McMillen requests ethics probe Help to Md. thrift defended as 'proper'

November 08, 1991|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Peter H. Frank

Representative Tom McMillen asked the House ethics committee yesterday to exonerate him of any impropriety in trying to help a failing thrift last year, charging that a published report's suggestion of wrongdoing was politically motivated.

In a letter to the committee, the 4th District Democrat assailed a report in yesterday's Washington Post that he met -- and secretly tape-recorded his conversation -- with a federal regulator in Atlanta on behalf of First Annapolis Savings Bank FSB.

The Post article said Mr. McMillen met to discuss ways to keep the ailing thrift open because one of its major investors, Edward O. Wayson Jr., an Anne Arundel County lawyer who had invested in the congressman's beeper company, was a business associate and campaign fund-raiser of his. The article's premise, Mr. McMillen wrote, "is simply wrong."

Mr. McMillen, whose congressional district was redrawn last month over his objections, suggested that political rivals prodded the Post to raise the matter.

"I was sure that my opponents and would-be opponents would come up with some issues to make my having to run in a new district even harder than it ordinarily would be," Mr. McMillen wrote to Representative Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, chairman of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. "My fears were just confirmed."

Mr. McMillen defended himself, writing that he had met with federal banking regulators and other government officials on behalf of other institutions and constituents. He said his visit to discuss First Annapolis was proper and "exactly what a Member of Congress should do to make sure regulatory agencies are doing their jobs."

In fact, Mr. McMillen also undertook efforts in early 1989 to help the now-defunct Gibraltar Federal Savings Bank by asking other Maryland congressional members to request an investigation of regulators' handling of the institution.

Mr. McMillen, then a member of the House Banking Committee, was asked to help by the Annapolis thrift's management, which claimed unfair treatment, Laurence Goldstein, former thrift chairman, said.

Mr. Goldstein said Representatives Helen Delich Bentley and Roy P. Dyson agreed to sign a letter seeking the probe, but the effort died when other delegation members refused to participate. Tammy Hawley, an aide to Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, said the congressman believed it to be "inappropriate" to get involved with a specific institution's request because he sat on the House Banking Committee.

Mr. McMillen yesterday asked the House ethics committee to confirm that his contacts on behalf of First Annapolis were "perfectly proper."

"The Washington Post ran a front-page article today which totally misstated the involvement I had with officials at the Office of Thrift Supervision in Atlanta," he wrote Chairman Stokes.

Mr. McMillen complained in the statement that the Post article implied that First Federal received "special treatment" as a result of the April 2, 1990, meeting he had with Jack Ryan, regional director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, and two phone calls he made to the agency on Feb. 13 and March 29, 1990.

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