By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
J. Fife Symington III, our former governor, plopped about his yacht in the Pacific Ocean last August. He explained to former colleagues that he was about to double-cross them. Nuzzled by the harbor breezes in Santa Barbara and far from Arizona's maddening summer sun, Symington outlined how his consulting firm would oppose Proposition 400 despite previous assurances that he would stay out of the election.
Symington's timing for a second political debut was serendipitous: That very month, attorney Michael Manning was in court trying to recover the millions of dollars Symington swindled from local pension funds in 1990, part of a larger pattern of financial fraud that led to the governor's indictment in 1996. Although Manning has collected nearly $30 million in judgments, the retired carpenters, laborers and truck drivers he represents have not seen a dime. Fife and his corrupt bankers have fought, lied, obfuscated, delayed and stonewalled for 15 years. Symington and his bankers have paid no one.
This month Fife Symington took the next step in his political chrysalis: He announced that he is considering running, once more, for governor. He was on the cover of the morning newspaper twice, and within the editorial pages the normally stable Robert Robb gushed over Symington's "bracing agenda" under the headline: "Fife Could Drum Up a Fight for Napolitano."
Last Sunday's Viewpoints section of the Arizona Republic displayed a mortifying deluge of Symington detritus from five political observers, an attorney, an editorial page columnist, and the ex-governor himself. Never mind Fife's self-serving squeals; the others all regarded his candidacy as if he were one more legitimate horse in the race to run the state. This is brain vomit passing as commentary.
Look, if you are a larcenous greaseball -- and Symington is -- your polling numbers or your position on abortion are irrelevant. Swindlers are not allowed to govern.
Elected in 1991, Symington was sentenced in 1998 to 30 months in prison for bank and wire fraud. One year later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that one juror had been improperly removed before the verdict. As federal prosecutors moved to retry feckless Fife, President Bill Clinton, in one of his last -- and lamest -- acts, pardoned Symington.
Although Clinton's Übermensch Vernon Jordan was a senior partner in the law firm that defended Symington against the Department of Justice, we have been told that the actual reason Clinton forgave our governor was because Fife saved the president from drowning when both of them were at the same beach as young men.
Today, Symington's varnished version of his criminal odyssey is that he is a victim.
I could just slap him.
He alleges that he was politically targeted by federal prosecutors. In any case, claims Symington, the federal conviction applied to his real estate development portfolio prior to his election to the governor's office in 1991.
This is a critical point: Symington told the press his troubles preceded his two terms in office and that as governor he was an exemplar of conservative reforms.
Fife's posture is that of a sociopath.
In fact, Fife Symington's history of fraud is a monument to rapacious greed that soaked investors, bankers, relatives, friends and the citizens of Arizona. And, once he assumed office, he brought the same sleazy tactics to the top of state government in Arizona.
His very first foray into branding his administration involved multimillion-dollar bid-rigging that rewarded those who got him elected as well as those who helped him perpetrate banking fraud.
Project SLIM, described by then-governor Symington as the keystone of his administration, was a cost-cutting program to trim the size and expense of state government.
Project SLIM was, less conveniently, the largest white-collar fraud ever perpetrated on the state. Two multimillion-dollar contracts to streamline state government offered the typical Symington mix: They appealed to conservative instincts, and they were executed with a winking corruption that benefited insiders and crooks.
The insidious aspect of the looting of the public treasury embodied in the Project SLIM scandal was that the depravity spread like an Asian bird virus that jumped species. Before long, other arms of government were exhibiting spots.
When evidence of bid-rigging in Project SLIM first surfaced, Symington moved quickly to have a political ally, County Attorney Richard Romley, investigate. The governor also attempted to cripple a second prosecutor who was actually getting to the bottom of this sordid mess, Attorney General Grant Woods. Symington urged the Legislature to strip the attorney general of his entire civil division, which, coincidentally, employed the very prosecutors investigating the greased skids in Project SLIM.
After four months, Romley announced he could find no evidence of wrongdoing. This was a finding more notable for its sheer gall than legal acumen.
George Leckie, Symington's deputy chief of staff, ran the search for the accounting firm that would head Project SLIM. After each search meeting, records possessed by the county attorney showed that Leckie phoned John Yeoman.