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Many account holders took advantage of a generous overdraft policy at the House bank, including the sergeant-at-arms who ran the facility and one lawmaker who wrote 996 bad checks, an ethics report says.

"The longstanding practice of the House bank in honoring overdrafts on members' accounts was unwise and should have been discontinued years ago," the House ethics committee said.The committee's majority report, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, said the defunct bank's no-penalty policy for overdrafts was unknown to some House members.

But "many others knew about it and took full advantage" of the policy, the report said. "It ultimately brought discredit to all members and, most seriously, to the House as an institution."

The report said the House sergeant-at-arms, Jack Russ, "misused" his office by cashing 19 overdrafts at the bank, which was under his jurisdiction until it was closed late last year. The checks were cashed between July 1988 and August 1989 for an aggregate face value of $56,100.

Russ eventually made good on the deficiency.

The report said Russ "testified that he delegated the job of implementing . . . reforms" to his bank director "and that he was surprised to later learn that they were not always carried out."

Russ said through his office that he had no comment on the report at this time. He is recuperating from a gunshot wound to his cheek, received last week in what Russ described as an attack by three people near his Capitol Hill home.

The committee has gathered its information using coded accounts without identification of individuals.