A former bonded warehouseman for the Carter warehouse says that he and Billy Carter repeatedly altered records and pledged the same collateral twice in the spring of 1976 in an effort to conceal a $500,000 deficit in payments on a National Bank of Georgia loan.
The warehouseman, Jimmy Hayes, 31, worked for an independent company that was supposed to watch over NBG's collateral -- the peanuts stored in the warehouse.
But Hayes, in a series of interviews with The Washington Post, said that in addition to the $150 weekly salary he received from the company that bonded him he also collected as much as $350 a week from Billy Carter.
According to sources in the ware-housing industry and banking, this is not a common practice in the business. One industry source observed that such an arrangement could have created "a conflict of loyalties" between the bank, whose collateral Hayes was supposed to protect, and the warehouse.
Hayes also said Billy Carter arranged for a personal loan for him at a local bank for $2,500, gave him a several-hundred-dollar Christmas bonus, arranged for his housing and gave gifts to his wife and children.
"I always felt that I owed more to Billy than to the company," Hayes said. "I would do anything Billy told me to do."
A recent NBG audit disclosed that the Carter warehouse loan was in trouble in 1977, when President Carter's interest was held in a blind trust.
But Hayes' account dates the problems with the warehouse loan to 1976 and perhaps as early as 1975, when Jimmy Carter was running for president.
This is the first indication that questionable dealings in the warehouse took place before Jimmy Carter was elected president and his 63 percent interest in the warehouse was placed in the blind trust under Atlanta attorney and personal friend Charles Kirbo.
The warehouseman described an elaborate scheme to conceal from the bank and his own company, then the New York Terminal Co., the loss of collateral on the multimillion-dollar NBG loan he was charged with safeguarding. But Hayes, now employed in a car dealership and a part-time preacher in a small south Georgia town, said he does not believe the bank was fooled.
"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind. They had to know," said Hayes, who noted that the NBG loan officer in charge of the loan telephoned Billy Carter as often as three times a week.
The Carter warehouse loan was arranged by Bert Lance shortly after he became president of NBG in 1975. The largest loan on NBG's books, it began as a $3 million line of credit to finance the purchase of peanuts by the warehouse from farmers. As much as $3.7 million was borrowed off the line in 1976. And the peanuts purchased with the credit, in turn, secured the loan.
Under the terms of the loan, Hayes said, the peanuts were not to leave the Carter warehouse for shelling unless the bank was immediately repaid a portion of the loan.But according to Hayes, that provision was routinely violated.
Here is what Jimmy Hayes says happened:
"In just plain Georgia terms, I was guaranteeing when the peanuts left the warehouse I would pay the bank back," Hayes said.
Each day that peanuts were delivered by farmers and put into the warehouse, Hayes said, he wrote a warehouse receipt for them. Subsequently, on each day the peanuts left the warehouse for the sheller, the loan contract stipulated that Hayes was to send a check for $50,000 plus interest to NBG to reduce the loan.
Hayes said that not long after the loan was grated by NBG in 1975, the warehouse fell behind by about $100,000. For reasons that Hayes says are unclear to him, Billy began refusing to sign the $50,000 checks that were supposed to go to NBG. Still, Hayes says he continued releasing peanuts to the Carter Warehouse Co.'s sheller on Billy's orders. And instead of sending the checks each day to NBG, Hayes says, he put the unsigned checks and the forms he signed releasing the peanuts in his desk drawer.
"Billy was kind of a happy-go-lucky fellow," recalled Hayes. "He would assure me we wouldn't go to jail. I don't think that Billy knew the seriousness of it." Hayes quotes Billy as saying, "I'll sign the checks when I have time," and joking, "I'll let them put you in jail."
By late April or early May 1976, Hayes says, a four-inch stack of old warehouse releases and unsigned checks worth about half a million dollars had accumulated in his desk drawer. They remained there for six weeks, Hayes recalled.
The real difficulty, according to Hayes, was trying to catch up on the payments that lay in his desk. Because the loan contract provided for repayment in amounts of $50,000 each day peanuts moved, he said he feared that any increase in the daily payback would alert bank officials.Said Hayes: "I wasn't going to advertise I was behind."
Hayes said they devised several ways to catch up on the loans. One solution was to date the checks and releases on weekends holidays, rainy days and days the sheller was out of order. For instance, "July 4th helped me out," said Hayes.
Another solution, said Hayes, was "to erase the date on the original release form, then redate the release to a day when no peanuts left the warehouse. Then, the doctored release and check for $50,000 were sent to NGB.
But for all his efforts, Hayes said he believes that the bank had to know what was going on. One reason, said Hayes, was that the dates of some releases and checks were often as much as a month apart.
Hayes also said that Robert D. Flynt the NBG loan officer, often called and asked, "Are you showing this amount of peanuts on your records?" Hayes said the collateral figures cited by Flynt frequently varied from the warehouse records. He says he told the bank officer so.
Hayes said NBG was "carrying" the warehouse. "The bottom line," Hayes theorized, was that they were sure that Carter would become president, and "the president of the United States was going to pay his peanut debt."
Hayes also said Billy Carter often pledged the same collateral twice. Instead of making the $50,000 payments on the unshelled peanuts, Billy Carter sent them through the sheller, then repledged the same peanuts -- now shelled -- for another loan from NBG, according to Hayes. The proceeds from the new loans on the shelled peanuts often were used to make the peanuts often were used to make the overdue $50,000 payments on those same peanuts when they had shells, Hayes said.
Hayes said he did not know if Jimmy Carter, then actively campaigning for the presidency, was aware of the loan difficulties. But he said Jimmy Carter visited the warehouse dozens of times during the July 1975 to July 1976 period that Hayes was employed there.
He said Jimmy Carter never asked him about the loan or the peanuts that secured it.
Hayes said that when he quit on July 23, 1976, it was in part because of the personal pressures he felt from being behind on the NBG loan.
That day, he said, he called an inspector for the company that bonded him, New York Terminal Co. According to Hayes, he told the inspector, Franklin Tillman, that $500,000 worth of peanuts securing the NBG loan had left the warehouse in violation of the loan agreement.
Hayes said that, regardless of the value of the peanuts leaving the warehouse on a given day, the contract provided for a set amount of repayment of $50,000.
Church Yearly, an NBG outside director who conducted the recent audit, confirmed Hayes' description of the loan terms, that no peanuts were to leave the warehouse without an accompanying payment to the bank that same day.
Hayes said he strongly recommended that New York Terminal do a thorough audit of the Carter warehouse inventory. Tillman refused comment.
A fellow inspector at New York Terminal, who occasionally examined the Carter inventory, said he was unaware of any irregularities at the warehouse.
NYTCO has since changed its name to Collateral Control Corp. of St. Paul, Minn. Walter Richey, chairman of Collateral Control, refused to confirm whether an audit had been conducted or whether Hayes had recommended one.
"Everything in that file is a matter of confidential information derived from a business relationship," said Richey, whose company protects the loan collateral of some of the nation's biggest banks.
Richey later told The Washington Post that he had sent someone to check the Atlanta office records on the warehouse account, and said that several of Hayes' remarks were in direct conflict with what the records revealed. He declined, however, to mention any specific conflicts.
Billy Carter, in a recent interview, said that there was "no wrongdoing" with the Carter warehouse finances. Carter, who last week entered the Long Beach (Calif.) Naval Hospital's alcoholic unit, could not be reached for comment on Hayes' story.
Carter's personal physician and close friend, Dr. Paul Broun, places part of the blame for Billy's present illness on the investigation and barrage of press inquiries into warehouse finances. He said Billy has become "uptight and anxious."
In October, Billy Carter testified before the federal grand jury in Atlanta that has been investigating the banking affairs of Bert Lance. The FBI recently concluded a three-week probe of the Carter warehouse. Last week Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, responding to a Republican congressional inquiry about whether a special prosecutor should be appointed, said that the Justice Department would review the recently completed FBI report to determine if a broad investigation is warranted.
Hayes said that the FBI had never questioned him.
Hayes said that when he was first approached by The Washington Post, he called the White House to check out the reporter. He said a White House aide, Rex Granum, told Hayes that he had figured a reporter would get to him eventually. The spokesman advised him to "tell the truth," Hayes said.
A recent report by two outside directors of NBG, prepared as part of the settlement of a suit last April by the Securities and Exchange Commission, concluded that in 1977 the NBG officer, Flynt, held $500,000 worth of Carter warehouse checks without cashing them.
Flynt, now working in a Florida bank, repeatedly refused comment.
The report's findings indicate that in 1977 at least one bank officer knowingly allowed its collateral to be sold off by the warehouse without reducing the credit line as provided in the loan agreement.
According to the two directors, Church Yearly and Lindsey Hopkins III, Flynt held back depositing the checks because the Carter warehouse account did not have enough funds to cover the checks.
Flynt put the checks in his drawer, then deposited the oldest one of them whenever the Carter warehouse account had sufficient funds, the directors said.
When told about this, one top executive of a major bank in Atlanta said: "I would fire any loan officer who held just one check." But the same executive added that he also felt sympathy for Flynt. "At our bank we do our best to insulate loan officers from such pressures," he said.
According to the outside directors, Flynt's books at NBG in 1977 were constantly at variance with those of Collateral Control. Finally, just before he quit NBG in the summer of 1977, Flynt reportedly got the two sets of books to agree. But one of the outside directors, Yearly, said neither he nor anyone else at NBG could understand Flynt's calculations.
The two outside directors said they had been asked specifically by the SEC to find out if money had gone to help pay off Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign expenses. They said in their report: "We have found no evidence that the proceeds of these loans were, at least to the knowledge of anyone at NBG, used outside the Carter peanut business."
According to Hayes, the withholding of funds reached its peak in late April or early May of 1976. This was the time when Jimmy Carter was struggling to finance his bid for the Democratic nomination. He took out sizeable loans at a number of other Georgia banks that spring to help defray growing expenses. But federal investigators reportedly have found no evidence that any of the NBG loan money that went to the warehouse was diverted to the campaign.
But the dealings between NBG and the Carter warehouse raise other legal questions, according to several banking experts interviewed in the preparation of this article. They say that the allegations by Hayes and by the outside directors in their report suggests there may have been criminal violations of the federal banking laws in 1976 and 1977.
They say that the failure to deposit checks that would have bounced could amount to false entry on the bank's books. This could also be interpreted as an effort to deceive bank examiners who review the bank's loans, they said.
A warehousing executive also said that altering warehouse receipt records may have constituted fraud on Collateral Control Corp. Moreover, it could also have jeopardized the $1 million bond that assured the National Bank of Georgia that collateral control would cover any missing collateral up to that amount.
Bert Lance, reached in his Calhoun, Ga., office, said, "Under any set of circumstances, if I came across any falsification I would have turned it over to the proper authorities." He said he denied putting any pressure on bank loan officers regarding the Carter warehouse loan.
A Justice Department source familiar with the FBI's study of the Carter warehouse finance confirmed yesterday that Hayes had not been interviewed. "The FBI mandate was to conduct a preliminary inquiry. They don't contend they talked to everyone... If this bears further looking into, I'm sure the bureau would love to talk to Mr. Hayes," this source said.
Presidential press secretary Jody Powell, traveling in the Middle East, said the White House would have no immediate comment.
John Parks, Billy Carter's attorney in Americus, Ga., refused to comment on Hayes' story.