Billman accused of stashing millions

May 26, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Even from his jail cell, convicted financier Tom J. Billman has continued to mastermind an elaborate scheme to conceal millions stolen from his defunct Bethesda-based savings and loan, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

Although Billman's attorneys have portrayed him as "hopelessly insolvent," prosecutors offered startling new evidence that he directed the movement of money in Europe and the United States -- even as he was awaiting sentencing on his April fraud conviction.

Some financial maneuvers apparently were crafted to influence his sentencing -- which could include millions in restitution.

In one handwritten letter cited by prosecutors, Billman asked a friend in Europe to transfer $5 million from an account, adding: "It's atight fit before sentencing and I do not want to perjure myself."

Meanwhile, Billman -- who eluded authorities for four years before being captured in Paris in 1993 -- offered tips for covering up the transactions. "When each written instruction is complete -- destroy it! When all are done, you should have nothing left. Also no computer records," the letter said.

And he already was planning for the day he would be free -- as early as 1995, according to that letter. A key to his plans: millions stashed in Europe, funds that federal and state officials could have sought as restitution for the money he took from Community Savings and Loan.

The developments caused the abrupt postponement of Billman's sentencing, which had been set for yesterday morning.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz issued a stern message from the bench, saying he learned of the developments after receiving a copy of the prosecutors' brief at his home Tuesday night.

"I'm taking what the government says very seriously," he said before setting a new sentencing hearing for June 7. "Everybody better start taking this case seriously, including the people most affected."

Billman's lawyer, John R. Fornaciari, declined to comment on the accusations, saying he had only learned about them hours earlier. Prosecutors would not say whether new charges were being considered.

Meanwhile, court records revealed that a few days before Billman's conviction, $13.5 million from his European accounts was wired to the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund in negotiations with his Swiss lawyers. The fund, which insured Community's deposits, is seeking to recover millions from Billman.

Billman, Community's former chairman, was accused of diverting more than $100 million of depositors' money to prop up his failing real estate companies. He fled the United States in late 1988 after the S&L's collapse and a civil judgment ordering him and other Community executives to pay $112 million.

For years Billman eluded investigators, traveling in Europe and South America, and using a variety of aliases to acquire bogus passports. His secret life was financed with some of the estimated $22 million of Community money that prosecutors say he had stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

When finally arrested early last year outside his small Paris apartment, he showed a false British passport and identified himself as John Rink. He has remained in jail ever since.

Portrayed as 'insolvent'

As Billman's sentencing neared, his attorneys -- who had planned to argue that Billman should be sentenced to no more than two years in prison -- portrayed him as financially ruined.

In court papers filed this week, Billman claimed a single asset -- reportedly a wine collection worth $80,000 -- and a net worth of minus $149 million. "Speculation regarding Mr. Billman's present financial condition should be put to rest," his lawyers wrote, describing Billman as "hopelessly insolvent."

Defense attorneys also filed letters of support from friends, relatives and business associates. One was from George Lady, a former college roommate whose birth certificate Billman secretly obtained to acquire a phony passport and flee the country.

Billman's son, Charles, also wrote on his behalf: "This is not a schemer out for a quick buck. He should not be punished as if this whole catastrophe . . . was by grand design."

But, in court filings, prosecutors offered a very different picture of Billman yesterday.

Evidence from Vienna

Much of the recent financial maneuvering came to light after a courier claiming to work for Billman was arrested in Vienna last week. Ricardo Diniz Monteiro, 24, a Brazilian citizen and student at the Sorbonne in Paris, was arrested as he attempted a $5 million bank transaction for "Charles Samuel Poehlman," one of Billman's aliases, according to court records.

Prosecutors would not give details of the arrest, which led to the discovery of dozens of pages of memos, instructions and correspondence in which Billman outlined plans to hide the money. Financial records and a number of phony IDs also have been recovered, according to a 200-page brief filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

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