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Parker, Ex-VP of Thrift Indicted in Fraud Case : S&Ls;: Michael Parker and Jeffrey Worthy are accused of using a leveraged leasing scheme to defraud now-insolvent Columbia S&L;.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Newport Beach executive and a former Columbia Savings & Loan vice president were indicted Wednesday on charges of bilking more than $11 million from the now-insolvent thrift in what is alleged to be among the largest thrift fraud cases in Southern California.

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Michael E. Parker, founder of Parker North American Corp. of Costa Mesa, and Jeffrey S. Worthy, Columbia’s former director of financial planning, on charges of racketeering, money laundering, paying and receiving kickbacks, and bank and tax fraud. Parker was also charged with tax evasion. The two engineered a so-called leveraged leasing scheme to defraud Columbia, the indictment charges.

In a separate action, the federal Office of Thrift Supervision said Wednesday that it will seek $25 million in restitution on behalf of Columbia from Parker, Worthy and Brian W. Fink, former vice president of Parker North America. The agency is also seeking to ban the three from the thrift business.

The restitution sought by the OTS is the third-highest sought by the agency, exceeded only by actions against former Lincoln Savings & Loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr. and former CenTrust Bank Chairman David Paul.

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The indictment includes 46 counts against Parker and 43 against Worthy. Federal authorities also filed two charges against Fink for conspiracy and tax evasion. The conspiracy charge stems from the preparation of phony lease documents submitted to Columbia.

In yet another related indictment, the grand jury indicted Gilbert Fuentes, former chief financial officer of Columbia, on one count of tax evasion for allegedly not reporting on tax forms a $200,000 check from Parker in 1986.

Prosecutors said the joint investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service is continuing.

The indictment alleges that Parker, 43, paid more than $1.5 million in kickbacks to Worthy, 33, of Downey, from April, 1985, to November, 1987. Prosecutors said that in exchange, Worthy recommended approval of the $166 million in lease deals to Columbia, even though the leases were often bogus. Columbia ultimately forwarded $31 million in cash to Parker North America.

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“During the operation of the enterprise . . . Parker allegedly diverted over $11 million of this money to himself, Worthy, Fink, Fuentes and others,” said the office of Lourdes G. Baird, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, in a statement.

Parker and Worthy have denied the charges in the past. Fink and Fuentes could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Federal authorities arrested Parker at 6 a.m. Wednesday at his $1.4-million home in the posh Big Canyon neighborhood of Newport Beach and took Worthy into custody at about the same time. Fink, 42, waived indictment and was not arrested, possibly indicating that he is cooperating with prosecutors.

Prosecutors said the case is among the largest incidents of fraud against an S&L; in Southern California. And in what the U.S. Attorney’s Office said was one of the first cases of its kind, prosecutors will ask the courts to confiscate about $2 million in assets they claim were bought with proceeds from the fraud scheme.

Those assets include Parker’s Newport Beach house, Worthy’s home in Downey and a condominium he bought in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. The IRS has already seized the three homes.

The indictment and the seizures of property “enable us to prosecute corrupt financial services executives and, at the same time, lessen the financial burden to the American taxpayer,” said U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh in announcing the actions in Washington.

At a bail hearing in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors asked U.S. Magistrate John Kronenberg to keep Parker in jail without bail until his trial. Parker, they said, was likely to flee the country and pose a “economic danger to the community.”

Worthy was released on a $200,000 bond secured by his father’s home. Fuentes, a former Irvine resident who now lives in San Diego, was unable to secure a $25,000 bond and remains in custody in San Diego County.

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The indictments cap a nearly yearlong investigation that was touched off by tips from Columbia and employees at Parker North America, said Assistant U.S. Atty. James R. Asperger. Columbia filed a civil suit against Parker in August alleging that he had fraudulently diverted more than $13.5 million in thrift funds for his personal use.

At one point last year, according to the indictment, Parker offered a lawyer for Columbia $5 million in cash and $5 million worth of Parker Automotive stock to settle their differences and to prevent Columbia from “revealing alleged kickbacks received by Columbia corporate officers” from Parker North America.

Times staff writers Gregory Crouch and John O’Dell contributed to this story.


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