The Insider

"I don't know what to say about this," says Verhovek. "Maybe I spent 45 minutes talking to a guy who repeatedly would say 'this is John O'Quinn.' Maybe he has a stand-in, I just don't know."

Publicist Wolf acknowledged arranging the interview between O'Quinn and the Times, but declined to confirm that it actually took place. Her boss, agency president David Fenton, promised to get to the bottom of the dispute for us. Fenton said his firm works with nonprofit and environmental groups and is well known "for being very, very careful and very ethical about everything that we do. So you can rest assured that everything you hear from us is going to be true and nothing else."

True to his word, Fenton called back shortly before Press deadline to wave a white flag on O'Quinn's behalf. According to the publicist, the interview with the Times and the lawyer took place just as Verhovek had described it, and O'Quinn "must have been very confused" in his comments to Hittner. Fenton said O'Quinn was writing an explanatory letter that would set the record straight.

In the letter, which was directed to Hittner and copied to Chevron's lawyers, O'Quinn conceded that his reply to the judge was not accurate, though he still seemed to waffle.

"I have learned that I talked to the Times after the court's admonition rather than before," wrote O'Quinn, skipping past the fact that in his comments in court, he had denied talking to the Times at all.

O'Quinn blamed his misstatement on the fact that "so many media people have been calling me about various newsworthy cases ... that I erred in my memory." One can only hope that his memory is a bit sharper when he's actually working on those cases.

High Overhead
Charles Hurwitz seems to be enjoying the Office of Thrift Supervision's ongoing hearing on the collapse of United Savings about as much as he enjoyed being pelted with that pie by an anti-logging protester in California about six weeks ago.

The Maxxam chief acknowledged as much in a jaunty conversation with OTS special enforcement counsel Kenneth Guido Jr. in a hallway of the federal building last week, where The Insider happened to be sitting nearby minding his own business and innocently perusing the latest issue of the Press. We overheard Ol' Chip-Chop inform Guido that the OTS action was costing Hurwitz $110,000 a day for attorneys and experts, and that with every day that passed for the proceeding, the already dim possibility of a settlement grew less likely.

Hurwitz also groused to Guido about being characterized by the OTS as an S&L scuzzball, and mockingly warned the agency lawyer that "when this is over, I'm going to sue the government," a vow that drew a scoffing exclamation from Guido.

In one of its last remaining legal actions resulting from the S&L debacle of a decade ago, the OTS is seeking financial penalties from Hurwitz, Maxxam, developer Jenard Gross, former UH chancellor Barry Munitz and three other people. According to the government, they bear prime responsibility for United's collapse, which cost taxpayers about $1.6 billion.

Since the magistrate presiding over the hearing is paid by the OTS, a Hurwitz spokesman claims the procedure is biased and will likely result in an appeal by Hurwitz and the others. Hurwitz's lawyers also have argued the pursuit of the administrative case is actually a thinly disguised effort to force Hurwitz to accept a "debt for nature" swap in which Maxxam would give up redwood forests in California to settle United's debt.

After Hurwitz's conversation with Guido, The Insider introduced himself to the great woodlands Satan and asked Hurwitz about his comment that a settlement with the government was a fading possibility.

"When did I say that?" he deadpanned. Informed that his conversation with Guido had been monitored, he chuckled, "Aw, we were just fooling around with him."

Asked whether he was taking the OTR hearing more personally than the steady stream of invective from environmentalists, Hurwitz grimaced, exposing his ivory rack of baby shark teeth, and replied: "No more personal that what you write about me."

Anybody Got a Card?
A most interesting library is being set up in downtown Houston this week, but access will be extremely limited. Lawyer Dick DeGuerin is coordinating the installation of a "war room" at his office in north downtown, which will house 18 boxes of documents and seven boxes of audio and videotapes comprising the Justice Department's case against the Hotel Six.

DeGuerin represents former port commissioner Betti Maldonado, one of the six people indicted as a result of the federal sting-probe into corruption at City Hall. Although U.S. District Judge David Hittner has not yet ruled on whether federal prosecutors must provide duplicate sets of the evidence to each attorney, DeGuerin's staff is moving ahead in setting up a lending library with controlled access and duplicating equipment for the six teams of lawyers.

According to trial sources, the feds are currently transcribing some 260 hours of tape and audio recordings that will be presented to the defendants in a time-sequenced volume on October 20. While a federal source says the cost of that transcription will be approximately $15,000, a defense source dismisses that figure as "bullshit." According to this source, the FBI routinely transcribes all wiretapping and miked conversations and likely has the entire documentation already on hand.

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