Keating's Camelback Connection
So much happened here. And now the grass bordering the headquarters of Charlie Keating's American Continental Corporation at 2735 East Camelback is burned out. The trees should be trimmed.
The yellow awnings are faded. Some are torn to shreds. They haven't been replaced. The place is run-down and seedy.
I put my face up to the glass door the other day to look inside. It was deserted. There was no sign of life in the building that spawned the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan debacle.
There was a time, not long ago, when this office building was bustling constantly. Keating had hundreds of loyal employees scurrying to do his bidding. He paid them extremely well.
One day, for the benefit of a television crew, he raised an executive secretary's salary to $100,000 a year.
But he also fired people who displeased him without notice.
During the 1980s, this block-long area on the south side of Camelback was a place where intrigues--both business and military--were being hatched that threatened our way of life.
But we never knew about any of this at the time.
In addition to Keating, there were two other powerful men set up in business in this block. One was retired Major General John K. Singlaub, superpatriot and zealous anti-Communist. The other was Walter C. Bush, nephew of then-Vice President George Bush.
We know Bush worked and cooperated with Keating. He ran the building at 2777 East Camelback under the name of American Continental Land Investment Corporation. We know very little else about Bush except that he was a confidant of Keating's and that his office shut its doors at the same time Keating did.
Why were they all set up in such cozy proximity? Are we to believe this came about by accident? Was all this just a coincidence? Just across the street, in Biltmore Plaza, 500,000 people a year shopped in exclusive shops and dined in expensive restaurants without ever realizing that powerful men were attempting to change the course of American history little more than 100 yards away.
Keating was clearly trying to gouge the real estate market and change the savings and loan into his own personal piggy bank.
General Singlaub was raising money for arms and ammunition to help right-wing forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was operating covertly with Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, helping the Reagan Administration to by-pass the Boland Amendment passed by Congress prohibiting the sale of arms to the contras.
Singlaub was a pivotal figure. He was the original arms supplier in what has come to be known as the Iran-contra Affair.
Bush remains in the shadows. All that is known is that he met regularly with Keating.
There is no evidence that Keating and Singlaub ever met or that Keating ever contributed money to help raise arms.
It was here at Keating headquarters on May 20, 1988, that the great man himself threw a lavish champagne party.
It was in celebration of a short-lived victory over the savings and loan examiners in San Francisco who had been trying to shut down Keating's operation.
Thanks to the backing of Arizona's two senators, it had been decided that very day to transfer Keating's files back to Washington, D.C., where they would receive much more favored treatment.
So it was a night for jubilation. Keating himself tossed a computer and a typewriter through a second-floor window, shattering the glass before they tumbled to the courtyard below.
Keating, all six feet five inches of him, tore open his shirt to expose a tee shirt underneath. On the shirt was a hand-drawn skull and bones and the letters "FHLBB." They stood for "Federal Home Loan Bank Board," over which Keating thought he had scored a knockout victory.
One of Keating's aides poured a bottle of champagne down the front of a secretary's blouse. She screamed and then giggled uncontrollably. Everyone in the crowded room roared approval.
Keating responded by calling for the champagne to be chilled down as cold as they could make it. On this night, Keating was on top of the world. The $1 million he had spent in payoffs to Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini and all the others in Washington then seemed worth every penny expended.
At this point, the megalomaniacal Keating had no way of knowing the path ahead for him.
Now, I walked around Keating's old parking lot. It was empty. American Continental and Lincoln Savings are no more. The Phoenician resort is being run by the government. Everyone's moved on to other places.
A sign on the front door of his old office building reads: "Not Open to the Public."
Just to the west of Keating, in Camelback Plaza at 2621 East Camelback, was the office of Major General John K. Singlaub, retired.
General Singlaub was a 35-year military veteran. He had fought with the OSS behind the lines in both Europe and the Pacific during World War II. He was a friend of William J. Casey, later Ronald Reagan's chief of the Central Intelligence Agency.
After the war, Singlaub established the Ranger Training Center at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was a CIA deputy chief in Korea and also served there as a combat commander.
During Vietnam, Singlaub was commander of the Unconventional Warfare Task Force and was on-site commander of Operation Phoenix, an assassination and counter-terror campaign. He became one of the most decorated officers in modern American history.
In 1980, he became head of the World Anti-Communist League with his main office here in Phoenix.
Singlaub began by recruiting former U.S. soldiers to train the army of El Salvador. He also briefed U.S. officials on guerrilla operations on which he was an expert.
It was after delivering one of these speeches that Singlaub met Oliver North, who was in the audience.
From then on, Singlaub met regularly with North in Washington. He became a one-man collection agency for North and the contras. The frequency of the meetings with North has been verified by a study of North's notebooks done by Theodore Draper for his new book A Very Thin Line.
North was under congressional orders not to raise money for the contras. But Singlaub, a private citizen, could ask for guns and weapons and money without any concerns about getting in trouble with Congress.
Author Draper describes Singlaub in A Very Thin Line as a man who never played by the rules. He says Singlaub was obsessed by the Communist threat. He took it upon himself to put the world on guard.
Joyce Downey, who ran Singlaub's office here in Phoenix, remembers him fondly.
"He was a gentleman from the old school," Downey says. "He had a whole set of different values about our country that he developed during his service in World War II.
"He is courtly and a great patriot. He wasn't a West Point type at all. He grew up in California next door to Jane Russell, the actress, and she is still one of his best friends."
Coincidentally, Downey knows Keating, too. She and Keating both worked on former Texas governor John Connally's presidential campaign. Keating, believe it or not, was in charge of press relations for a brief period.
"People keep suggesting that Charlie Keating had something to do with General Singlaub," she says. "Believe me, I wish he did. We sure could have used the money."
In 1985 Singlaub met with the ambassadors of Taiwan and South Korea, both of whom he had met during his days as chief of staff in postwar Korea.
He went to see North in January 1985 and told him of his plan to ask Taiwan and South Korea for $10 million for the contras. North encouraged Singlaub and asked for a report when he returned home.
Singlaub subsequently had meetings in Taiwan and South Korea, assuring high officials he could conceal their contributions from Congress.
All they wanted was assurance from inside the government that he wasn't operating on his own as an "unguided missile."
When Singlaub returned, he obtained North's promise that someone from the White House would provide that assurance.
Later, it was learned by Draper that the assurances about Singlaub were made by North himself.
Singlaub traveled extensively to raise money for the contras.
During those years, he became known as a part of North's group. Another prominent figure in North's group was an Indiana native named Robert Owen, who left the employ of Senator Dan Quayle to work for North.
Singlaub actually became the contras' biggest fund raiser. According to Draper's book, he was edged out by former General Richard Secord, who introduced a new method of operation. Secord found a way to make a profit for himself and North out of the deals.
What broke up Singlaub and North's partnership was the fact that Singlaub operated too openly. He also talked too much to reporters. So, it turned out, did those Americans who were contributing money to what they assumed was a legitimate patriotic cause.
The story said that the missiles had been purchased for the contras by General Singlaub.
Singlaub freely admitted his role and explained that the contras had been trained how to fire the missiles by U.S. experts. He said that North had known about the purchase but did not lead him to the arms dealers.
Singlaub boasted that the $1 million had come from a rich lady who lived outside the United States.
By this time, North was growing nervous. He asked Singlaub to stop coming to see him in his Washington office. With Singlaub dismissed from North's inner circle, the arms deals switched to Secord and the secret road to Iran-contra and the arms-for- hostages swap was open.
Singlaub's office on Camelback is shut down. Walk through the corridors there and you find no signs he was ever present.
He now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and his autobiography Hazardous Duty will be published this month by Simon & Schuster.
You can stand out in front of the building where Singlaub had his office and look east on Camelback. The workplaces of the three men stand side by side.
General Singlaub. Charles Keating. Walter C. Bush. What did they all have in common, you wonder? We will probably never know.
Postscript: There's a bizarre history to Keating's building. Records show it was owned originally by James Patrick II and Herman Chanen.
Patrick was the son of a president of Valley National Bank and the head of a firm that developed such projects as Gateway Square and Mountain Bell Plaza.
Chanen is the head of the construction company that bears his name and a member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
Chanen built the Biltmore Fashion Park shopping center as well as the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix and the Sheraton Hotel at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.
Patrick and Chanen sold the 2735 East Camelback property to a renowned banking adventurer named Michael J. Peloquin on April 2, 1979, for $550,000.
During the period from 1980 to 1984, Maricopa County court records show that sixty civil suits were filed against Peloquin. He was also indicted for bribing two bank officers to give him fraudulent loans, though the indictments were eventually dropped.
Peloquin sold the building to Keating on November 26, 1980, shortly before the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, for $3 million.
This was a profit of nearly $2.5 million for Peloquin in less than a year.
In 1985, Keating took out a $5 million loan from the Prudential insurance company. The loan was to be paid off in a lump sum payment due October 1, 1990. Keating filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April of that year.
In addition to all this, Keating also paid $13 million for the building adjoining his own. This purchase was made in 1985, a month after receiving the loan from Prudential.
When Resolution Trust Corporation took over Lincoln Savings, it took over the building and used it for offices. One of the reasons the RTC did so is because there is no clear title to the building and, under these conditions, it can't even be sold.
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