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"John Dowd is the best. He is brilliant, hardworking, terrific," said Richard P. Crane, who ran the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice covering California, Nevada, Arizona and other Western states.
Crane, who headed the justice department's west-coast strike force from 1970 to 1975, said he found it impossible to believe that Dowd's work was less than professional in the cases of Pete Rose, Clarence Kelley or anyone else.
"I would never believe that," said Crane. "There were plenty of opportunities to overreach and I never saw that. I sat with this guy in very sensitive investigations and the wrong mentality could have taken a cheap shot."
And that never happened, claimed Crane.
Crane said he and Dowd worked together on the investigation in 1973 that put the top five mobsters in Los Angeles behind bars. He also said John Dowd worked casino investigations in Las Vegas and the seemingly endless pursuit of Meyer Lansky.
"Lansky claimed he was sick all the time," remembered Crane, "and to prove how sick he was, he died. But John Dowd was invaluable."
By the time of the savings and loan crisis, Dowd was no longer prosecuting wise guys, he was defending them.
When Arizona's U.S. Senator John McCain found himself under investigation by his colleagues last year for his ties to Charles Keating, he hired Dowd. The lawyer's aggressive defense of McCain appealed to Symington. With the advice of Arizona's Attorney General Grant Woods, the governor hired the D.C. litigator.
Dowd's strategy is compatible with Symington's long-term predilection for bully-boy tactics. In 1983 the well-respected city councilmember Ed Korrick represented the Phoenix district where Fife Symington and Southwest Savings wanted to erect the Esplanade. Symington wanted a zoning change from the city that would have allowed him to turn the massive project into one of gargantuan proportions. When residents of the area objected, Ed Korrick listened.
That was enough for Symington. Serving as Republican party treasurer, Symington slipped $15,000 into the campaign of Korrick's opponent Jim Gardiner. At the time this was a remarkable sum of cash to give to a council race. "Symington took five contributions from fellow developers on Camelback who, like Symington, wanted council approval to expand their project," recalled Korrick in a recent telephone call. "That was DevCor, right across the street from Symington's Esplanade. Symington laundered the funds through the Republican party and gave $15,000 to Gardiner so that you wouldn't be able to tell where the cash came from. At the time, that size contribution in a council race was pretty much limited to the Charlie Keatings."
Symington denied any wrongdoing at the time and the attorney general refused to prosecute.
Although Korrick won, the point is that Symington was prepared to crush the experienced councilmember and foist upon the City of Phoenix a monumentally naive candidate, Jim Gardiner, a gentleman whose qualification for the post was that he was a security guard. Later, when the Esplanade was erected, Symington was ruthless once again. He moved the only tenant from one of the smallest properties he managed, the Missouri Court, into the Esplanade. The switch killed Symington's partners in the Missouri Court, a project that quickly went into default.
The eight investors in the Missouri Court, who felt they were sacrificed by Symington for the ambitious Esplanade, say they faced threats when they voiced their concern.
"He told us that we wouldn't be seeing the lease and that if we pressed this question, or brought up this situation publicly and made a big deal about it before the election," one investor told New Times, "he would hit us individually with suits. I don't have time or money to fight the bottomless jar of lawyers that Symington could sic on me to file nuisance suits.
"All of this may not be illegal. Hell, he might even consider it good business. But it sure is unethical in my book. And it shows you that you don't need a mask and gun to hold somebody up."
Symington's instinct for heavy-handed diplomacy suggests that when he found an attorney, John Dowd, who was capable of roughhouse tactics, it was more than a marriage of convenience. These two respond to what they perceive as unjust criticism of the governor with legal violence the way victims of Tourette's syndrome bark: instinctively, loudly, helplessly.
@body:How effective has Symington and Dowd's campaign of press intimidation been?
Dowd's most impressive victory was with the Mesa Tribune, which repeatedly crossed swords with the governor. After firing off a letter of demand for retraction, Dowd and Washington, D.C., publicist Jay Smith met with the Tribune's editors and journalists in the paper's Mesa office on February 18.
Reporter John Dougherty, who'd written articles critical of Symington, soon got into a heated discussion with Smith and Dowd. At one point the remarks escalated into argument and then degenerated into shouting.
Dougherty and Smith actually stood up and prepared to take their differences into the parking lot.
What followed was alarming.
Instead of allowing Dougherty to defend his honor--and then cutting the reporter a bonus check for understanding that journalists actually do have reputations worth protecting--the paper's executives escorted Dougherty from the room and took him off of the Symington story.