Honey, Would You Pass the Money?

Although Governor J. Fife Symington III and his wife, Ann, claim to maintain separate assets, Arizona's first couple frequently commingled finances when paying everything from mortgages to credit-card bills.

The repeated mixing of the couple's routine expenses was revealed during Ann Symington's May 20 sworn deposition, taken as part of the governor's Chapter 7 bankruptcy case.

"There was no formal agreement about who was paying what," Ann Symington said. "It was never delineated. We pretty much split the costs."

New Times obtained portions of the deposition, which the U.S. Bankruptcy Court had sealed from public view at the Symingtons' request, last week. Bankruptcy Court Judge George Nielsen on Tuesday decided to unseal most of Ann Symington's deposition, with redactions of information relating to medical records, personal security and finances.

Attorneys for a consortium of union pension funds owed $12 million by the governor are investigating the couple's finances to determine whether Ann Symington's considerable fortune might be tapped to pay off the debt.

The pension funds lent a Symington-controlled partnership $10 million in June 1990 to finance the Mercado development in downtown Phoenix. Fife Symington personally guaranteed repayment of the loan, but failed to repay it after the partnership failed. Ann Symington also guaranteed to repay the loan, but only from the family's community property--which she claims is nonexistent.

The commingling of the governor's and Ann Symington's personal funds is not necessarily an indication the couple has merged their major assets into community property. A court order allowing creditors to tap into Ann Symington's separate investment accounts and trust funds to pay the governor's debts seems unlikely, says Terry Dake, a lawyer representing the bankruptcy trustee in the case.

"What I don't think you're ever going to get is her family money," Dake says.

Ann Symington's primary assets are locked in a family trust and invested in two money-management accounts. The trust and the investment accounts, which generate an income stream of at least $7,000 a month, appear to have been kept separate from the governor's assets, Dake says.

"I don't ever see anybody having access to those funds . . . unless you can show he [the governor] has deposited money into them," Dake says.

The pension funds may be able to lay claim to some money that the governor invested in assets owned by Ann, including the couple's current and past homes. The deposition shows the governor made some mortgage payments on the last two homes the couple has lived in, even though the homes were owned solely by his wife.

Ann Symington's deposition makes it appear she was remarkably unconcerned about money--how much was spent, where it came from and who received it.

The governor's wife hasn't worked for a paycheck in the 20 years since she married Symington and left her teaching job. Over the years, she testified, her husband would make her aware of business problems he was grappling with, but he did not come to her for advice. As time went on and his financial condition deteriorated, however, the governor did ask her for money.

At one time, Symington was paying most of the family's routine bills, but "this started to change six or seven years ago," Ann Symington said in the deposition.

The change occurred after Symington "lost a lot of money and had a lot of debts to pay and was trying to work those things out, and, so I assumed more of the household bills," she testified.

Household bills soon mushroomed into massive legal, accounting and campaign payments.

During the first of two days of questioning by pension fund attorney Jeffrey J. Goulder, Ann Symington said she paid hundreds of thousands of dollars of the governor's legal and accounting fees--fees related to both business and personal matters. The governor's criminal defense attorney, John Dowd, has been paid more than $628,000 by Ann Symington.

She also covered a $5,000-a-month legal bill to the Phoenix law firm of Jennings Strouss for work on a lawsuit filed against her husband by the federal government over the failure of Southwest Savings and Loan.

And now, Ann Symington said, she is paying the legal fees for her husband's bankruptcy case.

"I wanted to pay those things," she testified.
But sometimes, the governor would ask for her assistance. "There were occasions when he came to me and asked for help," she said.

She said she has never turned him down.
Among other things, Ann Symington paid just $10 to purchase a $1.8 million debt the governor owed to his mother, Martha Symington--then forgave the debt.

Approximately one third of the $1.8 million loan was used to finance the governor's first election campaign. Ann Symington also contributed heavily to that campaign, lending the governor more than $600,000, a debt she also forgave. Ann Symington sold 7,200 shares of Bristol-Myers stock to fund the campaign loan to her husband.

The campaign loan was something Ann Symington never expected her husband to repay, although the couple drew up a promissory note as if the loan was to be collected. The promissory note, Ann Symington explains, was created in order to conform with Arizona campaign-finance law.

Ann Symington said she considers the millions of dollars she spent on her husband's legal, accounting and campaign expenses as gifts to the governor.

"It was a loving wife trying to help her husband out," she said in the deposition.

Ann Symington not only covered her husband's expenses, she also has paid legal expenses for the governor's former secretary, Joyce Reibel, who has been interviewed by federal prosecutors conducting a grand jury investigation into the governor's finances.

After a discussion with her husband about Reibel's situation, Ann Symington said she decided to pay Reibel's legal fees and was billed directly by the secretary's law firm.

"She couldn't afford to, and I wanted to do that for her," Ann Symington said in the deposition.

During her deposition, the governor's wife more than occasionally displayed memory problems similar to those shown by the governor during his public debtor's examination last Halloween.

Ann Symington repeatedly stated that she couldn't remember the reasons she had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, or where she obtained the funds, even those she has sole control over her in investment accounts, which are managed by PaineWebber and Illsey & Marshall Trust Company.

For example, Ann Symington, an heiress to the Olin Chemical fortune, could not remember how she had spent $125,000 last December 18 when shown a bank statement from her PaineWebber account.

"I'm not sure what it is for," she said.
She was also unsure of her investment role in a six-bedroom ski home the couple built in Park City, Utah, saying she couldn't remember if she contributed anything to the purchase of the land for the home. She was sure she had paid $125,000 to help build the house. But she couldn't remember where she got the money.

The ski home carried a $4,800-a-month mortgage, a payment Ann said was made by her husband. When the home sold in 1988, however, $132,000 of the sale's proceeds was deposited into one of Ann's separate accounts.

Maintaining separate assets can make buying special gifts for one's spouse tricky.

When the governor wanted to give his wife a $12,000 emerald and diamond ring on their tenth anniversary, his wife testified, both Symingtons dug into their pockets.

"From separate places the money came," Ann Symington said.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty