PHOENIX — Jury selection began Tuesday in the federal trial of Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, who faces fraud, extortion and perjury charges that could end his career and send him to prison.
District Judge Roger Strand overruled two juror challenges by Symington defense attorney John Dowd, who questioned one man and one woman about their answers on a questionnaire.
Questioning of prospective jurors Tuesday focused on three areas: How panelists felt about bankruptcy and whether it would color their view of Symington; whether the rich and powerful should get a break from the justice system; and what were their views on labor unions, the apparent target of Symington's alleged extortion.
Symington, a colorful, 51-year-old Republican, faces 22 felony charges. Federal prosecutors will try to prove to the jury that he committed fraud, extortion and perjury in connection with real estate deals during the last decade.
If convicted on even one count, the two-term governor will be expelled from office. He also faces a possible prison term.
Prosecutors will detail what they claim are lies told by Symington from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, when he was a developer, to secure credit lines and business and personal loans. The government contends that Symington made false statements to lenders. Prosecutors also will try to prove Symington extorted an agreement from six union pension funds to release him from a personal loan guarantee he made to obtain a $10-million loan for a shopping center in downtown Phoenix.
Lastly, the government will try to prove that the governor lied under oath during court proceedings when he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in September 1995.
The charges stem from a probe into the 1989 collapse of Southwest Savings & Loan Assn. Symington served on the thrift's board of directors.