About 40 frustrated taxpayers demonstrated Thursday evening in front of the $1.9-million estate of Bill Walters, a key figure in the collapse of a Denver savings and loan, saying they were angry about footing the bill for the nation's S&L; crisis.
Walters, a Denver developer and former business associate of Neil Bush, defaulted on $96 million in loans from the now defunct Silverado Banking, Savings & Loan. The thrift's collapse--which authorities blame in part on Walters--is expected to cost taxpayers $1 billion.
The protesters gathered in front of the gated estate of Walters and his wife, Jacqueline, filling the exclusive neighborhood with the sound of loud chants such as: "What do we want? Our money back! When do we want it? Now!"
They also carried signs bearing messages that read: "No More Swilling at the Public Trough" and "Is Bill Hiding Behind the Bushes?"
"We could fit my little condo in their garage," said protester Barbara Lo Bue, 51, a Laguna Niguel teacher. "This makes me so angry."
Added Ken Balter, 62, a retired Santa Ana businessman: "If I were to walk into a savings and loan with a gun and ask for all the money they had in the drawer, I'd go to jail. These guys didn't have a gun, but they did the same thing and they're not going to jail."
The Justice Department has refused to say whether Walters is the target of any investigation. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the collapse of the Denver thrift.
A man answering the driveway intercom at the Walters home said: "I'm sorry, there's no comment right now." He said Walters was not at home.
Walters, 44, had told the House Banking Committee in June that he was broke but "staying alive for another day so that I can pay every dime back if I can."
The Times first reported two weeks ago that Walters was living in grand style in Orange County. Besides the Newport Beach estate, Walters' wife owns a $250,000 mobile home on prime oceanfront property near Laguna Beach and a $1-million desert retreat in the exclusive Vintage Club in Indian Wells.
Disclosure of the Walters' lifestyle has fueled outrage on both Capitol Hill and Main Street.
"I was screaming and ranting and raving about this savings and loan fraud and what it's going to cost the country, and I told my daughter no one was doing anything about it," said Janice Graham, a retired Laguna Hills schoolteacher and the rally's organizer. "She said, 'Well, you aren't doing anything either.' "
Graham, 54, said she called everyone from the National Organization for Women to senior citizens at Leisure World looking for protesters.
KABC radio talk show host Bill Press--along with a local newspaper columnist--were encouraging people to show up at Walters' home.
"I think this (the savings and loan crisis) is the greatest heist in the history of American bank robberies, and it's the American people who have to pay the price. The American people should be outraged," Press said. "This demonstration is the way to get the attention of the executive and legislative branches."
Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) asked Walters in a July 26 letter to reappear before Congress on Sept. 6 to explain his lifestyle. The chairman of the House Financial Institutions subcommittee set a deadline of yesterday for Walters to come forward voluntarily. Walters did not respond, so Annunzio said Thursday he will now seek a subpoena.
Meanwhile, real estate sources say Walters may be moving. Prudential California Realty has apparently been given an opportunity to sell the Newport Beach home. The asking price was not available Thursday, and agents there refused to comment.