Hundreds of Utahns, who one year ago declared war on the state of Utah, held a pseudo-celebration Saturday.
The picnic mood was cautiously optimistic as depositors of Utah's collapsed thrifts gathered at Wasatch Springs for the second annual "Rip-Off Reunion.""I wouldn't call it exactly a celebration; we don't have anything yet. But we are certainly feeling more confident that we will soon," said Sheila Bohard, a member of the Depositors of Insured Thrifts' 11-member board. The board organized the rally to keep the plight of depositors in public view.
Bohard had just moved to Utah from California when, on July 31, 1986, state regulators froze about $100 million in deposits in five thrift and loan accounts. The five thrifts were placed under liquidation, and 15,000 to 20,000 depositors stood to lose a total $40 million in savings. She and her husband lost their savings: $100,000.
Saturday, she and most of the other depositors were feeling more hopeful that their money would be reimbursed in full.
"We have seen a turn-around in the attitude of the defendants who can either settle now - and easily get out of it - or they can go clear through the courts and face fraud charges," Bohard said.
The depositors, who have exhausted their feelings of dismay and anger, have gained considerable ground since declaring war on the state a year ago and adopting the slogan: "In Utah We Trusted, Now We are Busted."
A class-action lawsuit against the state and intense legislative lobbying have brought parties to the bargaining table, and a settlement seems more likely. All parties have agreed that the best sources for a quick resolution are the national insurance companies that carried the state's liability coverage until July 1985, when the state started its self-insurance program.
State risk-management director Alan Edwards said the state is negotiating with carriers that provided about $100 million in liability coverage for negligent action on the part of state officials between 1981 to 1985.
In addition to the insurance policies, Gov. Norm Bangerter has said "other defendants" in the depositors' lawsuit should contribute to resolving the problem. They are law firms, accounting firms and former thrift officers who were involved in running the troubled thrift industry.
Bohard said Bangerter, who hopes the depositors' multimillion-dollar claims are settled within 30 days, will meet on the matter again next week.
Even if the debt is finally settled, a bitter residue will remain with most depositors.
"People are mad because they lost their entire life savings. People here (at the reunion) had money in the institutions that they earned at 60 cents an hour, 50 or 60 years ago," Bohard said. "We have identified 67 depositors who have died in the past two years.
"It's heart-breaking. This is their life savings and they have been putting it away for their old age. Now they don't have it," she said, looking out over the elderly group, whose entertainment Saturday was more advice from lobbyists and lawyers. There was also food - and some fun.
It's not only the lost money the depositors mourn. Their bitterness is also directed at their fellow Utahns.
"It really affected my feelings and attitude about Utah and how they take care of their own people," said depositor Randy Harden. "In any natural disaster that involved 20,000 people, you would see people come to your aid in droves. You saw people sandbagging in the streets of Salt Lake to save businesses and store fronts.
"But when 20,000 people lost their money, everyone turned their backs on us."