In 1990 and 1991, gubernatorial candidate Fife Symington received a total of $1.3 million in "loans" from his mother and his wife.

After Symington beat his opponent Terry Goddard in a 1991 run-off election, Democrats asked Attorney General Grant Woods to investigate the "loans" from the Symington women.

Former assistant attorney general Rob Carey later said that both women claimed they expected Symington to pay back the $1.3 million in "loans." Trusting the ladies were telling the truth, Grant Woods concluded that the Symingtons did not violate the law.

Woods, who hinted he might run for governor himself should Symington become "unelectable," had no reason to cut Symington any slack.

Arizona Common Cause, a watchdog group that tries to keep elections honest, contested Woods' conclusion in court, contending that both the Staton and Symington loans were illegal donations. But the case was thrown out on a legal technicality that had nothing to do with whether Fife Symington's $1.3 million windfall broke the law.

In 1996, Fife Symington filed for bankruptcy, claiming debts of nearly $25 million.

Shortly after taking her impoverished family on a deluxe vacation to France, Ann Symington said under oath she never intended to be repaid $750,000 she "lent" her husband for the campaign.

Her "loan" suddenly became a legally questionable donation.
Ann Symington also purchased from her mother-in-law Martha Frick Symington a total of $1.8 million in "loans," one third of which wound up funding Symington's campaign. Ann paid Martha $10, then forgave the entire loan.

Because state law then prohibited individual campaign contributions exceeding $550, the Symingtons seem to have broken the law.

Grant Woods has found himself backed into a corner. In 1991, he had said the $1.3 million "loans" were legal. In 1996, when Ann Symington said she never intended to have her husband repay the loans, the federal trial already was looming.

Woods decided to let the federal case play itself out. A politician through and through, he likely saw no reason to alienate Symington Republicans if the feds did the dirty work and sent the governor to prison.

But if Fife Symington skates on the federal charges, Grant Woods will ice him. Sources in the Attorney General's Office say Woods is ready to launch a swift and an immediate investigation of Symington's campaign finances. If Woods chooses to file a civil lawsuit and wins, the state can fine the Symingtons up to $3.9 million.

So, however the jury decides, J. Fife Symington III loses, for once.

Last Friday, when David Schindler told the middle-class members of the jury that even Harvard blue bloods have to follow the same rules as everyone else, the governor seemed upset. His pink neck reddened at the prosecutor's plebeian gall. John Dowd shook his head in haughty disgust. But the theatrics at the defense table were ignored by the jury.

I wonder if the jurors had seen Ann Symington doodle and write thank-you notes during the trial. Had any of the jurors seen Dowd swear at journalists on the courthouse steps? Had they caught a glimpse of Marydell Pritzlaff's unprovoked assault on the television reporter?

No wonder Ann Symington looked so terrified as Schindler wrapped up his remarks. Her husband's fate was in the hands of commoners.

For the first time, Fife Symington would not be able to rely on the rich women in his life to rescue him.

And for the first time, Fife Symington would be held accountable.

Contact Terry Greene Sterling at 229-8437, or online at tgreene@newtimes.com

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