Lauren Alexander, 21, isn't sure where she will get the money to pay for her room and board during her senior year at the University of Maryland. Stuart and Judith Bernsen have failed so far to get back the $3,925 deposit owed them by a local Realtor. And the Art Leffler family no longer has access to the savings they put away for emergencies.
These Washington area consumers are among the thousands of people with money tied up in Maryland's troubled savings and loan associations. And last week's surprise developments have intensified the feelings of anger, and in some cases have left depositors afraid and ashamed.
"I feel duped by everyone," said television ad salesman Leffler, 38. "I don't feel there is an honest person in the entire banking system. I don't feel I am getting any help from the governor."
Leffler has his life savings in an account at Bethesda-based Community Savings & Loan Association, the third institution to be taken over by the state of Maryland because of financial problems. The Thursday takeover of Community was accompanied by an order freezing all withdrawals for 45 more days.
"All I want is just one answer," Leffler said. "Where is the light at the end of the tunnel . . . when depositors will get their money?"
Freezes on withdrawals also are in effect at Old Court and Merritt savings and loans, which are also under state control, and at First Maryland Savings and Loan of Silver Spring. An estimated 143,000 accounts have been affected by the freezes at the four institutions. In addition, thousands of other consumers have been hit by the limitations on withdrawals that have been imposed at 21 other Maryland savings and loan associations, making it impossible in many cases for depositors to take more than $1,000 a month from their accounts.
More than half of the state savings and loan industry's $9 billion in deposits is still subject either to the withdrawal limitations or the freezes, state officials said. While some depositors faced new limitations this week, others had restrictions loosened somewhat. Details in accompanying box. State officials said they are not sure how long it will be before the restrictions and the freezes are lifted.
" I can't predict that," Gov. Harry Hughes said at his news conference Friday. "We have 25 still under restrictions. Assuming that things go as we hope and have every reason to expect, several of these, in particular some of the larger ones, will be acquired -- and we're talking about not months now; we're talking about weeks that that will be accomplished."
Exemptions allowed by the courts and the state government at some of the thrifts have enabled many consumers to get money they needed for medical expenses, mortgages, college tuition and other emergencies.
Hughes has asked the conservator for Old Court to develop a plan to help depositors who are suffering economic hardships because of the ban on withdrawals. The plan is particularly needed for depositors at Old Court, the first Maryland thrift to be placed under a conservatorship, because of the magnitude of the problems at that institution, officials said.Concern and Anger Grow
One measure of consumer concern about the thrift crisis in Maryland is the tripling of phone calls to the state hot line details in box , manned by a staff of 10. The hot line was set up in May when reports of management changes and possible criminal misconduct by top officers at Old Court touched off the crisis of confidence in Maryland's thrift industry.
When the crisis peaked in the last week of May, the hot line staff was fielding 300 calls a day, according to hot line director Alan Thomas Fell, Maryland's commissioner of consumer credit. Calls then dropped to 75 to 100 a day through most of the summer, he said. But on Aug. 26, the first business day after a freeze was suddenly imposed on First Maryland, the number of calls hit a new high of 302, he said.
"I've had so many calls I'm shellshocked," Fell said.
He said that the intensity and vehemence of the calls this past week were the worst since the end of May. He said that many depositors apparently had come to believe that the state's savings and loan crisis was under control but that the First Maryland freeze showed that it was not.
"The surprise aspect of the freeze order is what caused the vehemence," he said.
Angry consumers also have called state legislators to complain about what has happened, according to state Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery).
"It is the principle of the thing that is annoying a lot of people," Denis said. "Even though they may have diversified their assets, the shock of not having access to their own account is the equivalent of an earthquake in their lives and a matter of great distress." Why No Warnings?
For the Art Leffler family of Bethesda, the freeze at Community represents a kind of double whammy.
They have two savings accounts: One at Community that is frozen and one at Friendship Savings and Loan where there is a $1,000-a-month limit on withdrawals.
Furthermore, when the problems at Old Court emerged, Leffler immediately contacted officials at Community in an effort to find out whether there were any difficulties there. "I have kept records of my calls to Community and who I talked to, and each time, I was assured that there would be no problem with Community," he said. "Obviously, there was." Businesses Hurt
The restrictions have hurt business depositors as well as individual consumers with personal accounts.
Rhona E. Saunders of Chevy Chase, 41, owner of a Washington public relations firm, has a business operating account at Friendship.
"My main problem is my business account at Friendship," where there is a $1,000-a-month restriction on withdrawals, she said. "When a limit is put on, it is a major impact on any small business to have your entire cash flow cut off in midstream. Had I not been growing as fast as I was, I probably would have been put out of business."
Richard Leonard, 37, a free-lance decorator whose personal account at First Maryland is frozen, is so enraged that he intends to withdraw all of his money the first chance he gets and then boycott the state of Maryland.
"I won't do any business there -- I won't buy anything there," said Leonard, who lives in Alexandria and purchased a certificate of deposit at First Maryland because it offered the most attractive interest rates.
Leonard contends that the freeze on his account represents confiscation of his personal property.
"I could live with the $1,000-a-month restriction," he said, "because I thought it would be temporary. But when the governor froze withdrawals completely for 60 days, it was confiscating private property and it angered me. If I want to buy a house, I am unable to do so. If I want to buy a car, which I need, I am unable to do so, because I would pay cash rather than make a loan. If a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came by, I wouldn't be able to take advantage of it."
The Bernsens, who did not even have an account in a restricted Maryland thrift, said they were victimized by circumstances beyond their control.
"We signed a real estate contract on Aug. 4 to purchase a condominium in Rockville, and we gave a deposit of $3,925," said Stuart Bernsen, 35, an attorney with a federal agency. But on Aug. 21, the couple notified the Realtor, Brenneman and Associates Inc. of Chevy Chase, that they had changed their mind and wanted to cancel the deal, in keeping with the terms allowed by the sales contract.
"On Aug. 22, we and the sellers and Brenneman signed a release stating that the deposit would be delivered to us promptly," Bernsen said.
"But on Aug. 26, I got a call from Brenneman saying that they had deposited our money in First Maryland Savings and Loan where a 60-day freeze on withdrawals was imposed Aug. 23 . . . . They said they were no longer responsible for immediately refunding the deposit because all accounts at First Maryland are frozen."
G.V. (Mike) Brenneman, president of the firm, declined to comment on the incident or to say if other customers had deposit money tied up in First Maryland.
"Bernsen was very belligerent," Brenneman said. "He came at me threatening to go to the real estate commission and the newspapers. We would rather not comment."
While the Bernsens have focused their anger on the real estate industry, because of what happened to them, others blame Hughes and other state officials for the crisis.
"The state of Maryland lied and stole my money," said Holly Hewatt of Lothian, in Anne Arundel County, 27, an unemployed legal secretary who was counting on her $10,000 savings to help pay her bills until she finds a job. Most of that money was from an insurance settlement she received last year after a car accident. Hewatt's money is frozen at Community.
"I personally blame the political system of the state of Maryland," she said. "I think Gov. Hughes knew this was going to happen before it all came down and they Community just kept taking our money."
Art Leffler says that both state and thrift officials are responsible for the crisis.
"I blame a lot of people for their greediness -- for overextending themselves," he said. But he said that the governor's vacation traveling during the crisis showed insensitivity. "I don't think Gov. Hughes has any compassion for the people in the state," he said. Hughes was in the Middle East on vacation when the S&L crisis broke in May, and he plans to leave today on a European trade mission for the state.
University of Maryland student Lauren Alexander and her mother, Estelle Alexander, blame the thrifts.
"I think the thrifts really created this crisis by the unprotected investments that they were making," said Estelle Alexander of Rockville. "There was a misunderstanding about who was insuring the banks . . . . I thought the money was insured by the state."
Lauren had a $5,000 certificate of deposit at First Maryland due to mature a few days after Hughes froze withdrawals at the thrift in late August. She planned to use the money -- an inheritance from her grandfather -- to pay for college room and board and other expenses at the University of Maryland, where her tuition has already been paid with other funds.
"It really is an inconvenience, because I have no money in any other accounts," she said. "I am looking for a job because school just started. I have to take care of classes. I don't have a car. So all in all it's pretty much bad news." "It Is Embarrassing"
Many depositors admit a certain amount of shame and embarrassment at having been caught short by the thrift crisis. Typically, they are reluctant to allow their names to be used.
"I don't want to broadcast the fact that I am in this dilemma; it is embarrassing for me," explained one elderly woman who has an account frozen at Community.
A lawyer who has been active in many consumer areas agreed to explain what had happened to her family as a result of the thrift crisis, but only if she were not named.
The family decided to improve their Bethesda home by turning the garage into a family room and building a new garage. They converted some investments to cash to pay for the work and deposited the cash in an account at Friendship.
Since May, when the $1,000 limit on withdrawals from Friendship was imposed, the family has been restricted in getting the $50,000 in their account. The result is that they have had to change their plans; they are converting the existing garage but have dropped the idea of building a new garage.
"I made the mistake of not spreading the risk," the woman said. "And now I will be taking out $1,000 a month until I am dead." "I Was Stupid"
Some depositors are willing to say openly that they think they made a mistake.
Holly Hewatt, for example, said she continued to make deposits at Community after the first restrictions were imposed in May. She made her last deposit a month ago.
"I was stupid," she said. "I guess I was very naive. I didn't think this would happen."
Many depositors say they feel helpless and afraid of what the future will bring.
Linda Russell, 37, a federal employe from Alexandria whose Community savings account has been frozen, said she doesn't mind having to wait a while to get her money. "But my concern is losing it -- is there some way we are going to be shafted?"
Russell said she feels a "little resentful" that she did not take advantage of the $1,000 withdrawals that were allowed at Community prior to the freeze.
"I didn't because it was a savings account and I tried to hold faith in the savings and loan, because I know a panic situation makes it worse," Russell said. "Now I wish I had panicked."