Historic Misconduct

He is beginning to act peculiar in public.
Governor Fife Symington is now comparing himself to - are you sitting down? - Thomas Jefferson.

On Saturday, he made the comparison in a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times, saying that both he and Jefferson were men of great political vision who had nonetheless been bruited about by periods of economic hardship. He's also likened himself to Jefferson with a reporter for the New York Times, and said the same thing to Morley Safer in a yet-to-air segment of 60 Minutes.

Depend upon a scoundrel to compare himself with a Founding Father. Who else would have the brass?

There are startling developments and new chapters of information to reveal today in the Symington scandals.

News of them has been leaked to us by government insiders, sources at the law firm that represents Symington's accountants (Coopers & Lybrand), a business associate of the governor, a former secretary of a high-level partner at the accounting firm and a source inside Coopers & Lybrand itself.

One can conclude from their revelations that, to the members of the community who have dealt closely with our governor, Thomas Jefferson does not come immediately to mind as a comparison.

These sources reveal that the federal grand jury has expanded the scope of its investigation from Symington's activity in the private sector to include his conduct in office.

There is also fresh evidence about the governor's debts and obligations to his accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand--evidence showing that Symington's debts were being forgiven just as he was sliding multimillion-dollar state contracts to the firm.

And credible charges of systematic election-law violations by Symington's campaign have now come to light.

But nothing sets the stage for these revelations like the governor's grand mal seizure of megalomania on the national stage.

It explains everything.
Ordinarily, you might understand the governor's raving; the man is under a lot of stress because of his $25 million bankruptcy and a federal grand jury investigation that has him in its cross hairs.

But I have little sympathy for the governor.
Fife Symington did not become delusional because of any crisis. His head has always spun with visions of unbridled grandeur.

Shortly after he was elected governor, he began visiting Jerome Hirsch, a partner in Symington's first spectacular failure, the Esplanade.

The Symington Company owed Hirsch $3.1 million, according to one of the governor's public financial statements.

Symington was in Hirsch's office to renegotiate their deal. The governor arrived in full regalia: chauffeured limousine, fetching attendants and a full detachment of state troopers.

His circus-train visits continued until an agreement to reduce the amount Symington owed was drafted, according to Hirsch.

After haggling over the write-down with Hirsch, Symington added one final condition. The obligation was to be reduced by approximately $100,000 if Symington was elected president (of America, one presumes).

Who is picking out this guy's eau de cologne?
Symington's anxiety over media exposs and possible indictments has not caused his astonishing Founding Father statements in the national press; no, it is the other way around.

It is the megalomania that has triggered the corruption.
You cannot write a law that Fife Symington feels he must obey.
Thomas Jefferson writes his own laws.

As the Symington saga unravels over the months ahead, you must ask a single question.

What did Governor Fife Symington owe his accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand?
This is the only question that penetrates to the heart of Symington's corruption.

Allegations from a trusted aide, as well as alarming new numbers from Coopers & Lybrand's own sensitive files, paint a governor whose very air hose was directly connected to the accounting firm's oxygen tank.

Fife Symington owed Coopers & Lybrand his political and financial life.
Coopers & Lybrand's own files reveal that Symington ran up enormous debts that were forgiven or forgotten by the accountants. The bad debt ran to six figures.

Almost as embarrassing are the allegations of a former employee of the accounting firm.

Doctored ledgers in the Symington gubernatorial campaign, laundered cash, campaign donations treated as slush funds and brazen violations of election laws--all engineered by the governor's accountants--are the new charges leveled by a former secretary at Coopers & Lybrand.

No wonder the governor and his deputy chief of staff, George Leckie, fixed two multimillion-dollar state contracts--both involving Project SLIM, Symington's plan to streamline government--so they would go to Coopers & Lybrand.

As appalling as the bid rigging in Project SLIM was, it is worse once you realize that it was not simply political cronyism. This was not merely a case of the governor taking care of his associates at Coopers & Lybrand.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey