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Symington Fate on Fraud Charges in Hands of Jury

August 09, 1997| From Associated Press

PHOENIX — Gov. Fife Symington's fraud trial went to the jury Friday after a prosecutor portrayed the two-term Republican as a con man who tricked bankers into lending him millions to make himself look like a success in the real estate business.

The panel that heard 13 weeks of testimony began its deliberations after U.S. District Judge Roger Strand read them 72 pages of instructions.

If convicted on any one of the 21 charges against him, the 51-year-old governor would automatically be removed from office.

During his closing argument, federal prosecutor David Schindler said Symington took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in developer fees while creating office buildings and shopping centers that never turned a profit.

But Schindler said the governor's desire for fame, not money, was the real reason he misled lenders about the shaky state of his real estate empire.

"He liked the prestige from the illusion that he was a successful real estate developer," Schindler said. "He wanted to create a name for himself like his great-grandfather and all the other people in his family."

Lenders were impressed by Symington's heritage--a blueblood upbringing as the great-grandson of a founder of U.S. Steel, educated at the best prep schools and Harvard--and his financial statements reporting robust wealth, Schindler said.

It was only after they loaned $200 million to Symington that they learned his financial statements were inaccurate, he said.

But Symington's lawyers said federal investigators spent five years probing Symington's finances and found only errors that lenders already knew about.

Moreover, they said, his bankers relied on Symington's reputation and experience, not his financial statements, when lending him money.

Symington is charged with 19 counts of bank fraud stemming from his days as a developer before his 1991 election.

He is also accused of attempted extortion and lying during a bankruptcy proceeding, crimes that allegedly occurred while he was in office.

Prosecutors allege Symington not only inflated his wealth on his financial statements, but also understated his assets when his developments failed so he could win breaks on loans.

Testimony showed that only one of the 23 properties he developed ever turned a profit. The rest were sold at a loss, foreclosed upon or returned to lenders.

Symington acknowledged in testimony that he made mistakes on his financial forms but said they were unintentional.

He blamed his accountants for failing to catch the errors and said he was a victim of bad economic times.

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