Ode to Joyce

The waiting, at long last, is over.
The governor of Arizona is on trial.
After seven years of incriminating news reports followed by the governor's vague denials, J. Fife Symington III now sits in front of a jury.

Make no mistake. He is guilty.
He swindled his mother the heiress, he hustled his fellow investors, he lied to complicitous bankers, he looted the pension funds of blue-collar laborers and he stuck taxpayers with the tab.

Finally, every sordid detail will emerge in a court of law.
It is like having a boil lanced.
On January 23, 1990--more than a year before Symington would take office--Darrin Hostetler wrote an early, detailed analysis of Symington's financial schemes in these pages. The journalist showed that Symington's vaunted real estate empire was a house of cards.

Since then, numerous New Times reporters, but especially John Dougherty, have traced the governor's shady practices.

In the face of every revelation, Symington offered only arrogance.
Today, everything is different.
Facing a 22-count federal indictment, the governor hired the human smoke screen, attorney John Dowd.

A sulfur-belching obfuscator, Dowd pointed a finger at Phoenix bankers in an attempt to clear his client before the trial even commenced.

Dowd maintained that the loan officers did not rely upon Symington's fraudulent financial statements when they advanced him millions of dollars.

As if that forgives Fife Symington.
Of course, the bankers share responsibility for the multimillion-dollar soaking of their depositors. The bankers are unindicted fellow travelers of the governor.

The bankers' guilt does not mitigate Symington's corruption.
All of Dowd's hocus-pocus, all of the governor's stonewalling will be undone by Joyce Reibel.

The former secretary of Fife Symington, it is Ms. Reibel who will put the governor behind bars.

New Times readers first learned of Reibel's devastating testimony three years ago. It was then that the secretary's words, summarized in her own lawyer's memorandum, were leaked to the paper.

Reibel crippled the governor's pose that he was a mere victim of the real estate market.

The complicated trail of Symington's white-collar fraud unraveled by criminal investigators may confuse or even bore the jury, but the words of Joyce Reibel will make the felonies crystal clear.

And do not lose sight of the magnitude of the rip-offs.
The failure of Southwest Savings and Loan cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion. The debacle began with the financial institution's largest investment, Fife Symington's doomed Esplanade. Symington sat on the board of the S&L, violated federal conflict-of-interest regulations, submitted a suspicious appraisal of the project and persuaded his fellow directors to plunge into the Esplanade.

The pattern of sleaze continued with every single one of the governor's developments. All told, 23 separate real estate plays went belly-up.

In the end, Symington borrowed millions more to erect what would become less a mall than a ghost town, the Mercado. He personally guaranteed his Mercado loans, claiming he was worth $12 million, then a year later, he skipped out on his Mercado debt claiming he had a negative net worth of $24 million.

In July 1995, union pension funds that had made the Mercado loan obtained a judgment of almost $9 million against Symington.

One month later, in August, Symington jetted off to Europe with his family for the grand tour.

When he returned, Symington declared bankruptcy, letting pensioners and taxpayers eat the debt.

As the testimony of Joyce Reibel will show, Governor Fife Symington was not the victim of bad market.

Symington's secretary of 11 years has already talked to a grand jury. Her upcoming testimony in federal court will show that she and Symington routinely falsified his financial statements to lending institutions, inflating the value of his projects, lying about his income, grossly exaggerating his equity in assorted developments, hiding millions of dollars of debts.

Joyce Reibel is not some certified public accountant who speaks in obtuse bars and graphs.

Every juror who has filled out a loan application to buy a home will clearly understand the fraud that Joyce Reibel executed at Symington's command.

Reibel claims she and Symington were the only two people in the company who had access to the governor's financial statements, which were kept under lock and key.

Not only were the loan applications phony, but Reibel will testify that the governor maintained several financial statements for the very same dates.

In other words, different banks got different net-worth statements for the same time period--the only figure common to all of the statements was the date.

Federal prosecutors will document, and Joyce Reibel will corroborate, that she and Symington submitted two varying financial statements to two different banks on April 1, 1986; three different statements to three banks on December 31, 1987; two distinct statements on December 31, 1988; another four diverse statements on December 31, 1989; and yet another two conflicting financial statements on December 31, 1990.

The fraud was so complex that Reibel will testify that the governor kept his paperwork coded and filed so that he could keep track of his lies.

Justice does not always accompany the evidence.
Today, even Charles Keating walks around Phoenix a free man.
Symington's trail, however, is not so dense as Keating's.

Nor did the governor of Arizona simply make a mistake, or two or three. He did not fudge around the edges.

Fife Symington is a con man who cast an enormous shadow. And his secretary, Joyce Reibel, is going to give him up.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey