Keating Five Choke on Charlie's Filthy Lucre

Perhaps the most dramatic revelations to come out of the huge savings and loan disaster will come during the trial of Charles Keating.

That trial, which will be heard here in Phoenix before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bilby, still is probably a year away. But now the possibility of such a trial ever taking place is no longer a certainty.

Recent events make you wonder if the government will decide that the Keating trial is too hot to handle.

The government has made its deal with Michael Milken of Drexel Burnham Lambert, and so what went on behind the scenes with Milken will be hushed up.

But we can't afford to have the facts of the Keating case covered up. Keating, Arizona's megalomaniacal con artist, should be forced to stand trial.

There are too many important political figures lurking behind the curtains in this one to allow the facts to be buried.

Why is this case so important?

Only by trying the Keating case will we learn to what extent we can ever again trust certain members of the United States Senate.

At Keating's trial a key witness would be Senator John McCain, who'd be forced to take the stand in the federal building here in Phoenix.

McCain would be placed under oath and then be obliged to explain his dealings with Keating. His answers would no longer be given at a controlled press conference or radio talk show where he can slip the tough questions.

McCain will be required to answer all questions under threat of perjury.

You can visualize how it will go:
Q: Tell us, Senator McCain, how it came to be that your wife and your father-in-law were admitted into a lucrative shopping center deal by Keating?

Or this one:
Q. Senator McCain, please tell us about the vacations you shared with Keating at his home in the Bahamas? And just why was it that you rode free on his jet planes for years before ever realizing you should make arrangements to pay for your flights?

And here's one the lawyers will certainly ask.

Q: Keating devoted such extremely large amounts to your campaign, Senator. When you went to that meeting in Senator DeConcini's office, did you realize this was your time to pay Keating back by blocking the government's investigation of Lincoln Savings and Loan?

Senator Dennis DeConcini would also go through the glare of the television cameras on the sidewalks while making his way to the witness stand.

And DeConcini's appearance would be of special interest. It was DeConcini who was instrumental in making Judge Bilby a federal judge.

How will this circumstance affect Bilby's handling of the case? How deferential can he be to DeConcini without arousing suspicion?

How will DeConcini react when asked to explain how he decided to hold that meeting to benefit Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan in his Senate office.

One of the more interesting witnesses will be DeConcini's former aide Ron Ober.

It was Ober who ran all DeConcini's campaigns.

Ober's financial ties to Keating will make for some tense moments, not only for Keating but DeConcini as well.

Q. Mr. Ober, isn't it true that your home-building company had a $97 million line of credit from Mr. Keating's company?

Q. Mr. Ober, isn't it true that your enormous loans with Mr. Keating's company were unsecured? Why was this so? Did it have anything to do with Senator DeConcini?

So far Ober has told a story that is unbelievable. He wants people to believe there was nothing unusual about being able to borrow millions without demonstrating a way to pay the money back.

Ober also has stated that he borrowed millions from Keating without DeConcini knowing about it.

Let's see how that statement plays when everybody is under oath.

How high up does the Keating case go? Well, Alan Greenspan is now chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He holds what some regard as the second most important job in the government.

Greenspan could be called as a witness. Why?

There's a dirty little secret about Greenspan that should be told to a jury.

For an unusually large fee, Greenspan testified on behalf of Keating and his Lincoln Savings gang before Congress.

Greenspan didn't stop there. On February 13, 1985, he wrote a letter to the Federal Loan Bank Board on Keating's behalf.

The operative question is simple. The witnesses can answer it under oath.

Was Keating able to buy absolutely everyone?

We don't know if he bought everyone. We have a pretty good idea that he spent at least a million dollars in political contributions.

One day, speaking from a prepared text at a press conference at the Arizona Biltmore, Keating asked himself if he thought his money would buy something for him with the politicians. He answered in a defiant affirmative.

What is certain to be brought up at Keating's trial are his activities in Cincinnati before moving his operations to Phoenix in 1979. These were revealed in detail by Ben Stein in an article that ran in Barron's on April 16.

Keating was involved there with high-powered financier Karl Lindner. He was Lindner's lawyer when the two of them ran the Provident Bank as if it were their own piggy bank.

They made loans at Provident exactly the way Keating made them years later at Lincoln Savings and Loan. The loans went to Keating associates on wildly preferential terms.

They did not require credit applications. They did not require regular payments on the loans and frequently made new loans to cover delinquent older loans.

And the man who borrowed the most was none other than Charles Keating, who took $4.5 million in loans while making a salary of $200,000 per year.

Stein wrote:
"In other words, one of the main SEC complaints against Keating was that he had used a federally insured bank essentially as a self-controlled piggy bank for his own purposes, had caused it to grant loans to him on terms that would generally have been considered unsound and had covered up problems with those loans by giving himself still more loans."

It's a curious thing about the way Keating looks at the world. Everyone around him keeps calling him unethical, dishonest, a con man and a sleazy crook who bilked thousands of retirees out of their pension money.

But Keating continues to see himself as the last of the great business tycoons. His position, often stated, is that he is the only one who has the necessary business acumen to get the job done. The curious thing is that every time Keating gets one of his great plans into operation, most of the money leaps into Keating's pockets.

Only by forcing Keating to a full- blown trial will all the dirty little games he's played throughout his entire career be brought out into the open in a way that won't be forgotten. During a trial, Keating would be a natural for the cameras and the six o'clock news.

Since cameras probably would be barred from the courtroom, Keating would even have a chance to put his own personal spin on what takes place inside.

There would be days when he would elicit sympathy. But the trial would finally ruin Keating.

And there's something more important.

It would close out the careers of the Keating Five, the politicians who put their hands out ever so willingly so Charlie could fill them with silver.

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Tom Fitzpatrick

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