RTC Workers Tell of Abuse by Top-Level Managers : Workplace: In Senate testimony, three Newport Beach employees describe an old-boy network that promotes wrongdoers. But accused executives deny problems.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sandra Crisman, struggling to breathe, was rushed to the hospital twice during two months of illness last year that was aggravated by stress from working at the Resolution Trust Corp.'s West Coast office.

About the same time, Annette I. LePique was getting telephone calls at night in which the caller always hung up without a word. She returned from vacation to find her garage door open. Those things didn't happen before her troubles at the RTC began. She moved.

J. Hans Mangelsdorf sometimes carries a gun since hearing that a colleague in another RTC office received threatening calls. During one call the colleague taped, only the sound of machine gun fire was heard. Mangelsdorf tries not to do anything routinely anymore.

"I look over my shoulder a lot more than I used to," said Mangelsdorf, who has worked in the Newport Beach office almost since the RTC opened it in March, 1990.

The origin of the stress and concern, the employees say, isn't in carrying out the RTC's duties of managing and selling the houses, apartments, office buildings, loans and other assets of failed savings and loans.

The culprit, they allege, is the agency's own management.

The three Orange County employees and 10 others from across the nation blew the whistle on RTC managers at a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing in September. Tired of what they saw as discrimination, harassment and reprisals--and of an old-boy network they say promotes wrongdoers while firing hard workers--the whistle-blowers startled committee members with their testimony.

Their charges of management abuse--roundly denied by RTC officials--delivered another blow to an agency that some believe should have been knocked out long ago by its alleged incompetence, mismanagement, favoritism and questionable deals. RTC blunders, critics say, have added unknown millions to the taxpayer cost of cleaning up the nation's failed thrifts.

"You folks are up here in agony while the folks who are persecuting you, literally, are being promoted and running around without any retaliation," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) told the whistle-blowers at the hearing. "Now I don't know how others feel, but I think they're the folks who ought to be fired."

Tomas Gotor, formerly a top executive in the Newport Beach office, was fired after Washington officials concluded that he sexually harassed LePique and abused his position as a high-ranking manager.

Gotor, who oversaw the office's huge outside-contracting operation, denies he did anything wrong and charges that the comments he is alleged to have made were concocted by others to advance their own careers. He has appealed his dismissal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board and is awaiting a decision.

Most managers at the Newport Beach office have supported him, including the director, Alvin J. Felton, and the former top deputy, Philip V. Jones Jr. The agency's own equal-employment probe found that Jones had discriminated against Crisman, yet he was promoted last summer to a major RTC post in Washington.

"What's clear is that there is a very significant pattern of mismanagement, and it's particularly prevalent in the Newport Beach office," said Jonathan Weiner, a top aide to Kerry who put together the whistle-blowers hearing in September.

"We've talked to numerous people there, and the personnel practices are extremely disturbing. People are being treated abusively routinely," he said.

The RTC was created as a temporary agency at the peak of the thrift industry crisis in 1989--its hierarchy staffed by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. employees--and given the job of liquidating failed thrifts. It is scheduled to close by the end of 1996.

Across the country, some RTC executives have run amok, Weiner believes, because they never viewed themselves as part of the business community. The agency inherited some FDIC management problems, had an immense workload and sold assets too quickly at steep discounts, he said.

The agency, which may create an ombudsman post to handle internal problems, has prepared a response for the Senate committee, but that response is being reviewed by the Treasury Department.

"I would not want to reach any conclusions on the information I have seen so far," said RTC spokesman Stephen Katsanos. "There are managers here who feel very strongly about the rights of individuals."

The agency's own equal-employment reviewers found fault with Felton and Jones in the Crisman and LePique cases. The women prevailed, but they have yet to receive back pay or damages. No formal findings have been reached in Mangelsdorf's complaint over reprisals.

Each of them told the senators--as well as RTC investigators--about retaliation when they aired management problems.

"They pulled out (the) stops to try to discredit me," LePique said.

Mangelsdorf said simply, "They've destroyed my career."

LePique's woes began in September, 1991, after she gave a sworn statement supporting another employee who had filed sexual harassment charges against Gotor. Mangelsdorf, once Gotor's friend, claims he faced retaliation for testifying in January on LePique's behalf after she filed her own complaint.

Crisman, who heads a contracts department, was never told why she was not promoted. She did know, though, that there were only four women supervisors out of 25 in Newport Beach and that men with poor evaluations and less experience were being promoted.

"When I filed this complaint, I knew pretty much that it was career suicide," Crisman said. "I was thinking I probably would be ostracized by senior management because that's viewed as a very negative thing. But I felt so strongly that I was being wronged, I had to do something."

After an informal investigation determined that Crisman was denied a promotion for unspecified "business reasons," she sought a formal review.

Tension and stress led to bronchitis and pleurisy, she said, explaining that she twice went to the hospital because of breathing problems. Crisman, a soft-spoken woman who is expecting her second child soon, became so infuriated when she learned in August that Jones had been promoted that she agreed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee.

"That indicated to me that the lip service we had been given was just that, that there weren't really any sincere efforts to make changes," she said.

LePique, who can be as fiery as Crisman is quiet, has been fighting not only for a promotion but for her reputation.

Almost since the day she started working at the Newport Beach office in July, 1990, according to the RTC's equal-employment investigation, LePique had been the subject of Gotor's advances--or his efforts to control her--and, having failed at those, to ruin both her name and her career.

Eventually, his lewd and threatening comments became so pervasive, LePique said in summarizing her charges, that a number of RTC employees who don't even know her came to believe she was either promiscuous with men or a lesbian.

When it came time a year ago for a promotion LePique had been promised, records show that Jones asked her only a few questions: What her relationship was with each of two women and why she couldn't get along with Gotor, who wasn't then her supervisor.

"I was stunned," she said.

"Those three years of all those comments--the lesbianism, the promiscuity--I had pushed in the background and said, 'It doesn't matter because I'm doing my job and that's all that anybody cares about.' It hit me right in the face that that isn't what everybody cares about."

According to RTC records, Jones said his questions were appropriate because they were job-related and that, in addition, LePique's work performance had slackened.

Once she filed her formal complaint, the reprimands and reprisals rained down. Several dozen colleagues questioned by senior management came to her office, some in tears.

"Those were the dark days," LePique said. "I began to think, 'What have I done to all these people, let alone myself?' "

After receiving anonymous telephone calls, finding her car vandalized at work and her garage door open, she figured it was time to go. "I was living in Costa Mesa, but I moved because of all this," she said. "I can't second-guess it because I have a small child."

Gotor denied making sexist remarks to or about LePique, seeking dates with her or trying to ruin her career. He acknowledged, however, that men meeting behind closed doors sometimes engaged in sexual banter and that such talk was "nothing out of the ordinary."

Mangelsdorf, though, says Gotor crossed the line, expressing in detail his desires. In testimony, Mangelsdorf revealed those comments as well as Gotor's requests for help in getting a date. He also testified about fraud and mismanagement, including phony sales figures he said the Newport Beach office once gave Congress.

He didn't win any friends among top managers.

"I'm outspoken. I have very strong convictions. I'm very stalwart. I call foul when I see foul. I like the truth," he said.

In fact, he said, managers now call him a liar.

Mangelsdorf said he suspected a year ago that he would be drawn into the RTC's internal inferno, so he straightened out his financial affairs in case he lost his job and agreed to his wife's wishes to move out of Huntington Harbour.

He is also worried about possible physical attacks.

"If it weren't for the Senate hearing, I wouldn't carry a gun," he said. But he became alarmed when an RTC employee from Chicago told the committee that his life was threatened several times.

Mangelsdorf said his new neighborhood has "triple-redundant security," including an armed-guard service that patrols his street 24 hours a day.

"They've destroyed my career," he said. "My alternative is to go to work for myself."

Gotor has no sympathy. To him, LePique and Mangelsdorf are "underachievers" who made phony allegations against him to seek promotions when their jobs were in jeopardy.

Gotor never grasped how serious the case against him had become until he was removed from his influential post in May and sent to work at a failed San Diego thrift as the equal-employment probe continued. After the finding against him, he was fired in August.

"Although you can prepare yourself for something of that nature, when it finally takes place, it's generally a lot more of a heavy blow than what you anticipate," he said. "At least it was in this case."

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