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BUILT ON A LIETHE GOVERNOR'S BEST DEFENSE JUST CRUMBLED

On October 4, Governor Fife Symington's official press secretary lied to New Times and the governor's law firm released a misleading document to the newspaper in an apparent 11th-hour attempt to discredit federal reports that Symington in 1983 had violated banking law.

Did Doug Cole, the Governor's press secretary, deliberately lie to the newspaper? Or was Cole simply regurgitating deceptive information fed to him by the Governor's minions?

Cole is "on vacation" and not available for comment, says Chris Herstam, a top Symington aide. Herstam said the governor was also out of town and unavailable for comment.

Cole made a "mistake," Herstam admitted, when Cole told New Times that a letter from David Serxner, a Federal Home Loan Bank Board official, pertained to the Camelback Esplanade. The Esplanade is a $30- million joint venture between Symington and the now-insolvent Southwest Savings and Loan Association.

If the Serxner letter had been about the Esplanade, as Cole repeatedly said, then it would have cleared Symington of charges that he broke banking law back in 1983.

But the so-called "Serxner letter" was not about the Camelback Esplanade.
In fact, the letter refers to "Fairmount Place," a much smaller office complex near Third Street and Indian School Road that was once owned by Southwest Savings. "Doug made a mistake when he told you [the Serxner letter] was about the Esplanade," says Herstam. "I do not believe that Doug would purposely mislead you. I think he thought that the letter referred to the Esplanade."

Starting in 1984, examiners from the Federal Home Loan Bank Board have pointed out several times that Southwest directors failed to get written permission from the bank board before they closed the Esplanade deal with fellow director Symington.

In early October, New Times had queried Cole about the bank examiner's charges for an article on the Southwest debacle ("The Loan Wolf," October 9). Cole denied that Symington had violated banking law in connection with the Camelback Esplanade.

On October 4, Cole telephoned New Times and said he would release proof that Symington had not violated the law.

The press secretary read from the proof: A May 27, 1983, letter from David Serxner, supervisory agent of the bank board in San Francisco, to the Southwest Savings board of directors. The letter said no prior written approval was necessary for Southwest "to purchase and develop a parcel of land in Phoenix that was located by developer J. Fife Symington." The letter didn't name the "parcel of land" in question.

But a May 6, 1983, letter from Southwest Savings to Serxner reveals that the nameless property in the Serxner letter was actually Fairmount Place. The letter was obtained by New Times late last week.

Symington's role in the Esplanade and Fairmount Place differed in one important respect: ownership. Symington didn't own Fairmount Place, but he did share ownership of the Esplanade with Southwest Savings when he was a Southwest director. When an S&L director co-owns real estate with the same S&L, federal banking law requires prior approval by the bank board. The law was written to protect depositors from unsafe investments by directors.

Erroneously, Cole said the Serxner letter proved that no prior approval was necessary from the bank board before the Esplanade deal was closed.

In a telephone interview on October 4, Cole told New Times that he learned about the Serxner letter from Symington's lawyer, Jim Vieh. Later in the day, Vieh's law firm faxed the Serxner letter to New Times.

Vieh did not return New Times' telephone calls.

"Doug made a mistake when he told you [the Serxner letter] was about the Esplanade," says Herstam.

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Terry Greene