A federal grand jury accused Bert Lance and three close associates today of repeatedly violating U.S. banking laws in an intricate conspiracy to obtain illegally hundreds of loans totaling more than $20 million.
The grand jurors charged that the conspiracy began in 1970 and continued through Lance's nine-month tenure as President Carter's budget director up to the time of the indictment.
The grand jury said the four men illegally obtained 383 loans for themselves their families and associates from 41 banks stretching from Atlanta to New York and Chicago and from there to Luxembourg and Hong Kong.
According to the 71-page indictment, Lance and his colleagues showed a "reckless disregard for the safety of the banks" that extended them credit when there was "no reasonable expectation of repayment."
The charges portray Lance as a man who for years treated publicly owned banks as his own personal preserves without regard for federal regulations.
According to the grand jury, much of the $20 million was used to repay prior loans, indicating a constant pattern of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. But the funds also were allegedly used to repay overdrafts at the Calhoun bank, to supplement personal income and to buy up the stock of various other banks.
Indicted with Lance were his former trustee, Thomas M. Mitchell, who handled Lance's business affairs while he was in Washington; Richard T. Carr, a onetime banking associate of Lance, and H. Jackson Mullins, a former Calhoun, Ga., druggist who allegedly lent his name to a variety of Lance's financial manipulations.
The 23-member grand jury returned the indictment early this afternoon sitting through it at the U.S. Courthouse here for 2 1/2 days. The investigation of Lance and his associates began early in 1978.
Lance, 47, and his collegues are expected to arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Allen L. Chancey Jr. Thursday morning.
Once regarded as the second most powerful man in government, Lance professed his innocence in a statement released by his lawyers and said he was confident of vindication. He said the charges had been lodged "under enormous pressure from the media."
All four defendants were charged with conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Lance was also charged with 21 other felonies, including misapplication of bank funds as president of the National Bank of Georgia and the First National Bank of Calhoun, falsification of personal financial statements and making false entries on NBG records.
Carr was accused in nine other counts of misapplying the funds of the Northwest Georgia Bank in Ringgold, which he once headed. He was charged with two counts of making false statements to banks in connection with personal loans, and with one count of making a false entry in Northwest Georgia Bank records.
Mitchell faces one count of making false entries on the records of the Northwest Bank, where he was a member of the board of directors.In addition, he was charged with Carr in three misapplication counts involving loans to Lance and his family, and in seven other counts involving false statements to banks and the removal of collateral for Lance's benefit.
Mullins was indicted on four counts of misapplying bank loans he got from Lance and on two counts of making false statements to banks.
Convictions for misapplication of bank funds and for making false entries on bank records carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The maximum penalty for submitting false statements to federally insured or regulated banks is two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The indictment indicates that Lance, Carr and Mitchell used their positions in a few small Georgia banks to acquire the stock of still other banks by lending each other money without adequate collateral and, in some cases, no collateral at all.
The banks they were said to have controlled or influenced included the National Bank of Georgia, Calhoun First National, the Northwest Georgia Bank, the Cohutta Banking Co. of Chatsworth, Ga., and the First State Bank of Gilmer County in Elijay, Ga.
The indictment recites a litany of 218 overt acts in futherance of the alleged conspiracy. Among them:
In 1974 and 1975, Lance "caused Calhoun First National Bank" to make a total of $79,530 in unsecured loans to his son, David Lance. David was then a 20-year-old student.
On June 24, 1974, Mitchell wrote a check for $200,000 payable to Lancelot, an alleged partnership with Bert and LaBelle Lance as sole partners. The check was drawn on a Calhoun bank account that had a balance of $97.21. The next day, to help cover the $200,000 check, Lance, Carr and Mitchell arranged a $100,000 loan to Mitchell from another bank they controlled.
On May 27, 1976, Lance got a $150,000 loan from the Chemical Bank of New York, putting up 14,811 shares of stock as collateral. However, that stock was already pledged as part of the collateral of another loan Lance had, this one for $2.6 million from the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. of New York.
The grand jury and one that preceded it have been investigating Lance and his associates since January 1978. The inquiry was carried out by an interagency task force led by Justice Department attorney Edwin Tomko.
With reporters peering in an open doorway, grand jury foreman Fletcher Carter presented the indictment at 1:38 p.m. to Magistrate Chancey, who said it seemed to be in order and would be received by the court.
In his statement, Lance said: "This experience has been one of disillusionment and profound shock for me and the members of my family."
He predicted that "No jury will find me guilty." Lance asked the public to "reserve their decision on this matter until the time when I can satisfactorily prove my innocence and clear my good name."
Mullins, 50, told reporters, "Apparently my crime is being a good friend of Bert Lance and a supporter of Jimmy Carter . . . I have never been accused of being a criminal, and I resent these Washington lawyers accusing me now."
Mitchell, 43, said he was "not at all surprised that the Washington bureaucrats have indicted me."
"When Bert Lance started to reorganize the federal bureaucracy, it was like throwing a rock into a hornets' nest," he said. Washington attorneys started to swarm, he said. Like Lance, Mitchell predicted that "a trial by a jury of my peers will reject the charges."
Carr, the fourth defendant, declined to comment.
Dealing with Lance's activities after the president chose him to be budget director, the indictment alleges that Lance repeatedly used a "false and misleading" personal financial statement to obtain loans, including one for $3.4 million from the First National Bank of Chicago.
That same financial statement, dated Jan 7, 1977, was also submitted to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which confirmed his appointment to head the White House Office to Management and Budget later that month.
In one illustration of the statement's shortcomings, the indictment says it failed to mention a $14,000 loan that the National City Bank of Rome, Ga., had made to Lance's wife, La-Belle.
After he became budget director, the grand jury said, Lance got the Rome bank to transfer the loan from his wife's name to Lancelot, which was described as an alleged partnership consisting of Lance and his wife.
The indictment said Lance continued to carry on personal business dealings after he became budget director, although his financial affairs had supposedly been placed in a blind trust run by Mitchell.
For example, the grand jury said that on Feb. 25, 1977, more than a month after he took office, Lance borrowed $10,650 from the city and county bank of Knox County, Tenn. This was to repay an earlier loan from another Tennessee bank that Lance got on Sept. 15, 1976, to buy stock in the National Bank of Georgia, according to the indictment.
The indictment also spells out a chain of loans that the defendants, their families and friends enjoyed, with older debts simply being replaced by new ones.
For instance, on June 23, 1977, Mitchell, as Lance's trustee, borrowed $60,000 from the United American Bank of Knoxville to make a mortgage payment on Lance's 50-room Atlanta mansion and to pay federal income taxes.
Then, on July 5, 1977, Mitchell borrowed $60,130 from the United American Bank of Walker County, Tenn., to repay the principal and interest on the June 23 loan, the grand jury said.
According to the government, part of the conspiracy was Lance's recent loan from Arab financial sources. On Jan. 4, 1978, Lance "caused the transfer of $3,563,999.13 from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Luxembourg, to the First National Bank of Chicago to repay loans by Lance . . .," the indictment said. The transaction was listed as one of the overt acts in furtherance of the alleged conspiracy.
A Lond-based bank chartered in luxembourg, BCCI handles funds for numerous weathly Arabs. Lance has been retained by BCCI, reportedly to find investment opportunities in the United States for its principals.
In explaining why Lance's foreign dealings came under grand jury scrutiny, a federal source explained that American laws afford protection to foreigners from crimes committed by U.S. citizens.
Sources say that new charges were added to the indictment virtually up to the final hour. One of the last reportedly to be included centers on allegations that Lance played a role in the embezzlement of about $1 million by a former officer of the Calhoun bank.
The embezzler, Bill L. Campbell, was turned in to the FBI by Lance in July 1975. Sentenced to eight years in federal prison, Campbell is due to be released next week after having served 29 months.
Campbell was convicted of embezzling the money to acquire and operate a 480-acre cattle farm on the outskirts of Calhoun. It was purchased in 1970.
Lance has repeatedly stated since Campbell's arrest that his former employe's financial manipulations came as a surprise to him when he learned of them in 1975.
The indictment says that in January 1971 Lance and Campbell "discussed the development of Campbell's farm into a model cattle-farming operation which would be used to advance Lance's gubernatorial endeavous and would later be sold to the state of Georgia as an experimental station."
According to the grand jury, Lance, in 1971, "concealed from national bank examiners" documents showing that Campbell's personal account and the account of Campbell farms at the Calhoun bank were overdrawn by more than $30,000.
Lance also directed Campbell to get loans from a Calhoun savings and loan association "based on false representations," the government said.
During his employment at the Calhoun bank, Campbell was knowledgeable about Lance's business affairs and he played a role in Lance's unsuccessful 1974 gubernatorial race. The financing of that race is mentioned repeatedly in the indictment.
Campbellhs attorney, Robert Finnell of Rome, Ga., said yesterday his client would be "a key witness if called" in the forthcoming trial.
In what appeared to be another alusion to the Campbell case, the grand jurors accused Lance and the three other defendants of conspiring to defraud not only federal banking agencies but aslo the Farmers Home Administration.
Although the indictment does not spell out details of the charge involving the FHA, a knowledgeable source said it revolves around a $250,000 loan Lance got NBG to grant Campbell on July 14, 1975. This was done, the grand jury said, despite the fact that "the loan [was] financially unsound."
This source said Lance encouraged Campbell to apply for Farmers Home Administration insurance on the loan, a step that would cause the government to repay NBG 90 percent of the money in the event the loan went sour.
The insurance was never granted, however. Seventeen days after NBG extended the loan to Campbell, which he used to repay his debts and overdrafts at the Calhoun bank, Campbell came under suspicion, and Lance called in the FBI.
The criminal charges are a follow-up on a civl case brought in April 1978 by the U.S. comptroller of the currency and the Securities and Exchange Commission against Lance and the two banks he ran.
A key portion of the indictment deals with overdrafts, a banking abuse cited by the civil suit and more elaborately detailed in the indictment. The grand jurors said that "the defendants, and others" habitually overdrew checking accounts in their own names and those of their families and associates.
For instance, the grand jury said that 40 checking accounts at the Calhoun bank alone were overdrawn a staggering $821,000 on a single day in 1974. That amounted to well over half of the bank's total overdrafts that day, even though the accounts were held by only 21 persons, less than one half of 1 percent of the Calhoun bank's customers.
Overdrafts were frequently repaid by taking out loans or overdrawing accounts at other banks, the indictment said.
The indictment also said that the defendants often shifted overdue debts from bank to bank to escape discovery by federal bank examiners or to conceal the lending bank's precarious situation.
Other allegations concerned Lance's efforts to pay off his unsuccessful bid for the govenorship in 1974. In an attempt to get $390,000 worth of loans, Lance and Mitchell told the Citizens and Southern National Bank of Atlanta in Decmber 1976 that the campaign debt had been reduced by $500,000, when they "well knew . . . the statement was false," the grand jury said.
The grand jurors had met steadily since Monday before the charges were made public. At one point, reporters waiting outside spotted a juror coming back from a coffee break and asked him what he'd learned from the prolonged investigation.
"I took my money out of the bank," he replied. CAPTION: Picture 1, Bert Lance and his wife, LaBelle, with President Carter in August 1977, before Lance resignation. AP; Picture 2, Then-Budget Director Bert Lance has his "day in court" at hearings of Senate Governmental Affairs Committee before his departure in the autumn of 1977. By James K.W. Atherton - The Washington Post