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By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
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At the time, Eckman didn't know about the transfer. She says she asked Brewer what happened to the Stephens money.
"He said he moved it to another account to get better interest," Eckman says.
Brewer, Eckman says, promised to produce a bank statement, but never did. Meanwhile, the Stephens Brothers' attorney was also pressing for a statement.
The Stephens Brothers' money, plus interest, suddenly reappeared in the Bank of America account on October 12.
Eckman continued to approach Brewer about the problems she was discovering with Charter's books.
"He was begging me for my help, to help him fix it," Eckman says. "He apologized for all the mess."
Eckman says she told Charter Title vice president Steve Johnston about the unusual money movements. Eckman says Johnston was "shocked" when she told him of the problems and at first wanted to know whether the company could be salvaged.
Johnston says he initially thought Eckman's concerns could be an accounting error. But as she provided more documentation, he became increasingly concerned and consulted his attorney. He says he spent the weekend of October 16 reviewing the situation.
"The following Monday, I checked some things out that definitely didn't look right, and that's when I made the decision to go to the banking department," Johnston says.
Johnston and Eckman say Harshey tried to sweep aside the problems they had discovered.
"I had the accountant [Eckman] check on some things. She came back and it just was looking bleaker and bleaker," Johnston says. "Bruce wasn't reacting that it was bleaker and bleaker.
"He was saying, 'Well, we can still fix this.'"
Johnston and Eckman went to the banking department separately on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 20. The banking department had already been alerted to a possible problem at Charter Title by an anonymous letter.
Banking examiners were inside Charter Title's office while Johnston and Eckman were giving their accounts to state Banking Superintendent Richard Houseworth. Midway through Johnston's interview, he received a telephone message from an attorney for Charter Title. The message said Johnston had been fired.
@body:A source familiar with the postmortem examination of Charter Title says the diversion of escrow money goes back to 1992, when about $3 million was shifted out of the firm's escrow accounts.
Investigators have discovered that millions of dollars were transferred out of escrow accounts with a laptop computer. Checks also were used to funnel money into other companies, the source says.
At least some of the money was transferred into a company--CTA Financial Corporation--set up in 1992 by Brewer and Harshey, the source says.
Tracing the money has been difficult, because many 1992 records are missing. Although Brewer had complete control over the finances of Charter Title, he apparently didn't take the responsibility too seriously.
"I don't think he did a balance of the books the last two years," a source reviewing the company's records says.
The banking department is expected to finish its audit of Charter Title soon. Banking Superintendent Houseworth says the report will be forwarded to the Attorney General's Office, which will determine whether to bring civil or criminal charges against officers of the company.
Houseworth expresses confidence that there is enough smoke around Brewer's activities to warrant a criminal probe.
"I believe there is very definite grounds and opportunity to further investigate Mr. Brewer's involvement, and the extent of his involvement, with Charter Title," Houseworth says.
While banking regulators do not really know what happened at Charter Title, or even what to do next, Brewer is hoping to break free from the financial karma he set in motion. He wants to wind up the scandal quickly.
Brewer promises he won't be the only person to take the blame for Charter Title's collapse. "Whatever went on in there, Bruce Harshey is very knowledgeable," says Brewer.
But Harshey declines to comment, and the question remains: Where did $8 million entrusted to Charter Title go?
"What happened, happened," Brewer says. "Why it happened, who knows?"
But Brewer does know, at least to some extent. He had complete control over Charter's finances. If anybody should know where the missing money went, it's Brewer.
"I think I know where the problem is," he continues. "But I don't want to say just yet."
Then he breaks into a big grin.