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Former thrift president Edwin T. McBirney III agreed to plead guilty to fraud and help federal investigators chase other savings and loan figures, the Justice Department announced.

McBirney, who led Sunbelt Savings Association in Dallas, was the second major thrift official in a week to be swept up in wrongdoing. Sunbelt's 1986 failure is estimated to have cost taxpayers $2 billion.

A federal court jury last Thursday found former Vernon Savings Association owner Don R. Dixon guilty of 23 counts of fraud and misapplication of funds. A magistrate ordered Dixon held without bond until his Feb. 19 sentencing.

In return for his help, prosecutors agreed to limit McBirney's penalty to $7.5 million in restitution and $8.5 million to settle civil claims by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. McBirney also may be sentenced to up to 15 years imprisonment.

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