WASHINGTON - A House Resources Committee task force has been commissioned to investigate the conduct of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of Thrift Supervision in a lawsuit against one of the owners of a failed Texas savings and loan.

The agencies have sued Maxxam Corp. of Houston and Charles Hurwitz, its chairman, for $821 million, claiming that the company controlled United Savings Association of Texas, which failed in 1988.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Dan Young, R-Ark., became involved after learning that the agencies were considering lifting the suit in exchange for Maxxam's ceding 63,000 acres of redwood forests owned by a subsidiary in Northern California to the federal government.

In a June 16 letter to the agencies, Rep. Young expressed concern that the lawsuit was being driven more by pressure from environmental groups interested in adding the forest to the federally protected Headwaters Forest than by the merits of the case itself. Rep. Young announced the formation of the task force on Tuesday.

"The OTS' and FDIC's litigation is politically motivated," said Maxxam spokesman Josh Reiss. "They are attempting to manipulate the legal process in order to engage in a land grab of a Maxxam subsidiary's private property."

FDIC General Counsel William F. Kroener III said Wednesday: "The so-called debt-for-nature swap was first offered by Mr. Hurwitz's counsel, not the FDIC. While the FDIC has said it remained open to any appropriate settlement, including a debt-for-nature swap, it has also told Mr. Hurwitz's lawyers that the FDIC's preference is for a cash payment."

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