Maryland should recover at least $60 million in lost assets at the crippled EPIC real estate empire under a plan approved yesterday for the reorganization of the massive tax-shelter organizer, state officials said.
Adoption of the plan by the federal bankruptcy court in Alexandria also means that more than 100 savings and loan institutions, including about a dozen in the Washington area, will not have to list their EPIC loans as problem assets -- a move that could have been a severe financial blow.
Daniel M. Lewis, a lawyer who represented Maryland in negotiating the plan, said the plan is "reasonable and fair" to the state, which last fall seized control of EPIC and its faltering affiliate, Community Savings & Loan of Bethesda.
"We think it's not as much as we would have liked, but it is a lot more than we could have expected without a plan," Lewis said.
The $60 million will help to offset the more than $131 million the state agreed last month to pay Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh for taking over Community. The state also pledged an additional $40 million to Mellon for any future losses on assets assumed by Mellon.
Mellon officials have said Community's 20,000 depositors should have access to their money by the middle of next month, pending final approval of this sale by Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan.
The approval of the proposal by Martin V. B. Bostetter, the bankruptcy judge in Alexandria, ends six months of intensive negotiations among the State of Maryland, creditors and other parties over resolving EPIC's tangled affairs. EPIC's collapse not only ushered in a new phase in the Maryland thrift crisis but also touched off panic in the nation's mortgage markets.
EPIC's main company, Equity Programs Investment Corp., organized tax-sheltered investment partnerships that bought more than 20,000 single-family homes around the country.
But most of these partnerships filed for bankruptcy last fall after defaulting on $1.4 billion worth of mortgage debt in one of the largest real estate failures. The failure also triggered Community's collapse and the freezing of $324 million in deposits at the Bethesda thrift.
An outline of the plan approved yesterday was put forward first by a group of major creditors last fall, but proponents have had to deal with a battery of objections.
Under the terms of the plan, EPIC houses would be sold during a five-to-seven-year period to pay off the partnerships' debts.
The companies that insured the EPIC mortgages will make cash advances to the partnerships to enable them to resume interest payments on the loans. The major mortgage insurer, TMIC Mortgage Insurance Co., is expected to receive final approval next week from a California state court to participate in the EPIC plan.
The intention of the plan is to liquidate in an orderly fashion the EPIC properties, many of which are concentrated in depressed real estate markets in Texas, to avoid the massive losses that would occur under a fire sale, proponents of the plan said.
Maryland would get at least $60 million in proceeds from these sales under a worst-case scenario, although, if the sale of the houses goes well, this could be improved to $85 million to $90 million, said Melville S. Brown, director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, the state agency overseeing EPIC and Community's affairs.
Maryland officials have estimated that the state stood to lose $160 million as a result of problems at Community, much of that in funds Community advanced to EPIC in its final months. But with the EPIC workout and other steps, officials yesterday estimated the total losses now should be cut to the neighborhood of $70 million to $80 million.
Yesterday's development was welcome news to the savings and loans and other institutions that own from $1 million to more than $200 million in EPIC mortgages or mortgage-backed securities, payments on which have been halted since last summer. Although the plan calls for these creditors to receive a cut in the interest rate on these loans -- from about 13 to 8 percent -- it allows them to avoid the need to list the loans as problem assets.
Federal thrift regulators had told thrifts that they would have to put the EPIC loans on their books as bad assets if a plan were not put into effect by the end of this month. That action could have created severe financial difficulties at many thrifts, lawyers involved in the case have said.
"I think I'm going to come out of this just fine," said William Sinclair, president of Washington Federal Savings & Loan, which holds about $10 million in mortgage securities.
Sinclair said Washington Federal officials personally inspected the EPIC properties backing the thrift's securities and are confident they will cover the securities when they are sold under the plan.
"We don't anticipate any great principal loss on this," said Dewitt T. Hartwell, president of Columbia First Federal Savings & Loan in the District, which holds $5 million in EPIC loans. "We expect to lose very little."
Hartwell said the orderly liquidation envisioned under the plan is a welcome alternative to massive foreclosures by lenders, which could glut the real estate market and make it more difficult to sell the houses for a price that covers the loans.