Rhode Island Depositors Stage |Tea Party'

Toting shoeboxes filled with tea bags, angry Rhode Island depositors marched on the State Capitol Wednesday, urging Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun to unfreeze their accounts in credit unions and banks.

The "tea party" was prompted by the state's deposit insurance crisis. Forty-five banks and credit unions were closed last January after their private insurer, Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp., collapsed.

3 Demands

Shouting "We want our money" and tossing tea bags in the air, about 500 protesters entered the statehouse in Providence at 8:30 a.m., then filed through the marble rotunda up to the governor's office on the second floor.

The protesters had three demands: quick access to their funds, dismissal of the man hired to resolve the crisis, and acceleration of a stalled plan to have Old Stone Corp., a Providence-based thrift, buy six failed credit unions.

The demonstrators, whom police described as orderly, said Gov. Sundlun is moving too slowly on all fronts. The governor acknowledged their complaints for the first time last week, saying he is "dissatisfied" at the pace of efforts.

But that was not enough for the demonstrators, who demanded that he fire Richard Gaskill, head of the Depositors Economic Protection Corp., an agency created to resolve the banking crisis.

The protesters also demanded that the governor jump-start the Old Stone plan. However, sources said they believe that the state is trying to renegotiate its original deal with the thrift company. In March, the bailout was expected to cost the state $150 million. The estimated cost has now almost tripled, some sources said, to as much as $400 million.

Earlier in the year, Old Stone was negotiating with the state and federal regulators to take over $450 million in deposits and assets of the Columbian, East Providence, Providence Teachers, Greater Providence, Chariho Exeter, and Blackstone Valley credit unions.

Regulators Scotched Old Stone Deal

The deal, which would have given those depositors access to their money, bogged down after the Office of Thrift Supervision opposed it, calling it too risky for Old Stone.

The thrift has lost money for the last three quarters. Its ratio of tangible equity to assets is a barebones 3%. "I'm not sure they're in any shape to take on a new burden," said Donald Kauth, an analyst at First Albany Corp.

The depositors' rally was their fourth large-scale demonstration in eight days.

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