By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Publicity on Stiteler's background forced his resignation from the state board.
Fife Symington ran for the governor's office by pitching himself as a successful real estate developer when, in fact, he was a brassy con artist.
He inflated the value of his projects, lied about income, grossly exaggerated his equity in numerous developments, and hid millions in debt when negotiating with lenders.
His secretary of 11 years, Joyce Riebel, admitted that she and Symington kept different financial statements for the same dates. For example, a December '88 statement listed Symington as guarantor on a $4 million loan. Another statement from the same time period omitted this obligation. If Symington was trying to avoid payment, his statement indicated acute financial stress. If Symington was trying to borrow, his statement looked glowing.
Federal prosecutors documented, and Joyce Riebel corroborated, that Symington submitted two varying financial statements to two different banks on April 1, 1986; three different statements to three different banks on December 31, 1987; two distinct statements on December 31, 1988; another four diverse statements on December 31, 1989; and yet another two conflicting financial statements on December 31, 1990. The fraud was so repetitive that Riebel said the governor kept his paperwork coded and filed so that he could track his lies.
In the end, Symington would tank 13 separate real estate projects that stuck the banks with millions in bad loans -- millions taxpayers had to eat.
Not surprisingly, the governor was eventually indicted. The original criminal referral to the Justice Department focused on Symington's role in the collapse of Southwest Savings and Loan. Symington's Esplanade project on 24th Street and Camelback was Southwest's single largest loss. The Resolution Trust Corporation sued Symington and fellow directors for $197 million and said Fife personally "reaped millions of dollars in unwarranted revenue." He was also charged with violating federal conflict-of-interest regulations. The collapse of the S&L cost taxpayers nearly one billion dollars.
But the prosecution did not occur until 1996, during Symington's second term in office. By then, he'd already declared bankruptcy, claiming he'd gone from a net worth of $12 million to a negative $24 million.
The way he handled the $10 million debt to Arizona's retired construction workers is an illuminating example of how Symington swindled folks by mixing politics and fraud.
Symington originally borrowed $10 million in construction money from First Interstate Bank to build the Mercado in downtown Phoenix. This construction loan from the bank was to be paid off by a $10 million note from the pension funds of several Arizona unions.
The unions' $10 million commitment came due in the middle of Symington's first run for the governor's office in 1990.
Here's the hitch: First Interstate knew that Symington was already bankrupt because he was in default on another multimillion-dollar loan it had extended to him for a Mesa development. But the bank understood that if it revealed the candidate's true financial picture, the unions would legally be entitled to walk away from Symington, and First Interstate would be stuck with a bad $10 million note on the Mercado as well as the bad Mesa note.
Although legally obligated to reveal Symington's disastrous financial condition, the bank entered into a conspiracy of silence. The unions subsequently funded the Mercado, which allowed the governor to pay off the bank debt. Symington then declared bankruptcy, and the pensioners got stuck for the $10 million.
Once safely in office, Governor Symington appointed two of First Interstate's top executives to the state agency that regulated banks.
Symington further rewarded First Interstate by depositing huge sums of the state treasury into its vaults.
It has been 15 years since Symington swindled the elderly retirees out of their pension monies. Although President Clinton's pardon spared him from criminal prosecution, Symington was hauled into civil court by the unions. Attorney Manning has sued both the bank and Symington and won judgments of $30 million from them.
Symington was found personally liable, and the judge specifically cited the ex-governor's "intent to deceive the Pension Funds" by submitting financial statements that were "false" in numerous areas.
Although he is an heir of 19th-century robber baron Henry Clay Frick, Symington has told the state's elderly pensioners that he has no money to repay them. He is broke. The yacht, the fancy house, all of that belongs to his wife, Ann, an heiress in her own right.
Symington did sign over to the pensioners a $2 million inheritance he is due when an elderly relative of his passes away.
Today J. Fife Symington III ponders another run for governor. His supporters argue that he will champion a conservative agenda, but his testimony under oath proves that he still has the soul of a thief.
Shown one of his own phony financial statements, he acknowledged telling a bank he was worth $4 million personally.
Lawyer: "And did you have $4 million net worth when you signed it?"
Symington: "I said I did not."
Lawyer: "Were you reaffirming that when you signed it?"
Symington: "According to the legal documents, yes."
Lawyer: "And how about in your own mind?"
Lawyer: "What were you doing?"
Symington: "I was fulfilling an administrative function."
So there he is, sitting on his yacht off the coast of California. From Santa Barbara's harbor, he can't see the swindled pensioners in Arizona. But Symington is within spitting distance of Michael Jackson's Neverland. Fife can envision running for the governor's chair not because he is innocent, but because he is a pardoned felon. Makes you wonder if Symington's been drowning himself in Jacko's Jesus Juice.