Thanks to a breach in Governor Fife Symington's security, I now know the nature of his executive secretary's testimony before the grand jury last week.

Joyce Reibel's statements occurred behind closed doors and are, of course, privileged. But her testimony before the grand jury was preceded by a government interrogation last October 7.

The prosecutor's questions that October day zeroed in on Symington's paperwork, his financial statements, and fresh allegations of white-collar fraud in the collapse of his real estate empire.

That information is contained in a confidential, 15-page, single-spaced report written by secretary Joyce Reibel's own attorney. The memorandum, prepared by Ivan Mathew following the October meeting "pursuant to a joint defense agreement" between Symington and Reibel, charts the government's questions and Reibel's responses. But the secret memorandum is no longer secret.

The document in my hands maps out the territory the prosecutors would have explored with Reibel in front of the grand jury.

It is a hostile landscape for a mere secretary.
@body:Joyce Reibel could not have imagined herself testifying in front of a grand jury when she first went to work for Symington in 1982. The governor's secretary was a woman with aspirations. She had hopes. Symington took advantage of Reibel and milked her dreams.

Now Reibel is in an impossible position with the prosecutors because of the bind Symington put her in.

At the very beginning of her October grilling, as Reibel outlined her 11 years with Symington, she told the prosecutors about the governor making a statement to her "that she is more than just a secretary to him, that she is an associate of his."

But Reibel did not know anything about real estate except what Symington taught her. She never had a real estate license or any sort of professional license. Her schooling consisted of a junior-college degree in education.

Reibel did rudimentary bookkeeping and, in a more candid reflection of her status in the Symington Company, told prosecutors that she fetched his kids and picked up his prescriptions. She wasn't an associate, she was a secretary.

And yet Symington had her sign a "management representation letter."
This document is a sophisticated accounting instrument used by financial institutions. For example, before a reputable firm like Peat Marwick will vouch for its audit of your company's business health, it asks you to sign a management representation letter swearing that the numbers you gave it to work with are honest and accurate.

According to a senior partner in a Big Six accounting firm, the industry standard is that those letters are signed by a company's chief executive officer or the chief financial officer. Not the woman you send out on errands.

By having her sign the letter, Symington put Reibel in the position of vouching for the integrity of the numbers given out by his highflying, multimillion-dollar real estate mirage.

The woman who dashed out for Symington's pills and chauffeured the Symington children and worked for an hourly wage found her neck on the chopping block as the prosecutors raised their ax.

Confronted with pointed questions about allegations of felonious criminal fraud, Reibel's pose of company insider crumbled. She admitted that, far from being an associate, her job was "mechanical" and she did what she was told.

Here is all you need to know about the tenor of her remarks to the prosecutors: One of her deepest feelings is that she was underpaid.

The picture of Joyce Reibel that emerges from her lawyer's confidential memorandum is that she is every bit as loyal as Richard Nixon's Rosemary Woods. But Joyce Reibel is nobody's fall guy. When push came to shove, she gave up her boss, Governor Fife Symington.

@body:Throughout the Eighties, Joyce Reibel helped Fife Symington fill out the financial statements now being gone over with a fine-toothed comb by the federal government. A reading of Mathew's memorandum makes one thing clear: Prosecutors are concerned that when Symington and Reibel filled out those financial statements, the two lied about his income, inflated the value of Symington's holdings and failed to include debts and obligations. It also appears that the government suspects Symington maintained several sets of records, coding them to keep track of what he was telling various lending institutions.

If the government's most recent line of inquiry is an accurate reflection of its case, the feds suspect Symington of propping up his now-worthless, but once multimillion-dollar, real estate portfolio with phony financial statements. Credit lines, loans, investments, partnerships, bankruptcies, debt restructuring, write-downs--the whole shooting match of the go-go S&Ls of the Eighties--were constructed on that most fundamental building block: the financial statement.

It is both a federal and state felony to knowingly falsify financial statements, and the government can put you away for 30 years and fine you up to $1 million for such chicanery.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey