Governor J. Fife Crook III

The 23-count federal indictment of Governor Fife Symington is a positive step for democracy in Arizona.

The trial will make public, and notorious, business dealings that prosecutors have exposed in grand jury confidentiality.

The only thing better than the indictment will be Symington's conviction.
Do not be misled by the dual smoke screens that are clouding the picture: The governor is not the target of a Justice Department that is out of control, as he has informed us; neither should Symington resign because he cannot govern effectively, as the morning paper claims.

To state, as the Arizona Republic did on Sunday, that Symington must resign simply because he cannot govern "effectively" in the face of these latest charges is a cynical dodge.

Governor Fife Symington must step down because he is a felon.
We know this because of his own testimony under oath, the numerous investigations of prosecutors and the years of probing by diligent reporters.

It is not acceptable for the governor to hold office, as the Republic suggests, if he could just, somehow, balance the demands of his own criminal defense and his duty to efficiently administer the state government.

Not to put too fine a point on it: Symington is a public official with a rap sheet that is growing faster than Pinocchio's nose.

When press coverage of government corruption ignores the facts, politicians accused of wrongdoing can gorge themselves on righteous indignation, as Richard Nixon did, sobbing on his knees over the unfairness of Watergate.

Governor J. Fife Symington III, indicted by the federal government last week on 23 counts, proclaimed himself not merely innocent, but the victim of a Justice Department witch hunt. The theme was repeated, at length, by Symington's attorney, John Dowd.

The posture of Symington--that all of us ought to be offended by the conduct of the prosecutors--is only possible because the news media allow him to assume it.

There is no vendetta. Governor Symington, the scion of 19th-century robber baron Henry Frick, is a crook.

He was a crook when he ran for office. He cut crooked deals once he got into office. And he and his chemical-heiress wife have given depositions, under oath, with an arrogance that you see only in those who are criminally insane or those who have inherited more silver spoons than common sense.

Governor Symington and his wife recently gave sworn testimony about how they broke election-finance campaign laws. They dumped $1.2 million of family money into Symington's race for office and masked the illegal funds as loans.

The state's largest newspaper editorialized that questions have been raised, that the Symingtons "owe the public an explanation."

That's not true.
The questions were answered, in detail, in the depositions the Symingtons gave in bankruptcy court.

It's clear to anyone who can read: They broke the law.
The governor and his wife also swindled a union pension fund out of $10 million in the Mercado development while Symington was running for office.

Symington has explained the scam in his bankruptcy deposition. The fraud is very clear and obviously illegal.

Yet Arizona's largest newspaper editorial page was silent following the testimony.

The depositions from the bankruptcy hearings are not the only public record of Symington's felonious behavior. There is also the meticulously documented Project SLIM scandal.

Once in office, Governor Symington engaged in multimillion-dollar bid-rigging by channeling state contracts to his accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand. When the fraud was exposed by the Attorney General's Office, the state's largest newspaper did not ask its candidate to step down.

And when the federal government indicted Governor Symington, there wasn't a single editorial the following morning in the Arizona Republic. You'd have thought the news caught Republic editors by surprise.

Symington and his Washington, D.C., lawyer have been allowed to portray the governor as the victim of federal malevolence.

The facts do not support Symington's operatic lament.
The picture of Fife Symington that emerges from his deposition--his attempt to explain the massive banking fraud he engaged in--is enormously disturbing.

The drama extends beyond his illegal acts against mortgage lenders.
It is Fife Symington's character that is unsettling.
When you see how he treated family and friends, you finally understand why the white-collar fraud came so easily to him.

This is a man who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from his elderly mother with no intention of paying her back. He did the same thing to his spouse.

Symington never took step one to organize fund-raising dinners so that he might pay back the two most important women in his life, women who were unstintingly generous to him when he was desperate for their help.

What sort of man is this?
This is a man who risked his wife's freedom, drawing her into his criminal enterprise when he had her sign meaningless loan guarantees and launder illicit campaign funds.

What sort of man does that?
In the very beginning of his bankruptcy deposition, Governor Symington listed a number of debts that he did not regard as serious obligations.

Mike Toll, a man Symington described as "a very close friend," held two notes totaling $80,000. The governor did not feel particularly obligated to pay his debt.

When Toll died in an airplane crash in 1988, Fife Symington was drawing millions of dollars personally out of the Esplanade project in development fees.

Did the flush Symington pay his debt to the widow?
"This dropped through the cracks," said the governor.
Now the press tells us that perhaps Symington should resign because the indictment will distract the governor from his official duties.

No amount of media distortion or timidity can obscure a simple reality:
Fife Symington has the soul of a thief.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey