Keating's Camelback Connection

So much happened here. And now the grass bordering the headquarters of Charlie Keating's American Continental Corporation at 2735 East Camelback is burned out. The trees should be trimmed.

The yellow awnings are faded. Some are torn to shreds. They haven't been replaced. The place is run-down and seedy.

I put my face up to the glass door the other day to look inside. It was deserted. There was no sign of life in the building that spawned the infamous Lincoln Savings and Loan debacle.

There was a time, not long ago, when this office building was bustling constantly. Keating had hundreds of loyal employees scurrying to do his bidding. He paid them extremely well.

One day, for the benefit of a television crew, he raised an executive secretary's salary to $100,000 a year.

But he also fired people who displeased him without notice.

During the 1980s, this block-long area on the south side of Camelback was a place where intrigues--both business and military--were being hatched that threatened our way of life.

But we never knew about any of this at the time.

In addition to Keating, there were two other powerful men set up in business in this block. One was retired Major General John K. Singlaub, superpatriot and zealous anti-Communist. The other was Walter C. Bush, nephew of then-Vice President George Bush.

We know Bush worked and cooperated with Keating. He ran the building at 2777 East Camelback under the name of American Continental Land Investment Corporation. We know very little else about Bush except that he was a confidant of Keating's and that his office shut its doors at the same time Keating did.

Why were they all set up in such cozy proximity? Are we to believe this came about by accident? Was all this just a coincidence? Just across the street, in Biltmore Plaza, 500,000 people a year shopped in exclusive shops and dined in expensive restaurants without ever realizing that powerful men were attempting to change the course of American history little more than 100 yards away.

Keating was clearly trying to gouge the real estate market and change the savings and loan into his own personal piggy bank.

General Singlaub was raising money for arms and ammunition to help right-wing forces in El Salvador and Nicaragua. He was operating covertly with Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, helping the Reagan Administration to by-pass the Boland Amendment passed by Congress prohibiting the sale of arms to the contras.

Singlaub was a pivotal figure. He was the original arms supplier in what has come to be known as the Iran-contra Affair.

Bush remains in the shadows. All that is known is that he met regularly with Keating.

There is no evidence that Keating and Singlaub ever met or that Keating ever contributed money to help raise arms.

It was here at Keating headquarters on May 20, 1988, that the great man himself threw a lavish champagne party.

It was in celebration of a short-lived victory over the savings and loan examiners in San Francisco who had been trying to shut down Keating's operation.

Thanks to the backing of Arizona's two senators, it had been decided that very day to transfer Keating's files back to Washington, D.C., where they would receive much more favored treatment.

So it was a night for jubilation. Keating himself tossed a computer and a typewriter through a second-floor window, shattering the glass before they tumbled to the courtyard below.

Keating, all six feet five inches of him, tore open his shirt to expose a tee shirt underneath. On the shirt was a hand-drawn skull and bones and the letters "FHLBB." They stood for "Federal Home Loan Bank Board," over which Keating thought he had scored a knockout victory.

One of Keating's aides poured a bottle of champagne down the front of a secretary's blouse. She screamed and then giggled uncontrollably. Everyone in the crowded room roared approval.

Keating responded by calling for the champagne to be chilled down as cold as they could make it. On this night, Keating was on top of the world. The $1 million he had spent in payoffs to Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini and all the others in Washington then seemed worth every penny expended.

At this point, the megalomaniacal Keating had no way of knowing the path ahead for him.

Now, I walked around Keating's old parking lot. It was empty. American Continental and Lincoln Savings are no more. The Phoenician resort is being run by the government. Everyone's moved on to other places.

Keating sits in his home in Paradise Valley waiting for his trial to begin.

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Tom Fitzpatrick