He's Back

Ex-governor Symington seems blissful despite the damning evidence that mounts at his bankruptcy trial. What's up his sleeve?

Symington gave the statement to Security Pacific Bank to discourage the bank from using as collateral a $4.2 million promissory note Symington had given a former business partner.

A month later, Symington issued yet another financial statement -- again dated December 31, 1989 -- to First Interstate Bank, which had grown anxious about Symington's inability to repay the Alta Mesa loan or cover the $1.2 million Mercado shortfall.

Just weeks after Symington had won the Republican nomination for governor, touting himself as a successful businessman, Symington slashed his net worth on a September 19, 1990, financial statement to $4.5 million -- a 60 percent reduction in value from the statement he gave the pension funds fewer than three months earlier.

Timothy Archibald
Symington lawyer Robert Shull says mistakes were made, but it doesn't matter.
Leah Fasten
Symington lawyer Robert Shull says mistakes were made, but it doesn't matter.

Manning repeatedly asked Symington if he could point to an event that caused his net worth to deteriorate so rapidly in the summer of 1990. Symington could not identify any events. Instead, Symington pointed to the different ways he determined the values of his real estate.

Symington testified that his September 19, 1990, financial statement was based on taking a "liquidation value" of his properties in a bearish real estate market. Symington defined liquidation value as the price he would receive for property if he sold it in a bad market. Using this methodology, Symington slashed his real estate assets to $7.8 million.

Three months earlier, he had told the pension funds his real estate was worth $15 million. Symington testified that those values were based on what he expected to get from the properties sometime in the future, in a good market.

Manning asked Symington what the fair market value of his real estate was when he prepared the September 19, 1990, financial statement. Symington, who was a licensed real estate broker and developer, issued a stunning response to a fundamental real estate concept.

"I had no understanding of that term," Symington testified.

Manning had Symington cornered.

"The financial statement you gave First Interstate Bank in September 1990 stated that you listed all assets at fair market value," Manning said.

Symington tried to move away from the subject, forcing Judge Nielsen to ask Symington whether he provided First Interstate Bank liquidation values or fair market values.

"I'm really not familiar with the term 'fair market value,'" Symington told the judge.

Manning seized on Symington's evasive response and circled back to Symington's financial statement to the pension funds in which he reported he had $800,000 in readily marketable securities when, in fact, they were in spendthrift trusts and could not be pledged.

Manning again asked Symington why he never gave the pension funds a copy of the letter to First Interstate Bank alerting the bank the securities were held in trusts.

"The pension funds never asked for the letter," Symington testified. "First Interstate Bank asked for the letter."

Once again, Judge Nielsen was not satisfied with the response and asked Symington directly about the trusts and whether Symington knew the stocks were not available to creditors when he submitted the financial statement to the pension funds.

"Did you know that?" Nielsen asked.

"Yes," Symington replied.

Symington had confirmed to the judge he knowingly placed materially false information affecting nearly $800,000 of his net worth on the financial statement he used in connection with obtaining the pension fund loan.

It was the beginning of a series of dreadful admissions for the former governor.

Manning placed several large posters on easels a few feet from the witness stand. The posters depicted different pages of the December 31, 1989, financial statement Symington gave to the pension funds.

Each time Symington admitted that information he provided on the statement was incorrect or missing, Manning drew a large X over the entry. As Symington's testimony wore on, the half-dozen posters that composed Symington's financial statement slowly transformed into a splatter of Xs.

Several times Manning forced Symington to rattle off a half-dozen inaccuracies at a time -- emphasizing each admission with another X. The tactic wore on Symington's nerves. Manning stood just feet away from the witness, prompting Shull to ask that the former college linebacker move back.

"This witness is a little uncomfortable with Mr. Manning three or four feet away," Shull told the court.

Manning obliged, and stepped back. But he continued to bore in with his questioning -- focusing on Symington's real estate valuation techniques.

"Even if lender wanted current asset values, you would give them future values?" Manning asked.

"If a lender asked what I was worth, I would give them the December 31, 1989, statement," Symington replied.

"Even if the lender wanted current asset values?" Manning asked.

Symington indicated yes. Only if a lender insisted on obtaining current asset values -- or, in Symington's parlance, liquidation values, as First Interstate Bank did in September 1990 -- would Symington provide real estate values based on the current market rather than hoped-for future values.

Steadily, Manning established that Symington knew his financial statement given to the pension funds was detached from market forces and simply a figment of Symington's optimistic imagination.

Symington grew restless and frequently looked at Shull.

Manning asked about the $15 million in real estate assets he claimed to control on the December 31, 1989, financial statement given to the pension funds.

"You knew, Mr. Symington, didn't you, that was not currently owned or realizable as of December 31, 1989?" Manning asked.

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