Sugar Mommy

Martha Symington's lawyer tells jury of governor's profligacy

Symington--who once suggested that working-class families whose kids attend inferior schools should simply move to exclusive neighborhoods--ran a household that spent $600,000 a year on an income of $300,000. The elected official who urged welfare recipients to take responsibility for their lives never took responsibility for his.

Even Martha Symington's $3.6 million wasn't enough. Testimony has revealed that the governor drew $600,000 from the principal on his trust funds to maintain his lifestyle.

Washburne's testimony also betrayed Symington's facade of a risk-taking developer who lived and died with the marketplace. Symington never risked anything of his own. Instead, he used inflated financial statements to legitimize his guarantees to repay millions of dollars in loans to his partnerships, and then refused to keep those commitments.

And when Fife Symington's development pyramid scheme finally collapsed in the late 1980s, he decided to switch professions and become governor. As governor, he would be driven everywhere by a well-dressed, armed security force. And if he was in a hurry, he could use a state aircraft to whisk him on Mexican scuba vacations or to the Rose Bowl at taxpayer expense.

To get elected, he turned to his mother for millions of dollars to finance his campaign.

When questioned about whether his mother's largess violated campaign laws, Fife Symington assured voters that the loans were legitimate.

His mother apparently knew better. Although she and her attorney intended that the loans be repaid, she also revised her will in April 1989, days after the first $300,000 loan was delivered to Fife Symington. The revision forgave him of all debts to her upon her death.

Damaging as Washburne's testimony was to Fife Symington's gilded image, he did undermine one of the government's charges against Symington. Prosecutors allege that Fife Symington submitted a false financial statement to a Baltimore bank to obtain a $300,000 letter of credit in November 1990. Washburne testified that the bank did not rely on the financial statement. Instead, he said, the bank looked solely to the blue-chip stocks posted as collateral by Martha Symington.

Symington needs more such statements if he is to refute the 22 criminal counts lodged against him. But such refutations have been few and far between.

With each passing witness, the government's case looks stronger.
Prosecutors have presented detailed evidence that Fife Symington gave different lenders financial statements swearing to astonishing variations in net worth during the same time period.

Federal attorneys have shown that several lenders--Citicorp Real Estate, Inc., First Interstate Bank, Valley National Bank and Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank--relied to some degree on the financial statements in their decisions to lend Symington's partnerships millions of dollars.

Former Valley National Bank loan officer Kendall Milhon questioned the governor's character, saying he couldn't understand why Symington had two different financial statements at the same time.

Symington's defense attorney, John Dowd, lashed out at Milhon, telling reporters he was a "stooge" for the prosecution.

The jury has heard testimony that Symington deceived lenders and accountants when he told them before he was elected governor that, in times of need, he could tap four trust funds, worth about $800,000, set up by his grandfather.

After his election, Symington changed the story and told lenders and his accountants the trust funds were strictly controlled by the Mellon Bank trust department and could not be used to pay off Symington's business-related debts.

This week the government is presenting evidence related to one of its strongest criminal charges stemming from Symington's disastrous Mercado project.

The government will show that Symington gave a false financial statement--claiming $12 million in net worth--to a consortium of union pension funds three days after telling First Interstate Bank the same financial statement was "highly subjective."

The prosecution will wrap up its case by presenting evidence related to its most politically damaging charges--extortion and perjury. These two charges seemed among the flimsiest as the trial got under way, but they now loom large.

More and more court observers say they expect a guilty verdict on at least a couple of counts. A few skeptics, however, lean toward the governor being acquitted.

Symington's defense team will begin presenting its case next week. But his three lawyers will have a hard time downplaying that Symington signed the bogus financial statements.

The defense is expected to center on the theme that everybody submitted false financial statements, so what's the big deal?

Perhaps the jury will agree.
Or perhaps they'll remember a man who stiffed his mother for $2.3 million while busting by two-fold a $300,000 family budget.

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