Attorneys representing the conservator of the Old Court Savings and Loan Association today filed a $200 million civil suit against the Baltimore thrift's owners and directors, charging them with "the largest financial fraud in the history of the state of Maryland."
The conservator will ask Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan on Friday to freeze all of the assets of a dozen Old Court officials and their associates.
The only exceptions to the proposed order would allow the defendants up to $200 a day for living expenses plus funds to pay their attorneys.
The suit charges that the owners and directors of Old Court, where a run on deposits triggered a statewide savings and loan industry crisis in May, violated their responsibility to depositors by misappropriating the thrift's assets and funds and by taking millions of dollars in largely unearned fees from the association and its subsidiaries.
"Masquerading behind the facade of a 'savings and loan association,' " the Old Court principals "treated depositors' funds as their own private slush fund," the suit alleges.
The suit brought by attorneys for the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), a state agency that in May replaced the private insurance company that insured 102 state-chartered thrifts, names 26 defendants.
It seeks $200 million in punitive damages and an unspecified amount in compensatory damages.
The 47-page suit, filed today in Baltimore Circuit Court, sheds new light on the tangled financial world of Old Court and its subsidiaries and goes well beyond what has been revealed in previous court documents and news accounts.
Among the allegations in the suit are that:
* Jeffrey Levitt, Old Court's president and one of its three owners, together with his wife Karol and business entities he controlled, received $8.3 million in fees from various Old Court subsidiaries between August 1983 and June 1985.
* Allan H. Pearlstein, who owned 41 percent of Old Court, together with his wife and son and business entities he controlled, received $2.4 million in fees during the same period.
* Jerome Cardin, who owns 18 percent of Old Court, together with his law firm and other partnerships in which he was a principal, received $1.3 million in fees during the period.
* Walter Otstot, who participated in a number of Ocean City, Md., real estate deals with Levitt, received during the period $1.6 million in fees from various Old Court subsidiaries.
* As of this month, Old Court had $2.3 million in NOW interest-bearing checking account overdrafts, more than two-thirds of that amount representing overdrafts in accounts belonging to the defendants or partnerships in which they had interests.
The defendants either declined to comment or could not be reached today for comment.
"All defendants," charges the 11-count complaint, "received compensation, fees and other payments from Old Court and its subsidiaries and affiliates . . . which were unearned, unreasonable and unconscionable."
The conservator said that those fees were only "those uncovered to date," and that it believes that "substantial additional fees were paid by Old Court subsidiaries and affiliates" to the same people.
In one case, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post, Levitt's receipt of fees increased in the first few months of this year even as state regulators grew more concerned about the health of Old Court.
Between January and May, for example, Levitt received $960,980 in "consulting fees" from Meridian Mortgage Investment Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Old Court, the documents show.
That was more than double the rate at which he received such fees in 1984.
Levitt, widely regarded as the driving force behind Old Court's spectacular growth from an association with $140 million in assets to one with $873 million in assets, is specifically alleged in the suit to have "fraudulently misappropriated" funds from the thrift and its subsidiaries.
"Further," charges the suit, "Levitt directed others to make false entries in the books and records of Old Court . . . . "
The conservator's suit is the latest addition to the growing legal difficulties of Old Court and its officers. Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs is conducting a criminal investigation of Old Court, and it was learned today that some subpoenas have been issued in that probe.
None of the legal wrangling offers any measure of hope to Old Court's 75,000 depositors, nearly all of whom are barred from withdrawing any of their funds.
The announcement in early May of a change of management at Old Court, followed by news of Sachs' investigation, sparked widespread runs on deposits at a number of Maryland's 102 state-chartered thrifts.
In late May, the legislature enacted laws requiring the largest thrifts to get federal insurance by the end of December, a process that has proved to be difficult for a number of the large associations.
The conservator's suit alleges numerous violations by Old Court officers of the state's financial institutions laws and the regulations of the state Division of Savings and Loan and the Maryland Savings-Share Insurance Corp. (MSSIC), which was the private insurer of state thrifts.
Included in those allegations are "millions of dollars of unsecured loans" to Old Court officers or entities in which those officers have interests.
For example, the suit charges that Old Court loaned $16.2 million to partnerships involving Levitt, Pearlstein and Cardin to acquire and rehabilitate two Miami Beach hotels worth $11.7 million. No interest has been paid on the loans, which were not approved by state regulators, according to the suit, and Levitt, directly and indirectly, received $122,000 in fees associated with the project.
A second example of what the conservator alleged were hundreds of insider deals involved 208 acres of land in Coral Springs, Fla. Through a "series of complex machinations," Old Court funneled more than $18 million into the Karol Springs Project, none of which has been paid back, while at the same time awarding enormous consulting, referring and legal fees to Levitt, Cardin and their partners, the suit alleges.
One of the 11 counts alleges that Cardin's law firm, Cardin and Cardin, which was counsel to Old Court, should have seen that the thrift complied with state rules and regulations and with state law that governs insider loans. By permitting Levitt, Pearlstein, Cardin and others to end up with as much as a 20 percent interest in some of the projects with no investment, "Old Court's directors behaved as if the corporate opportunity doctrine limiting insider transactions had been repealed by the General Assembly," says the suit.
The aim of the lawsuit is not only to freeze the assets of the defendants, but also to get them to make restitution for any losses that Old Court might have incurred as a result of their dealings.
In addition to Levitt; Cardin; Cardin's law firm; Pearlstein and Otstot; the suit names as defendants the wives of Levitt and Pearlstein; Pearlstein's son Robert D. Pearlstein; Old Court directors Samuel Shoubin (Cardin's father-in-law), David Uhlfelder, Dennis Guidice and Allen Feinberg; and James Gay, an officer of several subsidiaries. The remaining 13 defendants are partnerships and companies controlled by the individual defendants.