Nine former officials of the defunct First Maryland Savings & Loan Association and other defendants were ordered yesterday to pay the state $387 million in damages by a Montgomery County jury that found them liable for a pattern of mismanagement and fraud that contributed to the S&L's collapse in 1985.
The Circuit Court jury award, which lawyers called the largest ever in Maryland, came after a four-month trial in which attorneys for the state accused the former First Maryland officials of abusing their trust and pursuing personal gain through a wide range of improprieties.
Of the total award, $322 million was for punitive damages and $65 million was to partially compensate thousands of depositors at the Silver Spring thrift for money they lost when it collapsed. Three defendants were ordered to pay $100 million each, including Julian M. Seidel, First Maryland's former president and board chairman.
First Maryland officials offered lofty interest rates to attract huge depositors from across the nation, then embarked on sprees of extravagant lending to high-risk borrowers, the state alleged. They kept shoddy records, paid themselves exorbitant salaries and fees, engaged in numerous insider deals and generally ignored the warnings of state regulators.
In one case, Seidel took a $200,000 kickback for arranging a $6.8 million loan for two Florida developers, the state alleged. Seidel has not been charged with a crime.
It remained unclear after yesterday's verdicts how much money the state actually will collect. Seidel and several other defendants declared themselves bankrupt after the company's collapse. Neil Dilloff, an attorney for the state, said he expects the defendants to seek a bankrupty court's protection against yesterday's judgment, which could lead to another protracted legal battle.
Dilloff, however, said the state anticipates eventually collecting "a substantial amount" from the defendants -- despite assertions by many of them, including Seidel, that they could not even afford attorneys for the trial that ended yesterday.
"We're going to clean out everyone that was found liable -- just like they cleaned out the depositors," Dilloff said. The state estimates that depositors holding 7,000 accounts are still owed $100 million by First Maryland.
State officials said depositors initially lost $289 million when First Maryland collapsed; $168 million has since been repaid through the sale of the thrift's assets. The state could recover up to an additional $60 million through the sale of remaining assets, officials said, and the $65 million verdict is intended to make up the difference.
"My first reaction is we're really pleased," said Lloyd Jones, director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, the plaintiff. MDIF, a state agency, has similar cases pending against other thrifts, including the defunct Old Court Savings & Loan in Baltimore, whose top officials have been convicted on criminal charges and sentenced to prison.
The First Maryland case was the first of the lawsuits to come to trial. As it has in other lawsuits, MDIF alleged that deliberate mismanagement of the thrift left it ripe for collapse when depositors lost confidence in the industry and began frantic withdrawals in the spring of 1985.
Jones said yesterday's award -- after one of the longest and most costly trials in Montgomery's history -- could lead to favorable out-of-court settlements of MDIF's pending lawsuits elsewhere in Maryland. If defendants in those cases doubted the agency's willingness to press forward with trials, he said, "this sends a message that we will. We're not going to roll over and give up because we've incurred high legal bills."
He said MDIF has been criticized by depositor groups, lawyers for defendants, and some state officials "on the cocktail circuit" for spending money on expensive legal battles against former S&L officials who claim to have little, if any, ability to pay if they lose.
But Dilloff, of the prestigious Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury, which represents MDIF, said MDIF already has collected more than $2 million from other defendants in the First Maryland case who settled out of court before or shortly after the trial began Aug. 31. He said Piper & Marbury's bills for the case will total "substantially less" than $2 million.
The jury, impaneled 143 days ago before Circuit Court Judge Peter J. Messitte, began deliberating Jan. 7.
Seidel, of Potomac, and former officials James R. Porter of Falls Church, Robert J. Corletta of Annapolis, Edward A. Dacy of Rockville and Frank J. Calcara of Bethesda were found liable for negligent breach of fiduciary trust, intentional breach of fiduciary trust, civil conspiracy, conversion of First Maryland money to their own use and waste. Seidel and Porter also were found liable for fraud and breach of contract.
Former officials Benjamin Maisel and Gloria Meyers, both of Silver Spring, were found liable for negligent breach of fiduciary duty and waste; James J. Smat of Gaithersburg was found liable for those misdeeds, plus intentional breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and civil conspiracy, and David P. Cole of Columbia, S.C., was found liable for a $13,000 loan that MDIF said was never repaid.
It took a half-hour for the jury forewoman, Eugenie Patrick, a Rockville secretary, to read the verdicts.
The five other defendants included three borrowers -- Juan and Lelia Gruner of Bethesda and Carl Fibkins of Charleston, S.C. -- found liable for numerous defaulted loans; the Cambridge Mortgage Corp. of North Carolina, which was found liable for civil conspiracy in its dealings with First Maryland, and the Silver Spring law firm of Dacy, Myers & Suissa, found liable for malpractice because Dacy was First Maryland's general counsel.
Seidel, who is not a lawyer, but who represented himself, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify. He rarely attended the trial and was not in the courtroom yesterday, nor were other former First Maryland officials.
1ST MARYLAND S&L CASE
Found liable for mismanagement: nine former officers, including ex-president Julian Seidel.
Damages ordered by jury: $387 million, actual and punitive.
Total number accounts when ordered into receivership, June 1985: 34,000.
Total deposits before collapse: $289 million.
Still owed: $100 million. Depositors holding 7,000 accounts.
Total repaid to 27,000 accounts so far: $168 million.