Julian M. Seidel, while president of First Maryland Savings & Loan, took a $200,000 kickback for arranging a substantial loan for a Florida developer at a time when First Maryland's profit-driven management was pushing it toward collapse in 1985, an attorney for the state charged yesterday.
Another First Maryland official withdrew $1.6 million from the Silver Spring association during the Maryland S&L crisis, after the state had frozen its funds and other depositors were unable to withdraw their money, lawyer Neil J. Diloff told Montgomery County Circuit Court jurors assembled before Judge Peter J. Messitte.
In his opening argument in the state's $60 million lawsuit against Seidel and nine other former First Maryland officials, Diloff contended that the now-insolvent First Maryland offered lofty interest rates to attract huge deposits from across the nation and embarked on sprees of extravagant lending to high-risk borrowers. S&L officials paid themselves exorbitant salaries and fees, engaged in numerous insider deals, kept shoddy records and generally ignored the warnings of state regulators, he said.
Diloff, representing the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, told the jury that Seidel needed the $200,000 kickback to repay a loan he had obtained from his own institution -- using a "straw person" to borrow the money for him. Seidel needed that disguised loan to repay a personal $200,000 debt to Maryland National Bank, Diloff alleged.
"This is just one example" of how Seidel and his codefendents routinely ignored their fiduciary duties in an unbridled quest for personal profit that ultimately drove the S&L into insolvency, Diloff said.
The insurance fund, a state agency, is trying to recoup money for thousands of depositors victimized by the near-collapse of the state's savings and loan industry two years ago.
Neither Seidel nor other First Maryland officials have been indicted in connection with the S&L collapse, but they face substantial financial liability if the insurance fund prevails in the civil suit. In the criminal cases arising from the state's 1985 thrift crisis, three executives of Old Court Savings & Loan in Baltimore were convicted of stealing a total of $15 million, including its former chief executive Jeffrey A. Levitt, who is serving a 30-year prison term.
Seidel, who is not a lawyer but is representing himself, did not respond to the kickback allegation during his opening remarks to the jury and declined to comment afterward.
Seidel, like his codefendants, denied any wrongdoing as a First Maryland official, and said he did his best to prevent the institution's collapse, which he attributed to economic forces beyond his control.
In a 90-minute statement that opened what is expected to be the longest and costliest trial in Montgomery County history, Diloff sketched a broad outline of alleged improprieties at First Maryland, stopping to highlight Seidel's alleged abuses and telling the six-man, six-woman jury: "Don't take anything I've said as evidence. Make us prove our case. You'll find that everything I have said -- and more, a lot more -- is fact."
Besides the alleged kickback, Diloff said he would present evidence of numerous other improprieties at First Maryland. Among them: At the height of the 1985 crisis, Edward A. Dacy, then a director of the thrift and now a defendant, withdrew $1.6 million from his personal account at First Maryland, Diloff alleged, despite Gov. Harry Hughes' order freezing all savings and loan deposits. Maryland thrifts had locked their doors because of the order, leaving hundreds of depositors clamoring for their money.
Diloff alleged that First Maryland was so lax in monitoring borrowers that defendants Juan and Lelia Gruner of Bethesda, both frequent borrowers, used a $25,000 construction loan to buy groceries and finance a trip to Spain.
First Maryland directors aimed to eventually enrich themselves by making a public offering of the S&L's stock, Diloff said. To that end, he said, they routinely lied to state regulators about First Maryland's net worth and the soundness of its loans, hoping it would add to the value of the thrift's stock when public trading began.
As for the kickback that Seidel allegedly received, Diloff said in an interview that all the transactions occurred between 1982 and 1985.
He told the jury that Seidel owed a personal debt of $200,000 to Maryland National Bank. To repay it, Seidel arranged for an acquaintance, Leonard Tempchin, a Silver Spring accountant, to obtain a $200,000 loan from First Maryland, Diloff said. In an interview yesterday, Tempchin, who is not a defendant, said he then gave the $200,000 to Maryland National Bank in Seidel's name.
Diloff did not characterize the deal as improper and Tempchin described it as "perfectly legal." Tempchin said Seidel took responsibility for paying back First Maryland.
To accomplish that, Diloff told the jury, Seidel arranged a First Maryland loan of "a couple of million bucks" for another acquaintance, and then accepted a $200,000 kickback. In court, Diloff identified that acquaintance as Ronald Lowenthal, a real estate developer in Kendall, Fla.
In an interview, Diloff said that Lowenthal never repaid the loan to First Maryland. Lowenthal's telephone number is unlisted and he could not be reached for comment.
Giving jurors an overview of what he called a thrift "gone wild," Diloff said First Maryland ignored the traditional role of a savings and loan association and made relatively few home mortgage loans. Its officers and directors were more attracted by highly speculative commercial and land-development investments, he said, making risky loans to borrowers in the Virgin Islands and 22 states other than Maryland.
Why, Diloff asked, would a developer in Arizona, for example, reach across the nation to Maryland for financing?
"The reason," he said, "is First Maryland got a reputation as an easy place to get a loan. Don't worry about credit reports. Don't worry about financial statements. Just go there and get the loan."
The thrift poured millions of dollars into high-risk loans at such an unrestrained pace, Diloff said, that investments eventually exceeded deposits. This practice exposed First Maryland to ruin when depositors lost confidence in Maryland thrifts two years ago and began frantic withdrawals.
In the "gravy train" period before First Maryland folded, Diloff said, Seidel was paid $200,000 a year as president, charged the thrift for gas he used driving a company Cadillac, collected a $50,000 yearly bonus and $2,000 a month for attending brief directors meetings. He also held company-paid memberships in country and health clubs, and spent time at a house rented by First Maryland for the "rest and relaxation" of S&L officials, Diloff said.
Seidel told the jurors that First Maryland officials tried hard to earn money for the S&L in the early 1980s. Because climbing interest rates had sharply reduced the demand for home mortgage loans, he said, First Maryland turned to the larger commercial and land-development loans as an alternative.
However, he said, officials never lent money at a dangerous pace. First Maryland was "a viable, going concern" in the spring of 1985, when a bank crisis in Ohio shook depositor confidence in Maryland, prompting a run of withdrawals that First Maryland, as healthy as it was, could not survive.
"The testimony," Seidel said, "will show that the defendants always did their best, and never, never intended to harm First Maryland or any of its depositors."