Maryland officials today began implementing a sweeping reorganization of the state's embattled savings and loan industry, which still faces close scrutiny by state and federal investigators for possible violations of criminal and civil laws.
With the enactment early this morning of seven bills designed to restore the health of the state's $9 billion S&L industry, attention is now expected to turn to the criminal investigation, headed by state Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs.
Sachs said tonight, however, that because the investigation may involve reviewing financial transactions at scores of institutions, there will be no quick results. "Summer will turn to fall before we can look for any results. It will be long and arduous," he said.
The new laws are designed to force all 102 privately insured S&Ls to become members of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. (FSLIC). Toward that end, the General Assembly established the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund Corp. (MDIF), an agency that will provide protection for depositors until thrifts qualify for federal insurance -- up to four years for the smallest associations.
The package also expands the governor's emergency powers; grants additional authority to conservators or receivers of ailing associations; authorizes issuance of up to $100 million in general obligation bonds to fund the MDIF or allow the state to take over ailing thrifts, and allocates $1 million to get the new agency going.
Licensing and Regulation Secretary Frederick Dewberry, named by Gov. Harry R. Hughes to serve as acting director of MDIF, met in Baltimore today with Budget and Fiscal Planning Secretary H. Louis Stettler III to discuss the role and operation of the newest state agency. It replaced the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp. (MSSIC), a privately funded insurance system that was established more than 20 years ago in the wake of a scandal in the thrift industry.
Early next week, Hughes is expected to state which exemptions he will grant to the emergency restrictions he imposed last week, among them limiting withdrawals from privately insured S&Ls to $1,000 per account in any 30-day period.
Sachs' office is looking into the circumstances that led to the near collapse of the Old Court Savings & Loan in Baltimore, the state's second largest thrift, and prompted a second Baltimore savings association, Merritt, into voluntary conservatorship.
About 350 federal auditors, dispatched to the state last week at Hughes' request, will resume poring over books of the savings associations Monday. The outcome of their examination is likely to provide clues as to the extent of any mismanagement and fraud.
In a speech to a special session of the General Assembly yesterday, Hughes said his top priority was to restore confidence in the industry, but he promised also to "hold accountable" those "whose ineptitude, mismanagement or greed might have contributed to the current difficulty."
The legislature, weary from the 14-hour session, voted to return to Annapolis on Tuesday, primarily to consider proposals to allow in-state and out-of-state banks to take over ailing thrifts and convert them into full-service banks.
But several legislators expressed sentiment for enacting new stiffer penalties, specifically aimed at speculators like those widely blamed for taking the industry to the brink of collapse.
Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore City) said he plans to introduce a measure that would enable the state to prosecute errant thrift officials for a range of illegal acts, some of which currently can be prosecuted by the federal government but not under Maryland law.
Rawlings' proposal, supported by Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), calls for five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine for any thrift officer convicted of embezzlement, fraud or misappropriation.
"We felt that to restore public confidence the General Assembly has to make it clear it won't sanction the kind of mismanagement and possible criminality that has occurred," Rawlings said. "There must be strong penalty provisions in the law."
On Tuesday, the governor, in a ceremony scheduled some time ago, will sign into law four bills recommended by a legislative study group last summer that strengthen the state regulatory agency that oversees state-chartered savings and loans.
In that same ceremony, Hughes will sign two bills that would allow huge out-of-state banks to expand in Maryland.
The so-called "Citicorp" bill, named for the giant New York conglomerate that led an intense lobbying effort for its passage, will allow banks outside Maryland to win broad banking powers in return for creating 1,000 new jobs and investing $25 million in the state, starting in 1986. A companion bill allows banks in neighboring states and the District of Columbia to acquire Maryland banks as long as those states offer the same opportunity to Maryland institutions.
If the legislature also passes a bill allowing the conversion of thrifts to commercial banks, out-of-state banks could get a head start on Citicorp and expand operations in Maryland as early as this year.
Thomas H. Maddux, secretary of economic and community development, began a review today of preliminary proposals from major banks, including New York's Chase Manhattan and Chemical Bank, which have expressed interest in taking over faltering thrifts, in exchange for the right to convert them into full-service banks.
Maddux, who said his talks with Chase and Chemical officials went "beyond informal discussions," stressed that it will be several days before these and other banks decide whether to purchase Old Court and Merritt, the two thrifts for which the state is most anxious to find buyers.
Maddux added that he was "particularly encouraged" by the new interest a few Maryland banks have shown in acquiring thrifts in the past two days.
But G.J. (Bud) Manderfield, president of the 90-member Maryland Bankers Association, said he doubted that such curiosity went beyond some banks' eagerness for acquiring a thrift at bargain rates.
"Everyone now feels there'll be a bargain, but there may not be a bargain out there," said Manderfield. Maddux's challenge, he added, will be to combine a faltering thrift with healthier institutions for a package attractive enough to buyers.
"Not too many investors will take on an open-ended liability" that thrifts such as Old Court entail, Manderfield said.
Hughes, who signed the bills into law at 12:30 a.m. today, was back at his office by 8 a.m., discussing the new laws with several members of his cabinet and representatives of the Federal Reserve system.
This afternoon, however, Hughes put behind him the troubled industry that forced him to cut short a working vacation in Israel and went to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, where he presented the cup to the owners of Tank's Prospect, winner of the 110th Preakness.
"He thought attending the race would signal a return to normalcy," said press aide Norm Silverstein.
Staff writer Tom Kenworthy contributed to this report.