Legacy torn apart Feud: The Bank of Glen Burnie was formed nearly 50 years ago by the patriarchs of the town. The greed, jealousy and suspicion of the children of those men are tearing the bank apart.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the back-room restaurant of the B&A; train station, the patriarchs of Glen Burnie held court nearly every day, parceling out success or failure over lunch and the whir of slot machines.

By 1949, they decided their town needed a bank, so they started one. They walked up and down streets selling stock door-to-door, and some families have been able to live off their initial investment in the Bank of Glen Burnie.

Now the children of those men are running the bank, and they are tearing it apart.

Greed, jealousy and suspicion have destroyed friendships forged more than 50 years ago by the forebears of still-prominent families -- Kuethes, Demyans and Heins. Relatives have insulted and even filed charges against each other. Two men with ties to the bank are serving jail sentences.

After three battles for control during the past four years, an out-of-town institution is poised to move in and take over.

"It is bitter now," said Earl G. Walter, a retired Bank of Glen Burnie executive who worked there for 39 years. "It is a sad mark on the community."

The bank and its parent company, Glen Burnie Bancorp, are small, with six branches and $232 million in assets. The bank's influence has largely been confined to Glen Burnie, where it has made thousands of mortgage loans and helped finance the restaurants, auto dealers and retailers that transformed the town from a crossroads into a sprawling suburb.

But it was an outsider, community members say, who sparked the fight that now consumes them.

No one seems sure how he wound up there, but at some point around 1991 a man named Brian H. Davis began doing business at the Bank of Glen Burnie, taking out loans to build what appeared to be a thriving Baltimore trucking business.

Davis was a throwback to the old-fashioned practice of doing business over handshakes and drinks. After a few years, bank President Jan W. Clark became suspicious of the slick, name-dropping Davis, who boasted of heavyweight political ties and who liked to distribute gifts such as wine, dinners and autographed baseballs to bank officers.

Just as Clark notified bank regulators that he suspected Davis and a loan officer of criminal wrongdoing, two men stepped forward in 1995 and seized control of the bank. They were F. William Kuethe Jr. and John E. "Jack" Demyan, the sons of the bank's two most powerful founders.

Davis, the sons felt, was a distraction from the real problem -- that the bank was being poorly managed.

Their actions were swift, severe and polarizing. Instead of severing ties to Davis, they seemed to embrace him. Kuethe and Demyan ordered the board of directors to fire the bank president who had sounded the alarm about Davis. When the board refused, they cleaned out the directors and fired the president themselves. They rehired the loan officer who oversaw all relations with Davis.

Davis turned out to be a fraud. His trucking company went bankrupt later that year, and the little Glen Burnie bank was left holding the bag on about $6 million in bad loans. The bank lost a total of $2.7 million in 1995 and 1996, and its average stock price fell to $24.75 a share last year from around $40 in 1995.

Loan officer Stephen Boyd was investigated for criminal wrongdoing, and eventually he and Davis went to jail for their dealings.

Now Kuethe and Demyan have control of a struggling institution. A series of lawsuits are draining their time and the bank's resources, and the half-century of good will built up in the community toward their families is slowly being burned away.

It was Jack Demyan who reached out for family support during the emotional time when he and Kuethe cleaned out the old board of directors.

The board had been loaded with cronies of the founding fathers. But the sons believed the bank had lost its way. They blamed the president for "micro-managing" the bank, for angering an important client who was threatening to file a discrimination lawsuit, and for sacking loan officer Boyd, who they argued had been unfairly judged for his dealings with Davis.

Sending a message

By ousting the board, they sent the message that they were in control after years of remaining in the background, and that old friendships wouldn't stand in the way of business.

"We knew it was fateful. We didn't know to what degree there would be ill feeling and how long it would remain," Kuethe said.

In late 1994, Jack Demyan walked across Crain Highway from the bank to a small frame house where his cousin, Susan Demyan, practices law. There had been a break between their fathers over their grandmother's estate, but now that that generation was gone, Jack told her, there was no reason they couldn't start fresh.

When he asked her to consider joining the bank's board, she was thrilled. Susan remembered how proud her late father, one of two dentists in the town, had been when he became a board member. She had shined his brown shoes before every meeting. Now she felt that she would be filling his seat. She accepted.

Next Kuethe and Jack Demyan asked Susan to serve on the committee reviewing whether loan officer Boyd should have been dismissed over the suspicions about Brian Davis, who was still doing big business with the bank.

Susan and three other committee members reviewed the investigation the ousted president had commissioned, and said they found no evidence of wrongdoing by Boyd. Kuethe promptly rehired him.

Within a few months, though, Susan Demyan began to raise questions about the bank's lending practices -- and especially -- about Boyd.

"There were very questionable loans coming through. There was a lot of slipshod work being done," Susan Demyan said. In late November, she called a special board meeting to once again consider firing Boyd. By this time she was convinced the earlier investigation had been "scrubbed" of negative information before her committee reviewed it.

Kuethe and Jack Demyan stood up for Boyd and refused to allow the vote. Susan Demyan began arguing with her cousin in board meetings, and pressing him afterward to explain his defense of what she thought could be criminal behavior.

He became withdrawn, she said. One day in 1996 he stopped by her law office and she accused him of a coverup.

"I think you are involved in this. I think you are dirty," she said she told him. "He looked at me and said, 'You need psychiatric care.' He slammed the door so hard, I thought the glass would break. That was the end of our relationship."

Jack Demyan denies that he ever had a reason to protect Boyd, who was eventually convicted of taking gifts from Davis and went to jail this month. "No. If you are referring to any pecuniary interest, it would be no," Demyan said.

But once Susan Demyan's suspicions were aroused, there was no suppressing them. She and three other directors abruptly resigned from the board in early 1997. From then on, she was at war with her cousin.

There had been flaps before among family members, but nothing so wrenching.

Jack and Susan Demyan grew up within a few blocks of one another. She and her two brothers lived in one of the small, original houses of Glen Burnie, on the second floor above their father's dentist office. Susan often hung out next door at an uncle's law office, as a teen-ager typing uncontested divorce testimony for him, or painting her fingernails upstairs with a spinster aunt.

Her cousin Jack's life was different. He was an only child, and his parents were far more affluent. Jack, now 50, remembers visiting his cousins only occasionally. He liked to play with his uncle's dental equipment or slide down the stair banister.

Jack's lawyer father was a member of the town's elite. The senior Jack Demyan was an intimidating man, widely respected but dismissive of people who failed his standards.

One of the elder Demyan's few peers was Fred Kuethe, whose family had virtually founded the town.

Fred's "Uncle Billy" was the real estate agent who brokered the development of Glen Burnie before the turn of the century. To finance all the construction, Uncle Billy founded a savings and loan in the late 1800s. Resources were so scarce in the early days that if someone came in to finance a new home, Uncle Billy often had to walk around town drumming up deposits to cover the loan.

During the Depression, he never foreclosed on a customer. He donated the town library, which is named in his honor.

Fred Kuethe was an entrepreneur like his uncle. Fred ran the local insurance company and worked at the savings and loan, selling real estate from a back office.

As the scoutmaster of Troop 328, Fred took boys to his yard on Saturday mornings to identify various trees so they could get merit badges. He was a fierce competitor who loved to play soccer and hated to lose.

"He was a fun guy to be around, but he had a short fuse," said Henry L. Hein, who was in Fred Kuethe's scout troop.

Hein, now 78, said that Fred Kuethe and the senior Jack Demyan helped him get a stake in the community when he returned from service after World War II. At the railroad station lunch sessions, the patriarchs would assign tasks to younger men as a kind of test.

"If you performed on that task, you were in," Hein said. "I owe a great deal to Fred W. Kuethe and Jack Demyan."

Another who owes his career to Fred Kuethe is his son, Bill Kuethe, who is now 65. As a child, Bill Kuethe played at the thrift while his father worked, and sometimes ate lunch with him at the train station.

During college, Bill Kuethe spent summer breaks working a variety of jobs at the bank, from teller to bookkeeper. His father never told him he would run the bank one day, but it was implied, Kuethe said.

After graduation and a two-year Army stint in Korea, Bill joined his father's insurance and real estate businesses. Kuethe's father died in 1968, and the son took over the savings and loan, and was a director on the board of the bank.

Old Jack Demyan died about 10 years ago, and his son took his place on the bank board.

Bickering begins

And that is the way it was, until 1994, when the bickering and accusations began over the questionable loans to Brian Davis.

Bill Kuethe and the younger Demyan asserted their family names and their large stock holdings to muscle out the old board and install themselves as leaders. Kuethe became president and chief executive -- running the bank's day-to-day operations -- and Demyan became chairman.

One of the people they ousted was Henry Hein, whose own father had been a founding director. They replaced him on the board with his brother, Charles Hein.

"He makes his decisions and I make mine," said Henry Hein, who had tried to rid the bank of Demyan and Kuethe before they replaced him. "I'm sure [Charles] feels he's right. I know very well I am."

That sense of moral rectitude is part of what heats the fight over the bank.

"It's been a difficult situation for everyone involved," Bill Kuethe said. "I've lost a great deal of good friends who no longer speak to me because of that. But in retrospect, I still feel we were right. I would not have done it differently."

Neither would Susan Demyan. "I have no regrets trying to wake people up," she said. "The shareholders have been kept in the dark for too long."

Many townspeople and shareholders have come to believe that Susan Demyan is right, and have supported her recent attempts unseat her cousin's board.

One major shareholder whose father helped start the bank recently agreed to sell 19 percent ownership to Edwin Hale Sr., the chairman of Canton-based First Mariner Bancorp.

Hale wants desperately to take over the Bank of Glen Burnie, and backs Susan Demyan.

He has vowed to keep challenging the board, and has begun a public relations campaign to increase support for his bid in the community.

"Do I want to fight to get them? No. I would like to be embraced," Hale said.

It's not only the outsider Hale who threatens the bank. Henry Hein and Jan Clark, the president who Kuethe and Demyan ousted, have started a competing bank less than a mile away.

A number of employees and depositors have crossed over with them.

Despite all that, each year Bill Kuethe wins shareholder support to maintain control over the bank. He, Jack Demyan and their backers still own the most stock.

Nowhere was their power more evident than at the bank's annual meeting earlier this month. Unlike the congenial back-room lunches at the old train station, which is long gone, the shareholders' meeting was a tense, formal affair policed by hired security guards -- literally, a family reunion gone bad.

Under a pair of giant chandeliers in the Dahlia Room at the La Fontaine Bleu Catering hall, two former governors, dozens of lawyers and bankers as well as hundreds of local stockholders gathered to snipe at one another over pastries and coffee.

Afterward, Jack Demyan and his wife filed police charges against their 78-year-old Aunt Mary for making harassing phone calls to their home.

A drained Kuethe conceded several days later that the price of his continued victory might be high. About a half-dozen lawsuits have piled up, including one seeking an independent receiver to run the bank and a $50 million suit alleging fraud in the relationship between the bank and Davis.

Kuethe said he sees at least "another bad six months coming up." But the larger problem of the bank's future and its role in the community might take far longer to resolve.

"It is not going to be put to rest until my generation is gone," Kuethe said. "And I am not sure it is going to be put to rest with the next generation. There is too much ill feeling."

Even for those who say they wouldn't change what they have done, there is something that makes them all uneasy: imagining what their fathers would think.

"I just regret so much what has happened here," said Henry Hein. "Because what so many fathers built, we have managed together to tear apart. That is the only thing about this whole thing that bothers me. It is hard on all of us. I know it is."

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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