Former U.S. budget director Bert Lance acknowledged today in his federal trial for bank fraud that he had not bothered with financial statements or credit checks of relatives, friends and associates before extending them millions of dollars in unsecured loans.
"I don't rely on bank statements, I rely on people," Lance said in a three-hour cross-examination by chief prosecutor Edmund J. Tomko in U.S. District Court here.
In reply to Tomko's questions, Lance repeatedly said he could not recall what use was made of hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to himself and others.
But he said he would accept the government's evidence that the bank loans often were used to repay other loans and to cover debts incurred during his unsuccessful 1974 campaign for Georgia governor.
"I think you've looked at everything I've ever done," Lance said at one point, deferring to what he said was Tomko's more complete knowledge of his financial transactions.
The 13-week bank-fraud trial of Lance and three condefendants in expected to go to the jury by the end of next week.
While 13 of the original 33 counts of the criminal indictment have been struck by Judge Charles A. Moye Jr., the four still face allegations of willfully misapplying bank funds and filing false financial statements with banks to gain some $3 million in loans.
On trial with Lance are Thomas M. Mitchell, who handled Lance's business affairs while he was in Washington, Richard T. Carr, a former banking associate of Lance, and H. Jackson Mullins, a former druggist in Calhoun who was a financial and political associate of Lance.
Lance's attorneys say they expect character witnesses to appear next week on their client's behalf. The witness will include former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and Martin Luther King Sr.
Attorneys for the other three defendants would not say whether their clients will take the stand in their own defense as Lance has.
It's clear, however, that attorneys for both sides believed the defendants' case depended on what the jury thought of Lance's testimony.
Today, after Tomko completed cross-examining Lance, defense attorneys expressed confidence that the government had failed to prove criminal intent, as required for conviction. But Tomko said he was happy with his performance, which he said he was using to build toward the closing statement pulling the government's case together.
In his questioning of Lance, Tomko skipped back and forth across the complex spectrum of the government's case. He moved rapidly from one complicated transaction to another, apparently to avoid giving Lance time to prepare his answers.
Lance is charged with misapplying bank funds by making unsecured loans of $45,000 each to his wife, LaBelle, and to his son, David, then 19 years old. The loans were made by the First National Bank of Calhoun in the mid-1970s when Lance headed that bank.
Lance admitted today that his son had no assets to secure the loan and "no clear plan of repayment." The youth also had other loans of unspecified amounts outstanding, it was disclosed.
The LaBelle Lance loan was made at a time she already had a $94,000 loan outstanding and a checking account that was overdrawn, Lance acknowledged.
Under Tomko's questioning, Lance admitted that Lancelot Co., a partnership set up with his wife, had never been used to distribute charitable contributions. In his testimony Thursday, Lance said the partnership was formed to assure that charitable donations would remain anonymous.
The government contends that Lancelot was used to bury Lance campaign debts so they wouldn't appear in his personal financial statements. The partnership still owes $250,000 in campaign loans.
After Tomko concludes his questioning, defense attorney Nickolas Chilivis asked the witness if he intended to pay this debt.
"Hope springs eternal, especially in the heart of a political candidate," Lance replied.