Former Cypress Inns Owner Acquitted

By The Oregonian | January 30, 1998

Summary: Charles ``Bing'' Harris had been accused of bank fraud stemming from documents forged from 1989 to 1991 by his former chief financial officer

A federal district court jury has acquitted the former owner of the Cypress Inns chain of 19 counts of bank fraud.

Charles ``Bing'' Harris had faced at least two years in prison if convicted on the counts, which related to real-estate loans totaling more than $15 million.

``The jury acquitted him unanimously, completely vindicating Mr. Harris,'' Stephen A. Houze, his attorney, said.

The case against Harris hinged on the testimony of his former chief financial officer, Ronald D. Winter, who said he forged documents to banks because Harris had threatened to kill him and his family if he did not.

Winter, whose signature was on all of the forged documents in the case, pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in 1996 and agreed to cooperate in the government's case against Harris.

In testimony last week, Winter said Harris had an out-of-control drug habit that drew him to the office only when he needed money. Winter said Harris ordered him to forge lien releases from contractors that lenders required to keep loan installments flowing for several construction projects.

Houze said the jury clearly did not believe Winter.

``Ron Winter was absolutely unmasked,'' he said.

Houze said Harris was addicted to tranquilizers, causing him to lose track of his business and allowing Winter to forge documents.

A grand jury indicted Harris in July. The charges stemmed from documents forged from 1989 to 1991.

Winter went to work for Harris in the mid-1980s. Harris was a developer of motels and apartments for about 20 years. In addition to the six Cypress Inns in the Northwest, Harris built more than 10,000 apartments, mostly on the east side of Portland.

In 1992, he and his wife filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, claiming $50 million to $60 million in debts and 800 creditors.

Houze said Harris lost everything in the bankruptcy and is restarting his real estate development business from scratch.

The trial was Jan. 21-23. The jury reached its verdict Tuesday.