I Could Just Slap Him

Felon, swindler, liar, sleaze, pant-load. The many faces of Fife Symington

Yeoman, a partner in the Big Six accounting firm Coopers and Lybrand, was the governor's campaign treasurer. Yeoman also prepared Symington's tax returns and financial statements.

Coopers and Lybrand was one of the bidders on the Project SLIM contract.

Competitors feared that Leckie was leaking bid information to Yeoman.

Not content to bake, chef Fife wants to rule again.
René Milot
Not content to bake, chef Fife wants to rule again.
An heir and an heiress: Phoenix royalty Fife and Ann 
Symington's evening wear cost more than either has 
repaid to Arizona's looted pensioners.
An heir and an heiress: Phoenix royalty Fife and Ann Symington's evening wear cost more than either has repaid to Arizona's looted pensioners.

But Leckie and Yeoman maintained that the phone calls had nothing to do with Project SLIM, despite the suspicious timing.

After submitting bids, all of the competitors were invited back to resubmit a second bid. Coopers dropped its final bid an astonishing $440,000 to become the lowest bidder where previously it had been the most expensive.

The county attorney said that despite having more evidence than the circumstantial phone records, he could find nothing to complain about legally.

George Blanco, an accountant at Coopers, had informed the county attorney that Coopers was slashing its second bid by hundreds of thousands of dollars days before it was officially informed that the state would ask for a second bid.

More damning, Ron Vincellette, a manager at Coopers, told the county attorney his fellow accountants had the numbers of their competitors' first bids, thanks to Yeoman.

"Yeoman had told [Joe Bonocore, a Coopers manager] who was on the short list and what the prices were," said Vincellette. "We just talked about the fact that we had to be very careful about the information. And I remember everybody being warned [to] make sure that nothing ever got out of that room. Because we weren't supposed to be getting that information."

Attorney General Woods' office refused to close its probe. It tracked down Yeoman's secretary, Marge Kendall.

"[Coopers and Lybrand] knew the numbers," said Kendall. "The discussions would be, this one came in at this level at this dollar amount. They kept a running tab. They knew. They would write it down and keep track. . . . They were not worried. . . . All they had to do was sit back and hear the numbers and just come in close to, or beat, the other numbers."

Then the attorney general uncovered a critical piece of evidence.

On September 6, 1991, the competing accounting firms had been notified that they could submit a second bid. The prosecutors, however, found a Coopers and Lybrand spreadsheet with its bid lowered by $440,000 dated September 4, a full two days before the announcement. Clearly, the firm had inside information.

"'Holy shit, the smoking gun!' is what I thought at the time. I'll never forget it," said Suzanne Dallimore, then an assistant AG.

Not long after it won the crooked Project SLIM contract, Coopers and Lybrand submitted a change order for $437,000, neatly recouping all of the funds it had slashed off its initial bid. Leckie approved the change order and instructed state personnel to process the payment two weeks before the accounting firm formally submitted the request for additional funding.

But this was not the end of the sleaze.

After winning the corrupt contract, state records show, Coopers and Lybrand slashed Symington's personal accounting bill by six figures.

Because of Attorney General Woods' perseverance, Coopers and Lybrand together with George Leckie paid $800,000 in fines, and both parties were forced to agree they would not participate in future state contracts.

The union pensioners represented by Michael Manning were not the only retirees fleeced by Symington. Furthermore, once in office, Symington took steps to make state pension funds accessible to other investors of his ilk.

In 1991, after being elected, Governor Symington defaulted on a nearly $1 million loan from the state retirement system that he had personally guaranteed.

Such disgraceful behavior did not shame Symington whatsoever. Instead, he used his appointment powers to expose the savings of the elderly to other developers who found more traditional sources of loans, such as banks, too irksome.

Like with Project SLIM, Governor Symington's thoughts about state pension funds combined a conservative agenda -- opening up retirees' savings to private entrepreneurs -- with a felon's fondness for easily accessible pools of cash.

As governor, Symington appointed a well-known Republican fund raiser to the multibillion-dollar board of the Arizona State Retirement System. John Stiteler immediately pressured other board members to increase investments in risky ways, to turn the pension funds over to real estate speculators like, well, like Symington.

"Stiteler lacks fiduciary temperament," Ron Pelton said at the time. A former chairman of the board, Pelton resigned once Stiteler announced his intention to increase speculative investments. Previously, the pension fund had operated with limits of no more than 1 percent of its $10.5 billion set aside for investment into economic development because of the inherent risks. The vast majority of the fund found its way into conservative bonds.

George Leckie, the governor's deputy chief of staff and campaign finance chair, said he helped get Stiteler appointed, in part, because Stiteler raised money for Symington.

Stiteler was a curious choice for this appointment. His background included six bankruptcies of commercial ventures, state and federal tax liens, a six-figure judgment against him from a failed New Mexico thrift, and a $15 million federal lawsuit filed against him and six other former officers and directors of the collapsed Century Bank. While on the board of Century, Stiteler borrowed but did not repay $500,000 from the bank, the government said. He sought dismissal of the suit on a statute-of-limitations technicality. Eventually, all of the directors paid a stipend to settle the suit with the feds.

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Is the write of this article abosultely insane? Clearly, ignorant.

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