Stashing by Billman is denied

June 18, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Attorneys for financier Tom J. Billman denied yesterday that their client tried to conceal $6 million in assets after his April conviction for stealing millions from his defunct Bethesda savings and loan.

The $6 million worth of cash and gems owned by Billman in England and Austria was disclosed last month by federal prosecutors after a courier working for Billman was arrested in Vienna trying to make a bank transaction.

Billman's plans for the money included payments of nearly $4 million to the Internal Revenue Service for back taxes, the defense attorneys said. Billman intended to use all of his money to pay off debts, they said, including $850,000 to his wife and about $250,000 in legal fees. He has no other money, they said.

"He's broke," said attorney John R. Fornaciari. "If paying the IRS is stashing millions of dollars, I've stashed a bunch of money with the IRS."

But an attorney for the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, which has paid millions to bail out depositors of Billman's failed thrift, called the defense lawyers' claims "a joke."

Even now, Billman -- who is awaiting sentencing -- has significant assets hidden in locations that have been discovered by MDIF, said Neil Dilloff. "It has been a continuing theme here that Mr. Billman has failed to come clean regarding all of his assets, including assets he already has transferred to others," he said, declining to identify the assets.

Federal prosecutors were not available for comment.

Billman, the former chairman of Community Savings and Loan, fled the country using a phony passport in late 1988 after wiring $22 million to Swiss bank accounts. He eluded investigators for four years before he was arrested in Paris in March 1993. Now, MDIF and federal prosecutors are trying to recover his money.

Mr. Fornaciari said he disclosed the $6 million in a footnote to a sealed financial statement that was filed with the court after the courier's arrest but before prosecutors publicly revealed their discovery of the money. He said he learned of the arrest the day after it happened.

Those millions were not listed as assets because the money was frozen by authorities in Austria and Great Britain, and Billman no longer had access to it, he said.

The comments from Billman's lawyers came as prosecutors filed new documents detailing Billman's activities since his arrest.

Among their earlier disclosures by prosecutors was a 21-page handwritten letter Billman had forwarded to the courier detailing instructions for financial transactions. The letter, written after his conviction, was peppered with code words and secret messages, and it advised the courier to destroy all records of the instructions when he was finished.

Defense lawyers said yesterday that they could not fully explain the secretive tone of Billman's letter -- or his orders to destroy the instructions. They suggested that he may have been trying to protect his courier or others from public scrutiny.

The original May 25 sentencing date was postponed after the prosecutors' revelations. Billman will be sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz.

In preparation for the sentencing, prosecutors revealed yesterday that the courier, Ricardo Diniz Monteiro, disclosed new details in questioning by a U.S. postal investigator.

Mr. Monteiro, a Brazilian, described traveling to the United States to open an account at Riggs Bank in Bethesda under his own name, but with Billman's funds. Court records show that $40,000 was wired to the account while Billman was in a Paris jail in April 1993. According to what the courier told prosecutors, instructions for that transaction came through Mr. Monteiro's mother, a lawyer who was hired by Billman and who regularly visited him in the jail, where he awaited extradition.

In his instructions, Billman emphasized that the account "is intended to be my cash in the USA." Each page of the instructions is stamped "attorney-client privileged."

Prosecutors also claim that Billman's son, Charles, and possibly his wife, Clare, visited Vienna in August 1993. There, Charles Billman returned to Mr. Monteiro a key for a safe deposit box in London, and later passed messages to the courier.

Defense lawyer Andrew Radding yesterday said the new information filed by prosecutors is "incorrect down the line." Specifically, he disputed that the money wired to Riggs Bank was Billman's.

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