THE EMPEROR'S NEW FORECLOSURES

JUST WHEN HE WAS GETTING HIS POLITICAL HOUSE IN ORDER, ANOTHER SYMINGTON ENTERPRISE DISINTEGRATES

But if the center is sold at auction before loan payments come due, McKeough says, the city will have to decide whether to attempt to pry the money from Symington's own bank accounts.

@rule:
@body:The Mercado is merely the latest of Symington's dominoes to fall. In the past several years, he has lost, through foreclosure or default, two shopping centers, various office buildings and an industrial park.

Missouri Court, an office complex, was foreclosed even before Symington was elected, and a Scottsdale shopping center was foreclosed shortly thereafter.

Another shopping center, the Alta Mesa, was sold at a $1.5 million loss in late 1990. Four office buildings that Symington built on North 40th Street, financed by different banks and insurance companies, were defaulted back to the lenders, and an industrial center on Van Buren Street was sold off by the RTC.

Of the dozen or so major projects Symington touted as his business empire when he ran for office, in fact, little is left except for the Mercado, the Camelback Esplanade, the Scottsdale Seville shopping center and other office buildings.

Now that the Mercado has fallen from the list, only one crown jewel is left in Symington's portfolio, the Camelback Esplanade, the glitzy development composed of two office towers and the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Camelback Road. It is by far Symington's largest project, and his biggest headache.

The governor is expected to come to trial sometime this year in a civil lawsuit that charges him with misusing his position as a director of Southwest Savings and Loan to obtain financing for the Esplanade. When the S&L failed, the Resolution Trust Corporation claims, taxpayers were stuck with more than $40 million in bad loans from the Esplanade project.

Symington has also been interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a criminal investigation of the S&L's failure.

Symington has fought back defiantly, blasting the RTC for targeting him and pursuing legal maneuvers to have the civil case against him dismissed.

Regardless of the outcome of the RTC lawsuit, however, plenty of money is still owed on the Esplanade project.

Through various interlocking partnerships, Symington and his companies borrowed more than $100 million from two Japanese companies to build the Esplanade, according to public deed records.

The money was lent by the Shimizu Land Corporation and the Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank. Deed records indicate that Symington may have signed some form of personal guarantees for the loans. In several places, the deed records refer to a "Payment Guaranty" that was "given by J. Fife Symington III and Ann Pritzlaff Symington, husband and wife, to the lender." Details of the guarantee are not included.

In addition, in one of the original deeds, Symington pledges to maintain an individual net worth of at least $4 million. Failure to do so, the deed says, can be considered a default on the loan.

The Esplanade loans, taken together with the $10.8 million owed on the Mercado, paint a potentially grim scenario for the governor, say several businessmen and other observers who have tracked Symington's finances either for business or political reasons.

The Mercado loans, they say, could push Symington into default on the Esplanade if his net worth drops below the $4 million he pledged.

In fact, there is no way of knowing if Symington's net worth may already have fallen below that level. Officials of both Shimizu and Dai-Ichi Kangyo--which have an interest in monitoring Symington's financial status to see if he is complying with the guarantee--did not respond to requests for interviews.

Information gleaned from the financial-disclosure forms Symington is required to file as an elected official indicates that the worth of his various business partnerships has dropped dramatically since he ran for office.

Symington's equity in each of the three partnerships that make up the Camelback Esplanade, for instance, was reported to be more than $100,000 in his 1990 financial disclosure. Earlier this year, however, Symington reported his equity in each partnership as less than $25,000. (Financial-disclosure forms show only ranges of value. The three categories are less than $25,000, $25,000 to $100,000 and more than $100,000.)

Similarly, The Symington Company--the firm Symington used to manage his properties--dropped from a reported equity value of more than $100,000 to between $25,000 and $100,000, the documents show.

In late December, Symington announced that the company would become a "passive investment vehicle," and turn over its management functions to CORE Properties Inc., a company headed by former Symington Company officer Randy Todd.

Symington and his wife both receive income from family trusts, and there is no expectation that the governor and his family will ever lack for food.

But observers say Symington's financial problems continue to mount, and that the RTC lawsuit may be the least of his problems.

"He's like a fish flopping on the dock," says one observer.
@rule:
@body:Ironically, Symington's continuing business woes may drag him down financially at a time when he is enjoying his best political position since being elected.

With Republicans controlling both the House and Senate for the first time in his tenure, lawmakers say Symington should be able to shepherd through whatever legislative program he wants. The legislature convenes January 11.

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