A March 24 article concerning the Ohio banking crisis incorrectly stated the amounts of money received from ESM Government Securities Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by Marvin Warner and Stephen Arky when they closed their accounts with ESM. Information provided by Eugene Stearns, a law partner of Arky, and confirmed by Richard Critchlow, counsel to Thomas Tew, ESM's court-appointed receiver, indicates that Arky received $33,125 in early January when he sold the Treasury notes he held in an account with ESM. The Washington Post has been unable to ascertain the specific amount and timing of Warner's closing transaction. Incorrect, higher figures used in the Post article, which were based on wire-service reports, appear to have represented the face value of the securities in ESM accounts maintained by Arky and Warner, rather than the lower amounts actually received by them based on the net, equity interest in the securities. According to Stearns, Arky decided to close his account in December and did not know about financial problems with ESM when the account was closed. ESM failed last month.
Ohio savings and loan associations started reopening here last week, but the political troubles for Gov. Richard F. Celeste (D) may be just beginning. The chief reason: his friendship with Marvin L. Warner, a dapper multimillionaire and political fund-raiser.
Warner owned Home State Savings Bank, whose collapse triggered Ohio's biggest banking crisis since the Great Depression. His role in the affair is expected to be the subject of a special prosecutor's investigation, lawsuits and political debate for months.
"It's going to be devastating. I'm afraid we're going to get in the middle of a Watergate-syndrome thing over who knew what when," a leading Ohio Democrat said. "It's a yearlong story that won't go away. I'd sure hate to be in Dick Celeste's shoes."
Warner, 65, is one of those larger-than-life characters who play behind the scenes of American politics. He is an engaging man with a zest for big-money deals, beautiful women, race horses and powerful politicians.
Warner, who made his first fortune during the post-World War II housing boom, owns a private jet, a football team (the Birmingham Stallions of the U.S. Football League), and about 200 thoroughbred horses that he keeps on a 600-acre farm in Batavia, Ohio.
In the spring of 1982, when Celeste was in an uphill race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he turned to Warner for help. Warner contributed $36,000 to Celeste's campaign, cosigned a $75,000 loan at a critical time and was host of a gathering that raised $200,000 for Celeste.
Celeste won the race, becoming the second Democratic governor in two decades. He named Warner chairman of the Ohio Building Authority, which oversees construction of state buildings and prisons. The financier recently resigned the job, but Ohio newspapers are talking about him as "Dick Celeste's Bert Lance" and "Warner-gate."
"The Marvin Warner connection is undeniable. He wasn't just another fund-raiser. He was Celeste's financial godfather, the Daddy Warbucks of the Ohio Democratic Party," said Terry Casey, a leading Republican strategist. "He is going to have a lot of questions to answer."
Did Home State receive special treatment from state regulators because of Warner's connection? Did Celeste need to close down 71 savings and loan associations because of problems at one? Did the governor know about the problems at Home State?
Republicans, who say Celeste had already been weakened by other scandals in his administration, say they think the last question has only two answers. "Either the governor knew what was going on and he didn't do anything about it, or he didn't know about it and should have," said James Tilling, top GOP strategist in the Ohio Senate. "He looks bad either way."
Celeste supporters contend that 500,000 Ohio depositors faced financial disaster and that the governor had little choice but to declare a "bank holiday" to protect them.
"The No. 1 political question is getting the depositors back their money," Ohio Democratic Chairman James Ruvolo said. "If that happens, the long-range political fallout is minimal. If it doesn't, that will clearly be an issue."
Celeste isn't the first politician Warner helped.
President Carter named Warner ambassador to Switzerland after getting campaign help from Warner; former Ohio governor John Gilligan, another Warner beneficiary, appointed him a member of the Ohio Board of Regents; and Warner helped arrange a $2 million loan to keep the presidential campaign of Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) alive in January 1984.
Warner, an Alabama native, also is a close confidant of Ohio House Speaker Vernal Riffe. Last year, he married Riffe's former legal assistant, Jody Piehowicz.
"I'm confident Dick Celeste has never had a business discussion with Marvin Warner in his life," Jerry Austin, the governor's 1982 campaign manager, said.
Even if this is true, some Democrats worry about the appearances of the relationship. Last year, for example, Celeste was a guest of Warner at a football game in Birmingham, Ala. Celeste's campaign fund kept $86,000 in Home State; and Austin, his chief political adviser, was a lobbyist for Home State.
Two Warner associates who played major roles in events leading to the banking crisis also contributed to Celeste's campaign. They are Ronnie Ewton, who donated $10,000, and Alan Novick, who gave $5,000. Ewton was one of the founders of ESM Government Securities of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Novick was president of the firm until his death Nov. 23.
Home State, Ohio's largest state-chartered savings and loan association (31 branches), began trading in government securities with ESM in 1977. By last year it was ESM's biggest customer.
When ESM failed early this month, it dragged Home State down with it. The Securities and Exchange Commission has since charged ESM with fraud and frozen the assets of Ewton and Novick's widow. Warner reportedly withdrew $37 million of his funds from ESM before the collapse; his son-in-law, Stephen Arky, a Miami lawyer, withdrew $2 million.
After Home State closed March 8, attention quickly shifted to the Ohio Deposit Guarantee Fund, a private insurance fund protecting Home State and 71 other institutions. As it became apparent that Home State losses would wipe out the $136 million in the fund, customers began lining up at other savings and loan institutions.
On Tuesday, March 12, depositors withdrew $20 million from the savings and loan institutions, on Wednesday, $30 million and on Thursday, $60 million. Celeste, fearing further runs on deposits, declared a "bank holiday" 90 minutes before the institutions were to open Friday.
Celeste conceded that his background had not prepared him for the financial crisis. "I started out with a kindergarten education in finance," he said last week. "I'm rapidly working toward an MBA."
But Celeste, a Rhodes Scholar, is a quick study and a master of public relations. The flurry of activity he created in the days after declaring the "bank holiday" received favorable reviews and momentarily put Republicans on the defensive.
"He Celeste was told this is the time to be bold, be decisive," one Republican said. "Come on like a White Knight. Act like FDR. Shut down the banks. Make people forget about Marvin Warner."
The first wave of criticism began as the first S&Ls reopened Thursday and a special prosecutor was named to investigate the crisis.
Former governor James A. Rhodes, a Republican who served four terms, said Celeste had made depositors "innocent victims" by not dealing with the situation the way banking crises usually are handled -- by throwing money at them. He said Celeste could have kept the S&Ls open by authorizing a $100 million state loan to the insurance fund.
If this would have been done, he said: "There would have been no runs. There would have been no need to close 71 savings and loans, and a buyer to Home State would have been found quickly.