Ex-chairman of S&L loses bid to avoid trial

January 05, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer

Tom J. Billman will go to trial next month on a battery of mail and wire fraud charges, despite his lawyers' efforts yesterday to get him freed from the charges and from federal custody.

Lawyers for Mr. Billman, who is accused of looting his Bethesda savings and loan of $28 million and fleeing to Europe, argued in federal court that the wording in a French extradition order prohibits prosecutors from pursuing the case.

Specifically, said Washington, D.C., lawyer John R. Fornaciari, the French order allows Mr. Billman to be charged only with "swindling" and "fraudulent misuse of funds." Federal law includes no such charges.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said there was no confusion about the intentions behind the extradition order.

"The French were perfectly clear that wire and mail fraud are the same in substance as swindling and misuse of funds," he said.

Mr. Billman was returned to the United States last month after a lengthy extradition process after his arrest in Paris in March. He HTC had eluded authorities for more than four years, for a time living lavishly overseas. His trial is scheduled for early next month.

Absent from the trial will be the conspiracy and racketeering charges included in his indictment.

The French refused to extradite Mr. Billman on those charges because there are no comparable French laws.

If convicted on the mail and wire fraud counts, he could face up to 90 years in prison and fines totaling in the millions of dollars.

"It's disappointing not to have the racketeering charges because they have very potent forfeiture provisions and it might have made it easier to get our hands on the money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara S. Sale.

Ms. Sale said that little potential prison time was lost, however. Although the charges have not been dropped and could be pursued in the future, it is unlikely that prosecutors will take that course.

"We're not gearing up for that," she said.

The 1985 failure of Community Savings & Loan Association contributed to Maryland's S&L scandal of the 1980s and has cost the state $89 million.

Mr. Billman, 53, who was chairman of the thrift, disappeared in December 1988 after stashing $22 million in a Swiss bank account, according to authorities.

Federal investigators said they tracked him to Spain's Costa Del Sol in 1989, but he eluded capture by using aliases and phony passports.

Mr. Billman was arrested at his Paris apartment last year after authorities were tipped off by someone who recognized him from a photo in a "wanted" notice, one of many that officials placed in yachting magazines and overseas periodicals.

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