Advertisement

Thrift Owner Called a ‘Con Man’ : State thrifts chief speaks bluntly about Charles H. Keating before an Assembly panel. Governor’s aide defends his actions as one of the businessman’s attorneys.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Lincoln Savings & Loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr. was a “con man” who relied on lies and political influence--"juice"--to fool and bully regulators in charge of his ill-fated Irvine-based thrift, California Savings and Loan Commissioner William J. Crawford told an Assembly committee Wednesday.

The committee also heard Gov. George Deukmejian’s top campaign fund-raiser, Los Angeles attorney Karl M. Samuelian, defend his actions as one of Keating’s attorneys, hired to represent the Arizona businessman’s interests before state regulators. Samuelian said he recommended the appointment of two successive state corporations commissioners--both of whom subsequently approved the sales of high-risk junk bonds by Lincoln’s parent corporation.

For the record:
7:01 PM, Dec. 08, 1989

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 8, 1989 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Franklin Tom--A Nov. 30 story said that Tom had approved the sale in California of high-risk bonds by American Continental Corp., parent company of Lincoln Savings & Loan. Although Tom has acknowledged that the approval was issued in his name, he has said he had no personal knowledge of the matter while commissioner.

Samuelian, Deukmejian’s campaign finance chairman since 1982, also said that he represented Keating at several meetings with state regulators. After the hearing, Samuelian told reporters that he helped set up meetings between Keating and the regulators’ boss, Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary John K. Geoghegan.

But it was Crawford’s blunt remarks about Keating’s tactics and demeanor that provided the most provocative testimony Wednesday before the Assembly’s Finance and Insurance Committee.

Advertisement

Asked for a simple explanation of why Lincoln Savings failed, prompting a federal takeover in April that could cost taxpayers more than $2 billion, Crawford said: “If I had to pick one reason, I would have to say that probably the owner was a con man.

“He was a dominant person who believed that he was above the law and regulations, that he was powerful and he had the juice and he could win. He could fight the regulators, and he did a very good job of it.”

When Keating first took over Lincoln in February, 1984, he told state regulators one thing but all along planned to do another, Crawford said.

“They said they were going to run a traditional savings and loan. They lied to us,” Crawford said.

Advertisement

Instead, Crawford said, Keating used Lincoln’s citizen deposits and sales of high-risk bonds as sources of cash for marginal land acquisitions in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Louisiana. Crawford said that when he took over the department in 1985, he found that his predecessor had allowed Keating to keep the original records of Lincoln Savings in Phoenix, leaving only incomplete copies of documents for California regulators in the Lincoln offices in Irvine.

Crawford said he ordered Lincoln’s files to be brought back to California after he discovered Keating had contributed $50,000 to Arizona’s attorney general in an uncontested race--a move that persuaded him that any action by California regulators would be resisted by their counterparts in Arizona. He also said regulators needed the centralized files to help keep up with Keating’s financial empire, which expanded from 32 corporations in 1984 to 54 entities by the end of 1987.

“That was 54 places to hide the smoking gun,” said Crawford, who added: “We were never on top of the problems of Lincoln Savings. . . . They could write up (the value of) their assets faster than you could write them down.”

He said the task was made even more difficult by the phalanx of Keating employees and attorneys, who overwhelmed understaffed regulators. Crawford said he tried to keep tabs of Lincoln with only one experienced examiner and two trainees.

“They (Lincoln and American Continental) had a battery of people. They had 48 CPAs, they had 15 attorneys on staff. I just lately learned they employed 77 outside law firms,” Crawford said.

Referring to a Home Loan Bank Board memo that said Keating had attempted to have him fired, Crawford said he did not know of any such effort but added that he, like federal regulators, felt “beat up” by the Arizona businessman.

‘Proof of the Pudding’

But he insisted that no one from Deukmejian’s office tried to influence his handling of Lincoln.

Advertisement

“He had the juice (but) he didn’t have it on a direct line from the governor to me. I’m still here, and that’s proof of the pudding, I think,” Crawford said.

The committee’s chairman, Assemblyman Patrick Johnston (D-Stockton), expressed concern about allegations that Keating and his associates used political connections to influence state regulators.

Keating was invited to attend the committee hearing but did not respond, Johnston said.

Deukmejian fund-raiser Samuelian, however, said he has never contacted the governor on behalf of any client.

“As far as the governor is concerned, I have religiously for 10 years separated my business matters from my (campaign) assistance to the governor,” he said.

Samuelian said he was introduced to Keating in November, 1985, by San Diego financier Thomas C. Stickel, who is controlling stockholder of TCS Enterprises. Stickel’s company went public in January, 1985, and American Continental Corp. quickly bought up 19.2% with a nearly $3-million investment in the San Diego firm.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, Stickel said he never personally introduced Keating to Samuelian, whom Stickel knew through Republican and Deukmejian fund-raising activities.

But Stickel added that he had referred Lincoln Savings to Samuelian’s law firm when the thrift was looking for a Los Angeles attorney to handle its business.

Advertisement

“I know I recommended that Charlie Keating hire the law firm of Karl & Karl specifically because I thought that it was an excellent law firm,” said Stickel. “I was specifically asked (by Lincoln) for a major, prominent Los Angeles law firm and who they should contact within the law firm.”

Stickel said the fact that Samuelian was Deukmejian’s top fund-raiser had nothing to do with the referral.

“It was strictly on the basis of his (Samuelian’s) legal reputation and the firm’s legal reputation,” said Stickel.

At the hearing in Sacramento, however, Samuelian said he didn’t know why Keating decided to hire his firm. “You should ask him,” said Samuelian.

Samuelian outlined 1986 and 1987 contributions to Deukmejian’s campaign committee from Keating’s companies, relatives and business associates totaling $150,000, plus an additional $100,000 to Republican fund-raising efforts in California that Samuelian collected.

However, he denied ever “lobbying” for Keating or his companies.

“We were representing a client as a lawyer, not doing any lobbying work,” Samuelian said.

After the hearing, Samuelian said he helped set up Keating’s meetings in February and March, 1988, with Transportation and Housing Secretary Geoghegan, a Deukmejian appointee whose agency oversees the state’s savings and loan and corporations regulators.

Samuelian also revealed to the committee Wednesday that he had recommended that Deukmejian appoint two former law associates, Franklin Tom and Christine W. Bender, as corporation commissioners. The governor named Tom first, and then Bender succeeded him.

Both Tom and Bender approved the sale of controversial high-risk bonds issued by American Continental and sold through Lincoln’s branches.

After Tom left his post as commissioner, he rejoined Samuelian’s law firm and represented Keating’s position in meetings with Bender, his successor and former deputy.

Wording Deleted

Also during the hearing, state savings and loan examiner Richard Newsom said the state attorney general’s office deleted wording in a December, 1988, cease-and-desist order against American Continental that could have warned investors not to buy the company’s high-risk junk bonds.

Newsom said the wording would have been the “atomic bomb” to end the junk bond sales, which continued through early 1989. But, he added, the attorney general balked at including the language because his office lacked the expertise to defend the state on a court challenge over securities matters.


Advertisement