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The RTC's man with a mission at Goldome

Move over, Mr. Phelps. Meet the chief of a real Mission Impossible. Henry Thiemann is on call to the federal government 24 hours a day. Like Phelps, he must be able to move unnoticed from one city or state to another at an hour's notice.

Thiemann's assignment is a furtive one. He comes incognito into a community, typically on a Friday, and that evening leads the federal seizure of a bankrupt savings and loan association.

That's what happened in St. Petersburg 14 days ago.

Thiemann slipped into town on May 31 and with a team of federal officials waited until closing time outside the Goldome Savings Bank headquarters at 66th Street across from Tyrone Square Mall.

Then his team from the federal Resolution Trust Corp. took over Goldome headquarters.

They told employees that the long-troubled thrift had failed and would reopen as a ward of the federal government.

Thiemann immediately took over the top offices at Goldome and had locks placed on their doors.

As the so-called managing agent for the new Goldome, he now carries his office keys with him at all times. His office door stays locked when he is not there. He doesn't want prying eyes, much less fingers, in what is now federal government records, Thiemann said in a recent interview. His temporary Goldome office is piled with boxes full of government documents he carries with him from thrift to thrift.

The Goldome seizure is an action that the RTC already has taken at more than 400 S&Ls across the country. Hundreds more are expected to be taken over by the RTC in the next few years.

In the wake of Goldome's takeover, depositors continue to be protected by deposit insurance. But the thrift, which had $1.5-billion in assets and 36 branches, will not be making any more loans of any kind, said Thiemann.

That's one of the prices of government control.

"The difference here is this is not building a business or creating something, but winding one down," said Thiemann.

Indeed, Thiemann's task is to prepare the thrift for sale by quickly identifying its problems and shrinking its size by converting whatever assets he can to cash.

But at Goldome, that's a little like assembling a jigsaw puzzle with only half the pieces. Even Thiemann, who helped shrink Clearwater's Pioneer Federal Savings and most recently oversaw Gold Coast F.S.B. in Plantation, is perplexed by Goldome's structure.

Goldome Savings was a subsidiary of Goldome in Buffalo, N.Y. The New York company was sold May 31, leaving the Florida operation orphaned and in RTC hands.

Thiemann said the Florida thrift is really half a company. Loans were not made by Goldome Savings but by Goldome Realty Credit Corp., a subsidiary of the Buffalo company. Data processing, accounting and other central functions of the business were also run out of Buffalo, he said.

"This makes it difficult to determine what the numbers are here in order to offer Goldome for sale," he said.

Thiemann is not some faceless bureaucrat. He's not even an out-of-towner. His first job was in the thrift business 25 years ago as a teller at Chicago Federal.

He worked various jobs at Midwestern thrifts and came to Florida to run a mortgage banking business in Clearwater. When that company was sold off, he did consulting work until the creation of the RTC in 1989 caught his eye.

With the thrift business withering away, the RTC promised to become one of the country's biggest financial institutions almost overnight. He applied and was hired by the RTC just over a year ago.

"I felt like the thrift bailout was going to be the biggest financial disaster in the history of our country. I felt it would be important to be a part of the process of the disaster," said Thiemann, whose family lives a few towns north of his current assignment.

What happens to RTC's field agents when the agency's activities wind down? "Any one of us wonders periodically where we go after the RTC," said Thiemann.

Then he brightens and recalls some industry black humor: What is the difference between savings and loans and commercial banks?

"Two years," he said, and laughs.