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Newport Executive Parker Called 'King of Greed' as Fraud Trial Ends : Courts: Prosecutors say he bilked Columbia S&L of $11 million. Defense says he was duped by his best friend and associate.

April 24, 1993|CHRIS WOODYARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LOS ANGELES — Federal prosecutors portrayed Michael E. Parker on Friday as the lying, free-wheeling "king of greed" who masterminded deals that bilked Columbia Savings & Loan out of $11 million.

But a lawyer for the Newport Beach businessman asserted that Parker fell victim to his best friend and business associate, Brian W. Fink, who withheld information of fraudulent activity for years.

The conflicting views came in closing arguments in a three-week federal trial. A U.S. District Court jury now must decide whether the 45-year-old Parker should be found guilty on 39 counts charging him with racketeering, conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

Prosecutors tried to show at trial that Parker, as president of Parker North American Corp. in the mid-1980s, concocted sham sales of leases and equipment and paid kickbacks to Columbia executives to keep the thrift as his biggest customer. The sales to the now defunct Beverly Hills thrift, which failed in 1990, provided it with needed tax benefits.

Prosecutors argued that Parker threw away $8 million of the money he stole from Columbia on extravagances like a Balboa Peninsula mansion, high-stakes casino gambling, exotic cars and lavish gifts. At one point, Parker flew in the company jet to Las Vegas so he could pay a traffic ticket.

The remaining $3 million was paid as hush money to those aware of the crimes, the prosecutors charged.

Parker bilked Columbia between 1984 and 1987, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Holscher, and for the next three years he "did everything in in his power to make sure (regulators) did not find out what happened." Holscher asserted that Parker tried to stop examiners from probing the relationship between Columbia and Parker North American.

Former business associates testified during the trial that Parker told them, "If you want to succeed in business, you have to break the rules." Holscher said, "That statement was an insight into his arrogance."

Parker denies ever making such a statement.

Another prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. James R. Asperger, told jurors that Parker was a "sophisticated, conniving man" who committed his crimes out of sheer greed.

"This is a case about greed, and the king of greed is Michael Parker," he said.

Parker testified last week that he was unaware until 1989 that some of the deals were entirely phony because Fink, the company's vice president, kept the vital information secret. Parker also testified that he knew $8 million he reaped in off-the-books deals would eventually be sought by regulators, and planned to return it.

"Mike Parker did some stupid things . . . some foolish things," said his defense lawyer, Thomas E. Holliday. But Holliday insisted that Parker was a "little guy with a little company" who became victimized by Columbia's greed for larger tax benefits.

He said the case boils down to a simple matter of Parker's word against the testimony of Fink, who has pleaded guilty to tax evasion. As in the Salem witch trials of the 1600s, Holliday said, the federal government is out to burn his client at the stake.

Jurors are scheduled to receive their instructions from Judge Robert M. Takasugi on Monday and then will start deliberations.

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