DeConcini & Keating

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DeConcini's "I didn't know" explanation regarding Ober's loans strikes a false note to Edwin Gray, the former federal regulator who was pressured by the five senators to go easy on Keating.

"You'd have to believe in the tooth fairy to believe in something like that," Gray says. "It's not plausible that he didn't know anything about this."

Now that DeConcini has capitulated on his long-held assertion that he didn't know that Katz had a business relationship with Keating until at the earliest 1987, the senator's claim that he was in the dark about Ober's extensive dealings rings particularly hollow. The question remains: How much did the senator know and when did he know it?

And no matter what answer you accept, how does DeConcini explain Ron Ober's continued influence in the senator's reelection campaign?

Ober earned his high status in DeConcini's camp by successfully managing all of DeConcini's election campaigns dating back to 1972 when DeConcini won the Pima County attorney's race. Ober directed DeConcini's three senate victories in 1976, 1982 and 1988. He's playing a central role in DeConcini's upcoming 1994 campaign.

There's another side to Ober: the businessman persona described by Cole during his eight-hour deposition that for the first time described the details of R.A. Homes' relationship with Keating.

As a businessman, Ober appeared eager to find the easy profit, the quick real estate kill. When Charles Keating came along in 1984 with his millions of dollars of instant money pulled out of the vaults of Lincoln Savings, it was apparently too much for Ober to pass up.

Ober liked doing business with Keating so much that he kept cutting deals with Keating even after the high-rolling financier broke crucial promises.

The loans came fast, furious and under unusual circumstances. One $25 million loan in 1986 was part of Keating's scam to move some property off Lincoln Savings' books to deceive federal regulators. Another $30 million investment in 1987 had all the markings of a Keating scheme designed to keep R.A. Homes from revealing details to federal regulators that would have been damaging to Lincoln Savings.

Wearing two hats, one as a businessman and the other as a top campaign aide to a U.S. senator, can get sticky, but that apparently didn't bother Ober. By July 1986, Ober and Katz were working both sides of the table with Keating through R.A. Homes and related partnerships.

The brazenness of their fund-raising/business relationship with Keating was typified by a July 24, 1986, letter Katz sent to Keating, a copy of which was made to Ober. The first paragraph of the letter discusses several business deals Katz and Ober had with Lincoln Savings. Then, in the next paragraph, Katz shifts gears and gives Keating an update on campaign contributions by Lincoln executives to DeConcini. Keating had promised to raise $100,000 for DeConcini's upcoming 1988 election.

Katz routinely sent copies of letters documenting his fund-raising efforts to DeConcini. But Katz, in a deposition during the Keating Five hearings, says he can't remember whether he ever sent DeConcini this particular letter outlining his and Ober's business relationship with Keating.

At the same time Ober was borrowing millions from Keating's Lincoln Savings, Keating was giving Katz more than $67,000 for DeConcini's campaign fund--money that Ober would later spend as campaign chairman. Katz also was talking to DeConcini once or twice a week, often relaying Keating's considerable concerns about how federal thrift regulators were wrecking Lincoln Savings.

Those concerns did not fall on deaf ears. DeConcini became Keating's chief war-horse on Capitol Hill. Even after other politicians backed away from Keating, DeConcini was still acting on behalf of the financier.

Incredible as it may seem, DeConcini still maintains through his longtime spokesman Bob Maynes that he didn't know that Ober, his campaign manager and close friend, was wheeling and dealing with Keating at the same time DeConcini was laying his reputation on the line on behalf of the savings and loan renegade.

Four years later, after the grimy details of Keating's operation slowly have been unraveled by an army of investigators, attorneys and court proceedings, Maynes says DeConcini still hasn't checked to see what role Ober had with Keating.

The senator should have. Ober's deals with Charlie became part of the evidence that put Keating behind bars. And Keating's deals with the senator are part of DeConcini's legacy.

Hal Cole's golfing vacation on Maui abruptly ended when the telephone rang at 6 a.m. on a balmy Saturday in mid-September 1986.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty