Fife’s Sweetheart Deal

Arizona Gov. Fife Symington loaned himself $30 million of other people’s money.

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In 1983, Fife Symington was a land developer hoping to build a major residential and commercial complex in Phoenix called Camelback Esplanade. Providentially, Symington was also on the board of directors of Southwest Savings and Loan, a Phoenix thrift.

Southwest lent Symington $30 million to build Camelback, making the loan despite Symington’s position as one of the thrift’s directors and even though the property had not been appraised–both serious violations of federal regulations.

Southwest’s $30 million investment provided virtually all the funding for Camelback; in return, Southwest received a 50 percent share in the project. Symington, meanwhile, received a 19 percent share for a reported investment of $432.

Southwest also arranged to pay Symington 5 percent of all development costs, which meant that the more expensive Camelback Esplanade got, the more money Symington made, even if he never built anything. Symington hired more and more consultants, paid them more and more money, and produced no practical result.

In the end, Symington walked off with $8 million; Southwest, on the other hand, lost $52 million, according to government documents. In 1989, Southwest failed, costing taxpayers $941 million.

Symington is now the governor of Arizona. In 1991, he was sued by the Resolution Trust Corp., but the suit was dropped in 1994. The Justice Department is currently investigating him for negligence. In September 1995, he declared bankruptcy. No one knows what happened to the $8 million in federally insured funds he took from Southwest.

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