A special counsel appointed to investigate questionable financial dealings involving President Carter's family peanut warehouse has concluded that there is no basis for criminal prosecution.
Making public a 180-page report on the multimillion-dollar loan package that the National Bank of Georgia provided to the warehouse, Special Counsel Paul J. Curran said yesterday that "no indictment can or should be brought against anyone."
However, the Curran report cites numerous irregularities in the transactions between Carter's warehouse and the bank. The loans, which eventually grew to a total of $6.5 million, were first extended in June 1975 when the National Bank of Georgia was run by Bert Lance, who later became President Carter's first budget director.
The report cited repeated instances of checks written on a Carter warehouse account at the bank without sufficient funds to back them up, the removal of collateral in violation of the terms of the NHG loans, bookkeeping irregularities at the bank and other violations of the loan agreements between NBG and the warehouse.
The biggest loan, extended so that the warehouse could buy unshelled peanuts for its sheller, was continually short of collateral "except for a brief period" in 1975, the report said. During one seven-week period in the spring of 1976, the warehouse owed as much as $1,150,000 to NBG without having any peanuts under bond -- as it had agreed to do -- to secure the debt.
Speaking at a news conference at the Justice Department, Curran said that the "two basic issues" of his investigation were whether any money was diverted illegally from the warehouse to Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign and whether any federal crimes were committed in the handling of several large loans from NBG to the warehouse.
The special counsel said, "No evidence whatsoever was discovered that any monies were diverted from the warehouse into the campaign."
As for whether any criminal charges were warranted, Curran said "the answer is also a clear no."
During the course of the inquiry, which began last March, Curran and his team of investigators questioned President Carter under oath for four hours. Curran said he believed it was the first time in history that a president in office had given a deposition in a criminal case.
Curran also told reporters that the president had to "bail out" the family business in the fall of 1977 from Carter Farms Inc., a separate corporation managed by Carter's trustee, Charles Kirbo. The president owns 91 percent of that business.
The six-month investigation was conducted before a federal grand jury in Atlanta. The team of attorneys and accountants reviewed about 80,000 documents and interviewed scores of witnesses.
Curran estimated that the investigation cost the government about $360,000. The former U. S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was appointed special counsel March 20, said he expects to return to private practice in Manhattan today.
The report makes clear that the Cartr warehouse, which was run by the president's brother, Billy, until September 1977, had trouble repaying the NBG loan from the beginning.
The report noted that "Billy Carter wrote checks drawn on the NBG account payable to NBG, without having sufficient funds in the account."
The bank, for its part, "honored those checks and others to third parties, thereby causing overdrafts in the warehouse checking account."
At one point, on July 12, 1976, NBG reduced the loan outstanding by $204,064, because of a "customer paydown." Curran's investigators found that no such reduction had occurred but there were "no documents establishing who caused this entry to be made," the report said.
On another issue, Curran concluded that Billy Carter neither pledged the same collateral twice, nor sold off peanuts securing the NBG loan in April and May 1976, as former Carter warehouseman Jimmy Hayes told The Washington Post in March.
In fact there were no bonded peanuts on hand from March 23 to mid-May of 1976 to secure the outstanding loan the report notes. As a result, there was no collateral at the warehouse that could have been pledged during that period.
It was Hayes' statements that in part triggered the investigation.
Curran said that the only person who might have been vulnerable to criminal prosecution was a low-level NBG employe. But, he said, that employe was given immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony. Curran said he probably would not have prosecuted the bank employe in any case.
President Carter, attending a Democratic Party reception yesterday in Harvey, Ill., told reporters: "I'm glad they have completed their investigation." Asked how he felt about being declared "clean", Carter replied: "I knew it all the time."
The investigation also examined whether the Gerald Rafshoon Advertising Agency, which handled Jimmy Carter's 1976 primary campaign, received monies outside of the campaign which it used to extend credit to the campaign itself.
From a review of the Rafshoon agency's records, investigators concluded that the Carter campaign paid enough money to the agency to account for its campaign expenditures "at any given time."
The report shows that at least one NBG loan officer, Robert Flynt, who was in charge of the Carter warehouse account, was troubled by Billy Carter's business practices, especially in releasing peanuts from the warehouse without simultanously repaying the bank, as the loan agreement required. In a June 7, 1977, letter to Billy Carter, Flynt said:
"We are holding approximately $400,000 in warehouse releases with no funds to cover these releases. You should release no additional peanuts until sufficient funds are in the bank to cover all releases."
In a handwritten footnote, the banker added: "Please try to keep us in balance. We must have funds in the bank or coming to the bank within a day or two to cover releases!"
The report also suggests that the President, as a partner in the warehouse, may have to pay additional income taxes for 1975, 1976, and 1977. Carter warehouse income statements recored the purchase and sale of hundreds of thousands of pounds of peanuts in the wrong years, according to the report. A correct accounting could change the taxes due for the years in question.
"If additional taxes are due, they will of course be paid," said White House spokesman Rex Granum. He said it was still too early to determine the effect the investigation findings would have on the president's tax liability.
In addition to the public report, which was sent to Congress, Curran submitted a secret 239-page version, including grand jury testimony, to Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti. Curran said this could be released if Congress insists on it.