegal,
The sources said this was how Lance has been using the two accounts:
He writes a check on the Calhoun bank that goes back to Calhoun for payment. If cashing the check would cause his account there to be overdrawn, a person in the Calhoun bank who has a checkbook on Lance's National Bank of Georgia account writes a check from that book and deposits it in Calhoun to avoid the overdraft.
That check then proceeds through the check-clearing system back to Atlanta - which takes several days at least. Sometimes, the sources said, there have been sufficient funds in Atlanta to cover checks of this kind. But on other occasions. the sources said. Lance's account in Atlanta did not have enough money to pay the check, so that account became overdrawn.
The executives of the too banks gave a different explanation for the complicated system. They said Lance wrote checks on Calhoun which sometimes exceeded his cash balance there. When this happened, they both said, an employee of the Calhoun bank telephoned the Atlanta bank and asked for a deposit from Lance's account there to cover the check.
Why didn't Lance just write the checks on the Atlanta bank in the first place? Davis of the Calhoun bank was asked, He replied:
"Bert Lance grew up here, he's always taken his checks to the Calhoun National Bank, he's always done that no matter where in the world he was."
Green of NBG answered the same question: "I can't tell you why except he feels closer to the Calhoun bank, but he keeps his money in NBG."
White House spokesman Jody Powell said of this arrangement last night: "It's Bert's understanding and the banks'understanding that this was being handled in a perfectly proper way."
Davis of the Calhoun bank said the dispute with bank examiners was a technical one. According to him, the bank believes that the uniform commercial code grants it 24 hours in which to decide how to deal with a check it receives for payment - whether to pay or bounce it. Davis said the transfers from Atlanta to cover Lance if he writes a check exceeding his balance in Calhoun are arranged within that 24 hours.
Field examiners dispute that interpretation. Davis said. Two lawyers for the bank said the comptroller of the currency in Washington, John G. Heimann, has not taken a position in the dispute.
The other sources with access to the renewed federal investigation dispute this benign interprotation of the situation. They say Lance appears to have committed serous, previously unpublicized transgressions.
A formal agreement between the office of the comptroller of the currency and the Calhoun bank went into effect Dec. 2, 1975, prohibiting "any overdrafts on any accounts maintained in the bank by T. Bertram Lance" and other family members and associates.
The agreement with the comptroller's Office was terminated on Nov. 22, 1976. shortly before Lance was nominated budget director by his friend , Jimmy Carter.
The reason given for the termination was that the comptroller's Office was satisfied that the overdrafts had been stopped.
In his recent report on Lance's finances, Comptroller Heimann detailed overdrafts between 1972 and 1975 amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The report said, "The overdrafts permitted to bank directors. officers and their families (including Mr. Lance) by Calhoun congtituted unsafe and unsound banking return to the game.
But it also stated that during 1976 "Calhoun's policies. procedures and practices concerning overdrafts were corrected in keeping with the terms of the formal written agreement executed under the terms of the Financial Institution Supervisory Act of 1966 on Dec. 2, 1975."
Lance was also the subject of a criminal referral from the comptroller to the Justice Department in 1975 because of overdrafts by his campaign committee on Calhoun to help finance his unsuccessful bid for the Georgia gubernatorial nomination in 1974.
Though Heimann. in his report, said the referral was "appropriate," the U.S. attorney in Atlanta decided. after the referral was in his office for nine months. that it was not prosecutable. The case was dropped just days before Lance was nominated by Carter.
Sources here say the new discovery came last week when examiners from the comptroller's office were in the Calhoun bank seeking answers to some areas left vague in the recent report