NEWPORT BEACH — Sandra Crisman, struggling to breathe, was rushed to the hospital twice during two months of illnesses last year caused by stress from working at the Resolution Trust Corp.'s West Coast office.
About the same time, Annette I. LePique was getting telephone calls at night from callers always hanging up without saying a word. She returned from vacation to find her garage door open. Those things didn't happen before her troubles at the RTC began. She moved.
J. Hans Mangelsdorf sometimes carries a gun after hearing how a colleague in another RTC office received threatening calls. On one call the colleague taped, only the sound of machine gun fire was heard. Mangelsdorf tries not to do anything routinely anymore.
"I look over my shoulder a lot more than I used to," said Mangelsdorf, who has worked in the Newport Beach office almost since the RTC opened it in March, 1990.
The origin of the stress and concern, the employees say, isn't in carrying out the RTC's duties of managing and selling the houses, apartments, office buildings, loans and other assets of failed savings and loans.
The culprit, they allege, is the agency's own management.
The three Orange County employees and 10 others from across the nation blew the whistle on RTC managers at a U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing in September. Tired of what they saw as discrimination, harassment and reprisals--and of a good-old-boy network that they say promotes wrongdoers while firing hard workers--the whistle-blowers startled committee members with their testimony.
Their charges of management abuse--roundly denied by RTC officials--delivered another blow to an agency that many believe should have been knocked out long ago by its incompetence, mismanagement, favoritism and questionable deals. RTC blunders, critics say, have added unknown millions to the taxpayer cost of cleaning up the nation's failed thrifts.
"You folks are up here in agony while the folks who are persecuting you, literally, are being promoted and running around without any retaliation," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) told the whistle-blowers at the hearing. "Now I don't know how others feel, but I think they're the folks who ought to be fired."
Tomas Gotor, formerly a top executive in the Newport Beach office, \o7 was\f7 fired, after Washington officials concluded that he sexually harassed LePique and abused his position as a high-ranking manager. Gotor, who oversaw the RTC West Coast office's huge outside contracting operation, denies he did anything wrong and charges that the comments he is alleged to have made were concocted by others in an effort to advance their own careers.
He appealed his dismissal to the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. But in a Nov. 17 decision released Tuesday, a judge ruled that the "serious, repetitive and abusive nature of his sustained misconduct" created an "offensive" work environment and warranted his removal.
Most managers at the Newport Beach office have supported him, including the director, Alvin J. Felton, and the former top deputy, Philip V. Jones Jr. The agency's own equal employment opportunity probe found that Jones had discriminated against Crisman, yet he was promoted last summer to a major RTC post in Washington.
"What's clear is that there is a very significant pattern of mismanagement, and it's particularly prevalent in the Newport Beach office," said Jonathan Weiner, a top aide to Kerry who put together the whistle-blowers hearing in September.
"We've talked to numerous people there, and the personnel practices are extremely disturbing. People are being treated abusively, routinely," he said. "Nobody should have to work in an abusive workplace, especially in government. It's bad enough in the private sector."
Employees in the Newport Beach office have filed nine formal complaints claiming they were denied equal employment opportunities, and dozens of others have filed informal complaints that have been settled, insiders said. Nationwide, RTC employees have filed 111 formal discrimination complaints since the beginning of 1992. The RTC doesn't keep track of informal complaints.
The RTC was created as a temporary agency at the peak of the thrift industry crisis in 1989. Its hierarchy was staffed by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. employees and given the job of liquidating failed thrifts. It is scheduled to go out of business by the end of 1996.
Some executives nationwide have run amok, Weiner believes, because they never viewed themselves to be part of the normal business community. The agency inherited some FDIC management problems, had an immense workload and sold assets too quickly at unnecessarily steep discounts, he said.
The agency, which may create an ombudsman post to handle internal problems, has prepared a response for the Senate committee, but that response still is being reviewed by the Treasury Department.