Monday, March 21, 2011

Land and Loot: A How-To on Money Laundering - Part 3

Copyright 2011 by Linda Minor, all rights reserved


General Homes* was a large publicly traded land development company operating in Houston, which had an option to buy the Texas land mentioned in the previous segments. The feasibility of the project from General Homes’ perspective depended totally upon the cost of constructing a road and necessary drainage through the property, as required under the option.  In addition to getting control of VisionBanc, Corson also had to be responsible for having a road and drainage work constructed through the General Homes property, and since he did not have the money for that, he spent a great deal of time entertaining a certain judge in Houston, who had the authority to make recommendations to the governing body in charge of roads and bridges in Harris County. 

County Attorney Mike Driscoll’s civil lawsuit filed in 1993 against County Judge Jon Lindsay, alleged that the judge, who was chief administrator for the county, had accepted numerous favors from Robert Corson in exchange for Lindsay’s agreement to “cause the county to build a road through the Park 45 land and thereby improve the value of the land.”

The first evidence of the complicity of the judge in the developer’s scheme was not made public until seven years later by Corson’s former employee, Billy Wayne Chester, who brought the information to Mike Driscoll in the hope of protecting himself from future federal prosecutorial misconduct in a guilty plea to bank fraud.  Chester was influenced in this decision by his friend, John Ballis, a dentist (who got into land development at the behest of his father-in-law) who was then appealing a U.S. District Court conviction on charges brought after Ballis had completed his probation under his own guilty plea.  The feds’ position was that Ballis had failed to reveal all crimes in which he had participated, thereby releasing them from the terms of the plea agreement prohibiting further prosecution.  Ballis argued that, though he repeatedly attempted to provide evidence of his having paid a million-dollar bribe to Commissioner Bob Eckels, the prosecutors refused to investigate the allegations.

Billy Chester had been a high school teacher and coach when he was approached in the late 1970’s by Carl Stockholm, an old friend working in one of Walter Mischer’s banks.  Stockholm hired Chester and trained him in the real estate field, where he soon came in contact with Corson.  During the Houston land boom that occurred, Chester left banking to work in the land development company Corson had formed with his mother, B.J. Garman.  Prior to Chester’s employment, Corson had worked with a man named Andy Howard, a vice-president at General Homes, buying unrestricted reserves in General Homes subdivisions and developing them for commercial use—either selling or leasing to convenience stores and other enterprises.  According to Chester, it was Howard who first introduced Corson to Jon Lindsay, during a luncheon meeting at a restaurant Lindsay frequented in the American General Insurance Co. building.  Andy Howard was also intricately involved in the contract negotiations between Corson and General Homes on the Park 45 property.

Andy Howard was obviously acquainted with Jon Lindsay because in April 1985 Lindsay appointed him to the boards of the Harris County Housing Authority and the Housing Finance Corporation (HFC).[1]  If we assume that Andy Howard’s appointment was consistent with the other appointments Lindsay made and with the proponents of those who favored creation of the Housing Finance Corporation, from whom was Jon Lindsay getting his instructions? 

How are all the Lindsay appointees related?  For clues, here’s a quote from a lawsuit Howard filed against Robert Corson on August 2, 1986:

Previously in 1985, Plaintiff, Andy Howard was employed by General Homes Corporation* in the position of Vice-President.  His duties primarily revolved around analysis of, purchase and sale of real property and the development of same. In connection with this employment, Andy Howard enjoined [sic] a substantial salary, numerous financial benefits and the various advantageous attributes incident to this employment.

In connection with this employment, Andy Howard met Robert Corson.  Robert Corson, B.J. Garman, Individually and d/b/a Corson & Garman, Defendants herein, were also actively engaged in Real Estate Development and sale.  In connection with the business dealings that brought them together, Robert Corson became familiar with the capabilities of Andy Howard.  Impressed by these capabilities, Robert Corson requested Andy Howard to leave General Homes and to take an employment position with Robert Corson and his organization.  After a series of discussions, during which Andy Howard made known to Robert Corson a reluctance to give up the significant benefits and advantages that were inurring [sic] to Andy Howard as a result of his employment with General Homes, Robert Corson induced Andy Howard to sever his relationship with General Homes and to become employed by Robert Corson’s organization by virtue of a promise that Andy Howard would receive fifteen percent (15%) of the benefits arising out of and incident to the various business dealings and transactions that Andy Howard was to engage in (and that Andy Howard was to work on).  *  *          *          *

Additionally, in a prior business transaction, individuals by the name of Clyde M. Speed and Robert M. Ley desired to convey to Andy Howard certain property. It was desired that this property be taken and held in the name of Robert Corson, Trustee. At all times Andy Howard was the beneficiary of this Trust and Robert Corson was the Trustor [?] owing feduciary [sic] duties to Andy Howard in connection with this transaction.  Further to this, Clyde M. Speed and Robert M. Ley conveyed this property into the name of Robert Corson, Trustee. . . . At all times, however, Andy Howard was the beneficial and equitable owner of the property and the interest of Robert Corson was solely holding Title in the capacity as a Trustee.

The problem arose, according to the petition, when “[s]uddenly, in the spring of 1986, and without any explanation or prior warning, Robert Corson advised Andy Howard that Robert Corson no longer desired that Andy Howard be affiliated with Robert Corson, B.J. Garman or Corson & Garman.” 

From this information, it can be seen that at the time Andy Howard was appointed to the board of the HFC he worked for General Homes, and thereafter for Robert Corson, whose primary source of business was from General Homes. If we assume for purposes of argument that Andy Howard and Robert Corson were working on behalf of the controlling shareholders of General Homes in their attempt to have the road and drainage work through Park 45 constructed at county expense, then Corson’s actions of using sham corporations to purchase land from himself makes more sense, BECAUSE it was General Homes which ultimately benefited from the looting of the savings and loan companies which made the loans to the straw borrowers who never made a single payment.  General Homes kept a first lien on the property in the sale to Corson and also received cash from the proceeds of loans secured by second liens.  When General Homes foreclosed on the first lien, the savings and loans (taxpayers) were wiped out, but General Homes got to keep the proceeds of those loans and also got the land back free and clear, with a new road in place. It was left to receivers for the creditors to sue to get back any fraudulently induced loan funds.


birth of general homes

General Homes was formed as a subsidiary of First General Realty, which was itself a subsidiary of First Mortgage Co.[1]  According to a 1984 Houston Post story, First General began as a residential developer in Harris County with the Meyerland Additions and with Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center.  The Post article stated:

The George Meyer family owned the land and was a partner in the development, but later sold out of the project, as did First General, and the Meyerland Co. was purchased early this year [1984] by the Houston-based Development Group, Inc.[2]

That one paragraph thus connects General Homes, the Meyer family and Mike Adkinson. The article continues:

Other Houston communities developed by First General include Nottingham, Ponderosa Forest, Ashford Forest, the Villages of Lakeside and four early subdivisions developed in the Clear Lake area in partnership with the firm then called the Humble Co. and now known as the Exxon Corp.
*     *     *
Tom Robinson, originally with First Mortgage, is the actual founder of First General, which started as a sideline to the mortgage business in the 1950s.  First General employees bought the company from Robinson in the 1970s.  He is now retired.

Richard H. Skinner, First General chairman, and H. Fred Schoenberg, president, along with John L. Mattern, vice president and treasurer, were hired away from Arthur Andersen & Co. as accountants and management consultants in the late 1970s and are now among the owners of First General.

Richard G. Carlson, vice president for marketing, who is now buying in as an owner, notes that the sellers kept a piece of the action when First General was acquired three years ago by the Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

We will return to Northwestern Mutual’s name repeatedly as this study continues.


 *General Homes Corporation was affiliated with the American Savings & Loan Association of Miami, which was dragged down in 1985 by the ESM Government Securities fraud.
High Rollers: Inside the Savings and Loan Debacle[1] The HFC was organized as a non-profit county-sponsored corporation which was authorized by Texas law to issue tax-exempt bonds to fund construction and purchases of low and moderate income housing--both single and multi-family.  Jon Lindsay is the official who recommended its creation by Harris County in 1980, after ordering a study conducted by municipal bond brokers Underwood Neuhaus & Company and First Southwest Company.  The first of these brokerage firms had connections to W.S. Farish III and his relatives; the second was at that time being operated in Houston by Howard Pulver and his Manhattan associates with ties to Mainland Savings--ably documented in chapter 4 of Pete Brewton's book.  According to Houston Chronicle reporter Bill Mintz, Lindsay's friend Tom Masterson "ran the bond and public finance operations at Underwood, Neuhaus & Co. for 29 years before leaving in 1985 to start his own investment and brokerage firm.  In 1991, the firm [Masterson Moreland Sauer Whisman] bought the public finance operations of the Houston investment firm Lovett Underwood Neuhaus & Webb."  According to the January 12, 1996 article by Mintz, Masterson's firm was considering merging with First Southwest of Dallas, headed by Hill Feinberg, who was managing director in the Dallas office of Bear Stearns & Co. for 14 years before buying First Southwest in 1991 with Bob Utley.  Utley "is a developer who participated in financier Ronald Perelman's 1988 acquisition of First Gibraltar."
                    Interestingly enough, the Underwood, Neuhaus study was ordered to be done by commissioners court on June 9, 1980, although legal documents prepared by Vinson & Elkins drafting the articles of incorporation and bylaws, were forwarded to the brokerage firm five days earlier by V&E attorney Bob Randolph.  The creation of the corporation was approved on June 24, 1980.  Rather than have only the same five board members who were then sitting on the Housing Authority Board, Lindsay proposed increasing the board to nine, and the names of Billy Burge, Richard S. Slocomb, Jack Fields and Paul W. Davis were added.  Davis, Lindsay's appointee and president of Mortgage and Trust, Inc. of 3100 Travis, resigned from the board in July 1981.  In his place Lindsay appointed W.E. Daniels, president of First Continental Mortgage, a Mischer-controlled investment trust.  Andy Howard replaced O.J. Streigler, a prior appointee, but Howard served only until August 12, 1986, two months after the Park 45/Florida closing.  He was replaced by Steve Krueger, a banker employed by Joe Russo's Ameriway Savings.
                    W.E. Daniels resigned in January 1988, citing his commitment to "Rice Center" for allowing him insufficient time to serve.  His resignation was on letterhead of D&L Investments of 1360 Post Oak Blvd., Suite 2100.  Daniels' replacement was Robert M. Dawson, who was at that time president of Liberty Savings Association, and who had previously been a consultant for First Texas Savings of Dallas and president of SGF Investment Service Corporation, a subsidiary of United Savings.  His earliest work history was with Holland Mortgage from 1955 to 1972.
                    Harris County HFC made numerous loans for apartment construction which benefited Continental Savings, a company about which Pete Brewton had much to say in his book.  Continental loaned money to a company called Landmark Developers, Inc., with loans guaranteed by the HFC, which had to be restricted for low income tenants.  In at least one instance Landmark conveyed the property to a limited partnership, of which E. Trine Starnes, Jr. (whom Brewton classed in the same category as Robert Vesco) was general partner [J054366].  Starnes conveyed the apartments a year and a half later to an individual, and the next month there was a foreclosure.  By the end of 1986 the HFC had issued more than $278 million in multi-family bonds and more than $254 million in single-family bonds.  It is unknown how many of the loans went into default, but it appears that the apartments ended up being owned by investors in California.
[2] General Homes' mortgage lending company, FGMC, stands for First General Mortgage Corporation.  In 1981, FGMC's address was 5353 W. Alabama #401 [G924489].  In deeds of trust dating back to the 1950's Charles Foley was named as trustee for First Mortgage Co. and for a company called Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance.  In that same year, Charles Foley was appointed as substitute trustee by New York Life Insurance Co., Crown Life, Connecticut General and First General Realty.  In the late 1950's First Mortgage assigned a great many mortgage loans to Sun Life Insurance Co. of Canada, which had offices in Massachusetts.
[3] Houston Post, August 20, 1984.  DGI was the company Mike Adkinson allegedly controlled which was used to loot several savings and loans.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I worked for these guys in 1982-1985.