September 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Arizona Governor Convicted, Will Resign From Office Friday Jury Finds Symington Defrauded Lenders

William Booth Washington Post

A federal jury Wednesday convicted Arizona Gov. Fife Symington of defrauding lenders by lying about his financial condition when he was struggling to save his collapsing real estate empire, forcing him from office.

The two-term Republican, who was elected governor on promises that he would run the state with the same business acumen with which he ran his real estate ventures, tearfully told reporters and staff members afterward that he will resign Friday.

“The future lies ahead of us, not behind us, and others will now be entrusted to lead us there,” Symington said. “I have never been one to linger, and I don’t intend to start now.”

Arizona’s Constitution automatically forces a governor out of office upon conviction, meaning that Symington will be replaced by Secretary of State Jane Hull, also a Republican.

In the courtroom, Symington stared at a blank verdict form on the defense table at which he was seated, showing no emotion as the verdicts were read. A few muffled sobs were heard from supporters in the spectator seats, and one juror wiped tears from his eyes as the clerk repeatedly intoned “guilty.”

The lead prosecutor, David Schindler, told reporters outside the courthouse, “We’re always pleased when justice is done, and justice was done here.”

Symington was the second Arizona governor indicted on criminal charges in a decade. Ironically, he was a major player in the impeachment and removal from office of his predecessor, Evan Mecham, before Mecham was acquitted of charges relating to a questionable campaign loan.

Eleven governors have been indicted while in office this century, and six have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Five of those resigned or were removed from office.

The jury found Symington guilty on seven felony counts of defrauding three banks by giving them false financial statements or overstating his net worth when they loaned him millions of dollars for several of his real estate development projects.

U.S. District Judge Roger Strand declared a mistrial on the deadlocked verdicts and set sentencing for Nov. 10.

The jury deadlocked on eleven charges in the 21-count indictment and acquitted Symington on three charges, including an allegation of attempted extortion. Prosecutors charged that Symington had threatened to use his political power as governor to cause Arizona State University to pull out of a group of pension funds to which he owed $10 million and from which he had sought loan concessions.

Symington was convicted of one count of wire fraud that alleged he gave the pension funds three fraudulent personal financial statements between 1987 and 1990 overstating his net worth in order to get the $10 million loan for a downtown office-retail project.

The federal jury deadlocked on a charge that in 1995, while he was in office, the governor lied under oath during a bankruptcy proceeding about the accuracy of a 1989 financial statement to the pension funds. Symington declared bankruptcy that year after the pension funds refused to release him from his personal guarantee on the $10 million loan as he struggled to keep his collapsing real estate empire afloat.

After a week of deliberations, jurors had to start over again on Aug. 20 after one panelist, a 74-year-old woman, was dismissed and replaced by an alternate when other jurors complained that she was unable to focus on discussions and refused to talk about her opinions. The juror, a former Republican precinct committeewoman, later said she would have voted to acquit Symington and that other jurors tried to badger her into voting for conviction.

Symington’s lawyers demanded a mistrial over the juror’s dismissal. Judge Strand rejected the motion.

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