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Jury Says S&L Officials Liable For Damages In Thrift Collapse

October 7, 1988

ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) _ A Montgomery County Circuit Court jury has ruled that six former officials of the defunct Community Savings and Loan of Bethesda are liable for $112 million in damages stemming from the thrift’s demise.

The jury returned the verdict Thursday after five days of deliberation, ruling that the officers misused deposits that financed an ultimately disastrous real estate venture known as Equity Programs Investment Corp., or EPIC.

The $112 million was sought in compensatory damages by the state-run Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, which took control of Community when its financial mismanagement contributed to the state’s 1985 savings and loan crisis.

The defendants in the longest trial in the court’s history included Tom Billman, who founded EPIC in 1975 and later acquired Community.

Attorneys for the state deposit insurance fund, which filed the lawsuit two years ago, alleged that Billman and others drove Community into insolvency by misusing its deposits to enrich themselves and to ″feed the EPIC machine.″

Prosecutors said that Billman and associates ″lived like kings in palatial homes, paid for from the profit of their personal companies which continued to grow even after Community began to fail in 1985.″

The jury held Billman and his codefendants liable on six counts each of breaching their fiduciary duties - partly in connection with more than $82 million in improper, unsecured loans from Community to EPIC in the early 1980s.

The defendants also violated their trust by engaging in numerous insider deals and allowing themselves lavish salaries, bonuses and perquisites, the jury found.

Other defendants were James Deerin Jr. of Chevy Chase and Joseph Cunningham of Rockville, both members of Community’s board of directors and officers of various holding companies.

Also named as defendants were Clayton McCuistion of McLean, Va., Barbara McKinney of Fairfax, Va., and Leonard Meltz of Atlanta, Ga.

Billman, a former FBI fingerprint clerk from rural southern Ohio, worked for real estate firms until he founded EPIC in 1975, and eventually built it into a $1.5 billion real estate empire. The brainchild of Billman and his former college roommate, Clayton McCuistion, EPIC acquired single-family homes and packaged them into sophisticated tax shelters for investors.

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