A city-financed loan agency, now under federal scrutiny for a purported kickback scheme involving an ex-employee, operated with a deficit of nearly $3 million over four years and is expected to post another six-figure loss in the fiscal year that just ended.
A review of the latest available tax returns for the nonprofit Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp. shows annual losses ranging from $236,560 to $1.5 million in the four-year period ending June 30, 1995. The agency has not filed a return for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1996, but is projecting a deficit of about $400,000.
The existence of the losses stands in contrast to assurances made at the time the agency was created in 1989, when officials of the Schmoke administration said it would be self-sufficient.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke reiterated that assurance Friday, but said that avoiding losses is simply not achievable in the short run.
"The long-range hope was that it would be self-sustaining, but I've been told that can't be done in the start-up period," Schmoke said.
Since its founding nearly seven years ago, its backers say the financing unit has helped pay for the construction or renovation of 1,800 housing units in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Just last week, Schmoke cut the ribbon for one such project in the 1000 block of W. Baltimore St.
Officials at the agency also downplay the losses.
Wayne R. Frazier Sr., vice president of the agency, said as much as 90 percent of the deficits could be attributed to what he called "bookkeeping requirements" and not actual losses. Among those bookkeeping requirements is the obligation to create a reserve for bad loans.
He also said an agency like his that was set up to make high-risk loans expects to have losses. That point, however, is disputed by former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who was involved in reviewing the original agreement creating the agency.
"We do expect to lose money," Frazier said. "Doing the kind of work we do, you can't expect to break even."
Frazier said agency borrowers pay interest that is approximately two percentage points below the rates being charged by commercial lenders. But just who gets the discount loans, which are made with a combination of federal, state and city funds, is secret.
Frazier refused to release a list of borrowers. He also declined to identify who had defaulted on loans, stating that the identity of its clients is "strictly confidential."
When Schmoke announced the creation of the agency in 1989, he declared it "a program for all the people of Baltimore, and all the neighborhoods of Baltimore."
However, a review of agency documents filed in Baltimore shows a high percentage of borrowers are Schmoke partisans. Those include the project opened late last week by the mayor. Records show the Frederick Avenue Development Corp., which received $876,700 in loans, donated $1,100 to Schmoke's campaign committee in 1995.
Frazier, who took over as executive vice president of the agency in late 1995, said that he was unaware of the campaign contributions and that they played no role in the loans, which were granted on the basis of need and merit.
Asked if campaign donations played any role in the granting of agency loans, Schmoke said he refers all those interested in appropriate projects to the agency regardless of whether they have backed his campaign.
"I refer everyone to them. It has nothing to do with contributions," Schmoke said.
Despite the agency's reluctance to disclose who gets loans, a Sun sampling of more than a dozen mortgage records shows much about who is given funds.
Between Sept. 1, 1995, and Dec. 31, 1995, the agency issued 15 loans with a total value of $4.4 million. Of that total, a little over $4 million, or 90.8 percent, went to firms or individuals who contributed to Schmoke's campaign from 1989 through 1996.
Among those receiving loans are partnerships affiliated with Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse, the J. R. Owens Corp. and the French Co. Struever has long had close ties to the Schmoke administration. Schmoke's top aide, Daniel P. Henson III, also chairs the agency's board and was formerly an executive with the Struever Bros. firm.
Records show Harris Hill Corp., which is affiliated with Struever Bros., got a $1.5 million loan from the financing corporation in late 1995. Campaign finance reports show Carl W. Struever has donated $4,500 to the Schmoke campaign since 1989. Another partner in the firm, Winstead Rouse, has donated $2,000.
The J. R. Owens Corp., which got a $277,621 loan, donated $500 to Schmoke's most recent re-election campaign.
Jay French and the company that bears his name also have been contributors to Schmoke's campaign committee. Contributions to the mayor's committee totaled $1,500 in 1995.
French is a strong supporter of the agency and says that without it he would not be able to undertake inner-city projects.
Yenot Development Corp., which got a $434,200 agency loan, donated $1,200 to the Schmoke campaign committee.
Also getting a loan from the agency was developer Michael Tisdale, who donated $1,000 to Schmoke's most recent re-election campaign. Records show Tisdale recently was declared in default on the $270,140 loan. The project is proceeding, however, under an agreement worked out between Tisdale, the agency and other lenders.
Schmoke's campaign finance reports also show that CDFC employees have been both contributors and workers for the mayor's election efforts. A CDFC attorney, David Willemain, was both a contributor and a worker for the campaign, for instance.
At the time the agency was created in 1989, officials were enthusiastic about the concept of the newly created unit. But there were concerns about the details and the level of scrutiny the newly formed entity would get.
Then-Council President Clarke abstained, stating that while she applauded the "partnership of the public and private sector," before she could vote for it she "would simply have to better understand the fiduciary connections" between the Board of Estimates and the money being allocated to the new agency.
The late City Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman did vote for the contract, but only after getting assurances that an agreement would be worked out for annual financial reports from the new organization.
Since the very beginning, however, the nonprofit corporation has operated in relative obscurity despite the fact that it has distributed millions of dollars in loans.
Clarke, who is no longer a member of the City Council, said it was just that lack of public scrutiny that concerned her in 1989.
"I always worry about shadow government and this is 'son of shadow,' " said Clarke, who added that her questions never were fully answered. Clarke said it was understood that the new agency would stay within its budget and not run a deficit. Though the agency did record a small surplus in its first two years of operation, deficits have been recorded ever since.
"The problem with that [a deficit] is that this is our money, the city's money," she said.
Records show the agency had bad loans that have cost the agency up to $789,801 in a single year and incurred $848,117 in fees to refinance $17.66 million in bonds.
In the fiscal year ending June 30, 1995, the agency had revenues of $3.9 million and expenses of $4.3 million netting a loss of $387,853. That loss came despite a $500,000 direct infusion of cash from the city. In the current year, the city is providing $423,000 to partially cover operating expenses.
The prior year, tax returns show, expenses exceeded revenues by a little over $1.5 million.
The deficit in the year ending June 30, 1993, was $236,560 and in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1992, an $824,992 deficit was recorded. That brought the four-year total to $2.9 million.
Expenses in the most recent year show salary and benefit expenses of $419,259 and legal and accounting fees totaling $350,714. The $298,403 in legal fees went to the politically connected firm of Shapiro and Olander.
The only salary listed for that year was $53,712 paid to former acting vice president Michael D. Lee. Prior year returns list the salary for Deborah J. Bass, the former loan officer accused in the kickback scheme, as $46,660.
Bass has been accused of improperly collecting consulting fees totaling $42,500 from loan applicants. The FBI is investigating the matter. The highest salary shown on the three years of reports was $71,819 paid to former executive vice president Frank Coakley during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1994.
Loans granted by the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp. from Sept. 1, 1995, to Dec. 31, 1995.
Recipient .. .. .. .. Amount of loan ... .. ..Schmoke campaign
(1989-1996) .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. .contributor and amount
Regina Simpson .. .. ....$71,920 .. .. .. . .. .. .. .. ..None
Distillery Inc. .. .. $1,280,000 .. .. .Distillery Inc.: $1,100
Distillery Inc .. .. ...$320,000 .. .. .Frank Scarfield: $3,300
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. ..Holabird Management: $3,700
Michael L. Brown .. ... .$35,000 .. .. .. .. .... .. .. .. None
Christopher G. Stephen. .$35,000 .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. ...None
Reservoir Hill L.P .. $32,785.11 .. . .. ..Lauren Hersch: $500;
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. ... ... . Harold Hersch: $50
J.R. Owens Corp .. .. ..$277,621 .. .. ..J.R. Owens Corp.: $500
Edward W. Lee Jr .. ....$151,000 .. . .. .Edward W. Lee Jr: $50
Singleton McAllister ....$21,000 .. .Singleton McAllister: $200
Linda D. McWayne .. ... .$70,188 .. . ... .. .. .. .. .. ..None
Yvette R. Smith .. .. ...$71,092 .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. ...None
Vivian C. Rivers .. ... .$70,888 .. . .. .. .. .. .. .. ...None
Yenot Development .. ...$434,200 ......Yenot Development Corp.:
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. . $1,200
Harris Hill .. .. .. .$1,500,000 ... ....Winstead Rouse: $2,000
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .. .. .. .. ..Carl W. Struever: $4,500
Andrew W. Gray .. .. ....$54,424 ... ... .. .. .. .. .. ...None
Loans total $4,425,118.11; 91 percent -- $4,016,606.11 -- went to those who made contributions from 1989-1996.
Pub Date: 12/24/96