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    It was the spring of 1985, and I was in my second year as a reporter for The Record, a small weekly published in my home county an hour north of Baltimore.

    A state-chartered thrift, Old Court Savings and Loan, failed - spotlighting all sorts of unseemly behavior about the institution's insiders, as well as folks who "did business" with it. The collapse - which resulted in 35,000 depositors having their accounts frozen (some wouldn't be paid back until the 1990s) and cost the state of Maryland millions of dollars - also highlighted the dark side of financial regulation.

    For an aggressive cub reporter like me, the collapse was indoctrination by fire. I was introduced to the "land flip," where a single piece of property was sold three or four times in a single day - with each transaction adding 50% or more to the land's assessed "value."

    And I learned about the changing culture of the once-staid banking and thrift industries...

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