Help Your Country and Help Yourself

"To say that it was a great deal is a gross understatement. It was unbelievable," says a high-ranking savings and loan executive. So goes the industry's scuttlebutt these days about Robert Bass's takeover in December of the crippled American Savings & Loan of Stockton, Calif. In one of the sweetest deals ever bankrolled with taxpayer money, the intensely private Fort Worth billionaire, 40, stands to benefit hugely from a decade of regulatory laxity. His purchase of American Savings is the pre-eminent episode in a string of controversial bailouts last year in which regulators handed out gilt-edged gratuities to some of America's...

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