MacDonald: This Shakedown Artist Didn't See the Real Profits

Some thoughts about the Peter MacDonald hearings:
I pick up my Arizona Republic each morning in the dark. I walk with it to the porch light. It is then that I'm able to see that Pat Murphy's Republic staff has placed still another story about the Navajo tribal chairman on the front page.

I go inside the house. I get a cup of coffee. Each morning I dutifully read the MacDonald dispatches from Anne Q. Hoy of the Republic's Washington bureau.

I see three things wrong with them:
1) The federal government's strategy of immunizing MacDonald's own son from prosecution is despicable. How cynical and heartless can you get? The idea of forcing a son into the betrayal of his father is ghastly. The tactic is something that was a prime strategy of the darkest villains of the Hitler-Stalin era.

2) The daily sight of Senator Dennis DeConcini--Mr. Lucrative Land Deal himself--playing judge and jury on the Senate investigating panel. This immediately elevates a deadly serious matter into farce. It's Alice in Wonderland and Judge Roy Bean all rolled into one.

And it raises another question. Why hasn't Congress investigated the Arizona land deals that made millions for DeConcini and his pals? Why doesn't it get DeConcini's wife, Susan, to turn government witness against him?

3) The fact that MacDonald is a shakedown artist is a given. But even the Republic stories show that MacDonald's profit is minor league compared with that of the real estate men who put the deal together.

Byron "Bud" Brown and Tom Tracy, two Phoenix-based entrepreneurs, hit the jackpot. They made lottery-size profits in this transaction that took them less than a day.

It's one of the great land scores of American history. Clearly it's the best real estate deal between white men and red men since the purchase of Manhattan Island.

Brown's profit was $4.9 million. Tracy's profit was $2.93 million. With figures like that, you don't even have to write in the exclamation points.

And yet MacDonald is left to take the heat. He's received approximately $10,000 and a year-old BMW for which he will have to make monthly lease payments of $900. All the rest of the money, we are told, was promised to him in the future.

Brown testifies under immunity with attorney Melvin McDonald at his side.
Brown certainly knew where to go when the heat came down. McDonald is a former United States attorney and a former Maricopa County court judge. With the rates that McDonald charges, he'll be the third man in the case to come away with more money than the Indian chief.

Peter MacDonald Jr.'s testimony creates a sensational atmosphere. His father sent him first to Harvard and then to Oklahoma University and then law school. It took him seven years to pass the bar examination. He is either stupid or indolent and perhaps a mix of both.

Brown and the young MacDonald relate the Navajo chief's graft strategy. It's pitiable in comparison with the total stakes on the table. MacDonald was always playing for peanuts, while the two white men were shooting for the moon. But nowhere do the Republic stories tell about Brown and Tracy. Who are these men who made off with close to $8 million for a day's work? Can it be the Republic doesn't know or doesn't care?

Is the paper so anxious to back up its earlier Indian series that it will forego telling us the background of two of the great con men of our day? Here's how the Republic played the story on the day it was revealed that Brown and Tracy had made their big score.

The headline on page one reads: "CASH SOUGHT FOR DAD IN RANCH DEAL, SON SAYS."

The opening paragraph of the story from the Republic's Washington bureau tells of the elder MacDonald's request for "thousands" of dollars in kickbacks.

Not until the thirtieth paragraph,
deep . . . ever so deep . . . and on the jump page . . . does correspondent Hoy reveal what are really the key facts to the Republic's readers:

Brown's profit was $4.9 million. Tracy's profit was $2.93 million.

I wondered why the Republic's editors hadn't corrected this point so their readers would be able to tell who actually came away with the profits.

I called Robert Franken, an assistant managing editor and currently one of the two high-ranking men in the newsroom.

I asked Franken if he didn't think it strange that the Republic didn't make a point out of the huge profits made by the two real estate men.

Franken was cordial but seemed to be making a deliberate attempt to remain vague.

"I don't know," Franken said.
I asked Franken if he thought his readers wouldn't be interested in knowing something about Bud Brown, who comes out of this with immunity and $4.9 million.

Franken himself clearly didn't know who Bud Brown was.
"If Brown had made that much money in the lottery, wouldn't you have done a story?" I asked.

Franken didn't answer that question.
Instead, he did something that editors do all the time. He passed the buck. "I wasn't in charge that night," Franken said. "Howard Finberg [also an assistant managing editor] would have been responsible for making a change like that. Try him."

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