Albert Myrick Jr. says he doesn't remember much of what happened to his once-successful string of U-Fill self-service gas stations. He does know that he started his first in 1969 and he had 33 eight years later. He also knows that his liabilities grew from about $90,000 in 1977 to $900,000 by 1983.
His mind was clouded, Myrick says, by cocaine and alcohol. It was the drugs that did him in, he said Monday.
Federal prosecutors are less concerned about the cocaine and alcohol than they are about the documents they allege Myrick forged in connection with a $293,600 Small Business Administration loan. Or about Myrick's loan applications to four banks and savings and loans in San Diego that authorities allege contained made-up credit histories and a Social Security number that belonged to someone else.
According to his attorney, Myrick's drug addiction will no doubt play a major role in his defense against the authorities' allegations, contained in a 19-count federal grand jury indictment issued last week.
On Monday, Myrick, a 50-year-old Louisiana native, pleaded not guilty to the indictment's charges, which include mail fraud, bank fraud, filling out false bank applications and unlawful use of a Social Security number.
If convicted, Myrick, who spent the first 13 years of his life in and out of hospitals to treat his club feet, faces 140 years in prison and fines of nearly $4.8 million.
Motion setting in the case is scheduled for next week before U.S. District Judge J. Lawrence Irving.
The case may prove precedent-setting because area prosecutors can't recall a businessman using his drug addiction as a defense against white-collar fraud.
Myrick sought help for his addiction in early 1985 and is now a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to his attorney, Robert Schlein.
The grand jury indictment, however, lists several counts alleging fraud earlier this month, more than 18 months after Myrick says he sought treatment.
In addition, prosecutors said in court that Myrick on Sunday held a garage sale at which he appeared to be selling many of his possessions, including his refrigerator. An FBI agent, alerted by a tip, snapped pictures of the informal auction.
Word of the garage sale seemed to annoy U.S. Magistrate Harry R. McCue, who ordered Myrick's two sons--who are in the construction business--to co-sign their father's $25,000 personal surety bond that has been used as bail.
McCue also told Myrick not to transfer any of his assets without approval from authorities and ordered him to restrict his travel to the county until his trial is concluded.
Albert Myrick Jr., who was indicted as Albert M. Myrick but who is also known as Raymond Alan Myrick, got into drug problems in 1977, after an accident when his dune buggy plunged off a 42-foot cliff near Pismo Beach.
Doctors performed 10 operations and, for the six months after the surgery, he took morphine to ease his pain, Schlein said.
That was the beginning of Myrick's drug addiction, which later expanded to include cocaine and alcohol.
From 1977 until February, 1985, when he sought professional help, "we're talking about a man who lost all his money . . . and became addicted to drugs and alcohol," Schlein said.
In 1981, business property that Myrick owned in East County was heavily damaged by flooding, and the Small Business Administration loaned his businesses--Self-Service Systems and A&B Lumber and Construction Co.--$293,600. The loan was secured by trust deeds to property in Ramona.
But in late 1985 and continuing until at least two weeks ago, Myrick "knowingly and willfully" devised a scheme to defraud both the SBA and several financial institutions, according to the indictment.
When payments on the loan were delinquent, SBA officials tried to foreclose on the property. They obtained a title report and asked Safeco Title Insurance to commence foreclosure proceedings.
There was a slight hitch, however: Records showed that the SBA had already waived its right to the property and that the loan had been repaid. SBA officials figured that the signature on the transaction was forged. "Then we went to the U.S. attorney's office," said SBA attorney Terry Ashker.
This summer, Myrick made several attempts to obtain loans from financial institutions, supplying false information and using someone else's Social Security number, according to the indictment.
Neither Myrick nor his attorney will discuss many of the criminal charges. Schlein does maintain that someone else forged the reconveyance of the SBA's right to the collateral property and that he "had power of attorney" to use a friend's name and Social Security number on the bank loan applications.
"I'm a pioneer-type person," Myrick said after his court hearing Monday. He came to San Diego in 1969 with $10,000 and, 14 years later, had built a mini-empire of 33 self-service gas stations and a lumber and construction firm.
Schlein traces Myrick's personal problems to the drugs he started taking after the dune buggy accident.
"You're dealing with someone who led an exemplary, straight life," Schlein said. "He dried out in February, 1985, and this is a continuation of trying to put his life together."