$4 million Billman stash found


Police in Austria say they have unearthed about $4 million more hidden by Maryland savings and loan swindler Tom J. Billman, who went to prison in June claiming to be broke and asking taxpayers to pay his legal fees.

The multimillion-dollar hoard, dispersed among several bank accounts, came to light recently during an investigation by police in Vienna. Austrian police were drawn into the case last spring after a courier for Billman was arrested while attempting to make a $5 million transaction that the former executive had ordered from his jail cell.

The extent of the seizures in Austria was outlined in interviews with Vienna police yesterday.

The discovery brings the total of Billman's illicit assets recovered this year to more than $20 million.

Billman, the former chairman of Community Savings & Loan in Bethesda, was convicted in April of diverting millions from the thrift to prop up his failing real estate companies.

In 1988, after Billman and other Community S&L; executives were ordered to repay depositors $112 million, Billman fled the United States, concealing his whereabouts with the help of phony passports.

After buying two yachts, he lived lavishly on Spain's Costa del Sol before abandoning the boats and moving to South America. Billman, who lived off $22 million he had wired to Swiss banks from the United States, remained a fugitive until his arrest in Paris early last year.

With help from the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund (MDIF), which insured Community's depositors, Austrian police traced numerous Billman accounts using records seized from his Paris apartment.

"Mr. Billman left a treasure trove of documents," said Neil Dilloff, an attorney for MDIF. "We've gone through those very carefully; they have led us to other funds and continue to lead us to other funds."

Of the $4 million, he said, "This is only Austria we're talking about. We're on the verge of seizing some other moneys right now. My guess is, we're nowhere near the end of the line yet."

Mr. Dilloff said that he expects several hundred thousand dollars to be seized soon from a location that he would not disclose and that MDIF also is trying to recover several hundred thousand dollars from a Chicago bank account in the name of a subsidiary company run by Billman.

MDIF recently acquired $50,000 from a Riggs bank account in the name of Billman's courier, Ricardo Diniz Monteiro, a student in Paris.

"We're very pleased to note the diligence of the Austrian police in pursuing this matter, and we hope that the victim, MDIF, will be able to recover all of the money," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Sale, a prosecutor in the Billman case.

Mr. Monteiro, 24, is to go on trial in Vienna on Nov. 4. If he is convicted, Mr. Dilloff said, there is a good chance that Austrian courts will turn the money over to MDIF.

Efforts to reach Billman's attorneys, who were at trials out of state yesterday, were unsuccessful.

The $4 million is the second large sum uncovered since Billman portrayed himself as "hopelessly insolvent" last spring.

On the eve of his sentencing, prosecutors startled the court with a 200-page brief that disclosed Mr. Monteiro's arrest and Billman's scheme to direct, from his cell, the movement of $5 million in cash and diamonds.

One piece of evidence was a lengthy, handwritten letter to Mr. Monteiro in which Billman supplied detailed orders for financial transactions and tips for covering them up.

"When each written instruction is complete -- destroy it! When all are done, you should have nothing left. Also no computer records," he wrote.

Prosecutors said Billman passed communiques to Europe through his son. The revelations prompted an abrupt postponement of Billman's sentencing.

When he appeared before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz a month later, Billman showed no remorse and again pleaded poverty.

He claimed a single asset -- a wine collection worth an estimated $80,000 -- and debts of minus $149 million.

According to Billman's correspondence, he anticipated a sentence of about two years. The judge gave prosecutors the 40-year sentence they requested, telling Billman that he doubted the financier could be deterred or rehabilitated.

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