DeConcini & Keating

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Lawyers representing bondholders tried to name Earl Katz as a defendant in the case, but U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Bilby refused to include the Phoenix businessman.

Ober says he was confident that R.A. Homes would have won its case, but that "it was a business decision" to settle because legal costs of defending would have been much higher.

However, when the opportunity came for Ober to testify in the bondholders' civil suit, Ober refused to cooperate by taking the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination 120 times during a 38-minute deposition on April 1, 1991.

While the dust is still settling from the aftermath of the Continental Ranch deal with Charles Keating, Ober has managed to emerge more powerful than ever. His new political consulting business is growing and his influence with the DeConcini camp, especially on campaign issues, remains high, despite his financial ties to Keating.

"There's no question he's one of the people we turn to for advice; there's no question about that," DeConcini spokesman Bob Maynes says of Ober.

This role is crucial to Ober's financial success in his new political consulting business. He sells his ties to elected officials and government agencies to those who need access. Thus Ober, whose role as DeConcini's campaign manager included a $110 million relationship with Keating, is once again using his connections to political figures to help fuel his private business.

Ober has extended his political network to other top Arizona Democrats, including U.S. representatives Sam Coppersmith and Karan English. He's also a political player locally, having assisted Maricopa County supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Ed King during their campaigns.

Today, at age 40, Ober is the most-seasoned political warrior the Arizona Democratic party can lay its hands on. He is an integral cog in DeConcini's effort to win a fourth term to the U.S. Senate.

"You can't mention the name of an extremely bright politician in the Western United States without Ron Ober's name coming up," says Barry Dill, DeConcini's Arizona staff director. "He has an innate capacity for political thinking."

Ober isn't the only person with ties to R.A. Homes that DeConcini still relies on for advice. Earl Katz continues to play a central role in the DeConcini camp. R.A. Homes paid Katz a $400,000 consulting fee, and Katz occasionally did real estate deals with Ober using Lincoln Savings loans. Katz is well-known in Democratic fund-raising circles across the country. He's raised money for more than 50 Democratic congress members and has been supporting DeConcini since the mid-1970s.

Ober had not publicly addressed the circumstances surrounding R.A. Homes' $110 million relationship with Keating until an interview with New Times this week. Katz could not be reached for comment. The loans resulted in huge losses that taxpayers ultimately covered. By 1989, R.A. Homes had defaulted on $94 million of the loans.

Last winter, the Resolution Trust Corporation reached a settlement on the outstanding loans with Ober, Katz and other R.A. Homes partners and investors. The agreement calls for Ober, Katz and others to pay more than $5 million to the RTC.

If DeConcini somehow didn't know about Ober's ties to Keating, he was well aware of Keating's heavy campaign contributions. More than $67,000 rolled into DeConcini's coffers from American Continental employees between 1985 and 1989, much of it collected by Katz.

DeConcini fought hard on Keating's behalf. He wrote letters, he went to meetings, he pressured regulators, he sought appointments, all for Charles Keating. At the same time, Ober was routinely tapping Keating's Lincoln Savings, never letting the senator know how these deals were turning out.

In the end, it was DeConcini who took the biggest hit for playing ball with Keating. DeConcini is forever branded as one of the Keating Five senators. His name is forever tied to the scandalous Michael Milken decade of the 1980s--where greed was revered and politicians like himself were bought for mere crumbs by gamblers disguised as honest business people.

While DeConcini took the direct shot, Ober remained in the background. Even after it has become clear that Keating didn't act in a vacuum, that a bevy of accountants, appraisers, law firms and borrowers played accommodating roles in Keating's financial shenanigans, DeConcini has never asked Ober about his business dealings with Keating.

"I don't think Dennis would have seen any reason to do an exhaustive review. There have never been any indications of wrongdoing," Maynes said. "It is unfair to assume that people who did business with Keating should somehow be required to prove they are not guilty."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty