DeConcini & Keating

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Ober has emerged from the ordeal nearly unscathed. His political power is undiminished. He's never been forced to testify about his company's $110 million relationship with Keating. When the opportunity came, he took the Fifth Amendment.

His defenders claim Ober was a victim of Keating's.
But Ober expected to pocket a $2.5 million profit on a deal with Keating that evidently had no appraisal, no genuine down payment, no recourse and no basis in reality, except the reality of Keating's attempt to subvert banking regulations.

One year later, Ober and R.A. Homes sold Keating $30 million in junk bonds rather than take its company public and reap $20 million in equity. This move, from Keating's point of view, avoided public disclosure of the first sham deal.

And one year after the junk-bond deal, Ober and R.A. Homes entered into a second sham transaction with Keating, agreeing to pay nearly twice the appraisal on a large parcel, thus allowing the financier to book more phony profit.

Ron Ober hooked his wagon to Charles Keating's star, participated in Keating's scams and was a "victim" to the extent that federal authorities finally closed the operation down before more taxpayers could be bilked.

The attorney for R.A. Homes, Mike Hawkins, did a masterful job. Ober, the point man for the homebuilding firm with Keating, had an all-too-obvious DeConcini connection. Ober was kept out of the line of fire and out of sight. Hawkins, who at one point in his career was a visible member of the senator's brain trust, allowed the unknown Cole to provide the testimony that helped shut the jail-cell door on Keating.

DeConcini steps out of the fray with the unlikely line that he never knew his top aide was up to his gills in loans from Keating. We are to believe that the politically astute Ober never said a word even though Katz in his Senate Ethics Committee deposition said he and Ober discussed whether the senator should be informed. As DeConcini went to war on Keating's behalf, we are to believe Ober never mentioned his $110 million connection to the financier.

In other words, Ober helped embroil the senator in the biggest political scandal of DeConcini's 22-year career, was an active participant himself in the most notorious thrift collapse of the century and for this sort of judgment, Ober has been rewarded with a position of trust in the DeConcini reelection campaign.

There is one other explanation that must be considered.

And that is Ed Gray's belief that DeConcini knew all along that his aides were conducting million-dollar business deals with Keating. DeConcini has always argued that he went to Keating's defense to protect Arizona's economy. But he never mentioned that if Keating fell, two of his closest friends, Ober and Katz, would suffer.

On December 18, 1984, DeConcini wrote a short note to Keating thanking him for an invitation to a New Year's Eve party. At the bottom of the letter, DeConcini, whose family made its fortune in real estate and who had made several real estate investments with Katz, added a short handwritten message:

"Thanks for helping Earl Katz. I have no monetary interest, only my friendship for Earl."

When Senate Ethics Committee attorney Robert Bennett showed the letter to Katz during his November 1990 deposition, Katz said he didn't know what DeConcini was referring to.

"I can only offer conjecture," Katz said.

"All right," Bennett replied.

"It may have been that Mr. Keating or somebody communicated to him that there was, that I was involved in a deal with --," Katz said, cutting off in midsentence.

"Well, the thanks presumably would be that Keating or Lincoln is lending you money. Is that right, or not?" Bennett asked.

"I don't know. I didn't communicate this to Senator DeConcini," Katz said.

"Well, what else could it be? What else could he be thanking Mr. Keating for doing for you?" Bennett asked.

"I don't know," Katz replied.

The Senate Ethics Committee dropped this line of inquiry. At the time, DeConcini's note was only a thread; the tapestry of financial records that eventually surfaced in the courts was not available.

The paper trail of R.A. Homes is finally a matter of public record.

And now the senator's office is belatedly acknowledging that in 1984, Dennis DeConcini knew more than he'd previously admitted in sworn testimony.

The senator knew about Katz and Keating.

Today, there is only the question of what you believe DeConcini knew about Ober.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty