A former top executive in Charles H. Keating Jr.'s financial empire was charged by U.S. authorities Friday with one count of federal bank fraud, setting up a plea bargain that would make him the most important insider so far to turn against his former boss.
Bruce F. Dickson, 38, a former president of Irvine-based Lincoln Savings & Loan and a senior vice president and director of its parent company, will be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Comprehensive federal indictments are expected to be returned soon, perhaps as early as next week, against Keating and other associates in connection with the nation's biggest thrift failure.
Keating was convicted Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court on 17 counts of violating state securities laws. He was found guilty of duping small investors who bought risky bonds in Lincoln's Phoenix parent company, American Continental Corp.
Four other insiders have already entered into plea bargains in the federal investigation of Lincoln's collapse. But Dickson, of Scottsdale, Ariz., was the closest to Keating's inner circle at American Continental. He worked with Robert M. Wurzelbacher, a son-in-law of Keating who headed real estate activities.
Dickson was charged under what is known as an information, rather than an indictment. Informations often indicate that a plea bargain has been reached. Dickson has been negotiating a plea bargain with federal authorities for the last two months, said a source close to the case.
Neither Dickson nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
The information accuses Dickson of joining in a scheme to defraud Lincoln by funneling some of the S&L's funds to third parties as loans and investments so that they could then use the money to engage in "straw" purchases of land from Lincoln.
It also charges that Dickson and others created phony documents to support the loans and investments.
In one case, Dickson is accused of creating false documents to hide the fact that Arizona builder R. A. Homes received $5 million in loans in 1986 as reimbursement for a $5-million down payment it had made on land purchased from a Lincoln subsidiary.
In another, Dickson is accused of creating false documents to hide the fact that Tucson developer E. C. Garcia & Co. received $37 million in loans secured by undeveloped real estate that was valued at "materially less" than the loan amounts.
Others who have pleaded guilty to various federal charges are Robin S. Symes, a former Lincoln chairman; Ray C. Fidel, a former Lincoln president; Mark S. Sauter, a former American Continental staff attorney, and Ernest C. Garcia II, a Tucson developer and major Lincoln borrower.