House members topping bad-check list are given week to argue their case

March 24, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Disclosure of the 24 worst "abusers" of the House bank will have to wait at least until the end of this week, as those present and former House members mount a defense of their check-writing practices.

The House ethics committee is giving those found to have written the most bad checks -- between 81 and 996 over the past three years -- a chance to be heard before their names are officially released. A spokesman for Rep. Matthew F. McHugh, a New York Democrat who serves as acting committee chairman, said the list would be released Friday at the earliest.

Those whose names showed up on a leaked copy of the list are descending on the ethics committee with accountants, staff aides, canceled checks and explanations. "It's been pure bedlam here," a committee staffer said. "You feel like you're on the bad end of Custer's Last Stand."

Meanwhile, release of the remainder of the list -- the 331 current and former members who wrote at least one overdraft -- is to follow the list of the worst abusers by at least 10 days.

In a "Dear Colleague" letter yesterday, Mr. McHugh and the committee's top ranking Republican, Rep. James V. Hansen of Utah, told members that the longer list "probably contains some mistakes" due to the practices of the now-closed bank, described as lax and haphazard by the committee.

The amount of overdrafts could be reduced for those members who can prove the bank was tardy in making a deposit that would have covered a bad check. If a lawmaker can demonstrate that the posting of a deposit was made later than the next business day, "it will not count overdrafts caused by the late posting," according to the letter.

Many House members have said that the bank failed to make zTC quick deposits. One lawmaker told his colleagues he wrote an $8,000 tuition check for his child that bounced after the House bank failed to deposit $9,000 in his account for 15 days.

Lawmakers have until Friday to contact the committee. Many no doubt will, considering the political storm that has swirled around the banking scandal. One of the top bad-check writers, Rep. Charles A. Hayes, D-Ill., was defeated in a primary election last week.

Spokesmen for three Maryland Democrats who have admitted writing overdrafts -- Reps. Beverly B. Byron, Steny H. Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume -- were uncertain yesterday if they would challenge any of their overdrafts.

Those on the leaked list of the top 24 have not given up the fight.

"We should not have been on that list," said Peter Woolfolk, press secretary to Rep. Jim Scheuer, D-N.Y., who was listed as having written 169 overdrafts. The congressman sent his top aide and an accountant to the committee to mount a defense.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., has been listed with 439 checks totaling $188,000. But the congressman said he found that only 51 checks totaling $26,816 "remain in question."

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