The nation's only elected banking comptroller is facing embarassing allegations that he illegally accepted gifts and money, including $3,000 for a European trip, from a banker.
The allegations have surfaced just three weeks before Gerald A. Lewis, Florida's comptroller, attempts to win a sixth consecutive term.
John Christo Jr., a former chairman of Bay Bank and Trust Co., Panama City, Fla. who was recently banned from the industry, filed a sworn affidavit with Florida's State Attorney Willie Meggs last week. It alleges that from 1975 to 1990 Mr. Lewis broke laws by accepting an allexpense-paid trip to Las Vegas, $3,000 in spending money for a trip to Europe, several hunting trips to an exclusive Georgia hunting lodge; as well as boxes of Cuban cigars and a case of vodka.
This is the latest chapter in a fight that has been simmering since 1991 when Mr. Lewis' office claimed Mr. Christo and his son John Christo 3d were operating the community bank unsafely. The Christos claim that since they stopped contributing to Mr. Lewis' campaign in 1990 he's had a vendetta against them.
"This is obviously an election ploy," said Terence McElroy, a spokesman for Mr. Lewis. "There is no question about it. He is certainly angry about being stripped of his bank and livelihood. He is apparently lashing out."
Mr. McElroy flatly denied the charges.
"As to the specifics, none of that is true," Mr. McElroy said. "It's a figment of somebody's imagination."
Florida law requires public officials to disclose any gift that exceeds $100 in value. Failure to do so was a misdemeanor prior to 1990 when the law was changed.
The state attorney's office says it is reviewing the allegations. Meanwhile, Craig Kiser, an attorney for Mr. Christo, said his client already has been contacted by a state investigator.
The fight between Mr. Lewis and the Christos reacheded a high point in February when the comptroller won backing from an administrative hearing officer to oust Mr. Christo and his son from banking.
The regulator alleged that the Christos violated banking regulations by improperly receiving $850,000 in loans from the bank and driving Ferraris paid for by the institution.
The Christos deny the charges.
Last July, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. banned the father and son from banking for operating Bay Bank in an unsafe and unsound manner. The Christos neither admitted nor denied the allegation.
In federal documents the agency alleged that the Christos "unjustly enriched" themselves by receiving six-figure salaries and driving luxury cars paid for by the bank, and that the elder Mr. Christo received a $67,000 bonus less than a month after the bank lost $843,000.
The agency said Mr. Christo received $850,000 in unsecured extensions of credit at preferential rates after defaulting on $1.9 million of loans.
According to Mr. Christo's affidavit, filed Oct. 12, he arranged and paid for a June 1980 Las Vegas gambling junket for Mr. Lewis and his girlfriend.
Mr. Christo said he paid for meals and hotel accommodations and gave Mr. Lewis $2,000 in cash to gamble with at the hotel's casino, all of which was not reported.
On several occasions between 1986 and 1989, Mr. Christo's affidavit said, he arranged for Bay Bank to pay for Mr. Lewis to use quail hunting facilities at an exclusive hunting preserve in Georgia.
"Bay Bank and Trust Co. paid for all of Gerald A. Lewis's expenses, which included his lodging, meals, drinks, use of professional hunting guides, specially equipped Jeeps, and highly trained dogs," the affidavit said.
Mr. Christo said each trip cost more than $1,000, and, to his knowledge, Mr. Lewis did not report the gifts.
Mr. Christo also alleged that "on numerous occasions" he gave Mr. Lewis Cuban cigars worth more than $100 a box. And he gave him a case of Stolichnaya vodka which was transferred from the trunk of his car to Mr. Lewis's in a restaurant parking lot.
In 1983, at the request of a deputy comptroller, Mr. Christo gave Mr. Lewis $3,000 in cash to use on a European trip, according to the affidavit.
"I gave him the cash in my car which was parked at the Holiday Inn on Beach Drive in Panama City, Fla.," Mr. Christo's sworn statement said.