Symington Jury Starts Over (8/20/97)
Arizona Gov. Symington Guilty
He says he'll step down Friday, after jury convicts him of defrauding lenders
PHOENIX (AllPolitics, Sep. 3) -- A jury found Arizona Republican Gov. Fife Symington guilty today on seven counts of bank fraud. The verdict will force Symington from office, and he will be replaced by fellow Republican Secretary of State Jane Hull.
Symington, a 52-year-old former Phoenix real estate developer, was indicted in June 1996 on federal charges that he repeatedly lied about the income and debts of his businesses when applying for bank loans in the late 1980s. He was convicted of defrauding lenders, but acquitted on charges that he tried as governor to pressure a pension fund to which he owed $10 million.
Symington, who faces millions of dollars in fines and years in prison, is expected to resign on Friday. The state constitution requires him to step down, even if he decides to appeal his conviction. He had no immediate comment on the verdicts.
In all, Symington faced 21 charges. The jury deadlocked on 11 counts and acquitted him on three counts. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Strand declared a mistrial on the counts upon which the jury could not reach a verdict.
The fraud charges dated to Symington's days as a developer and what prosecutors allege was a systematic pattern of overstating income and understating debts on loan applications.
The verdict came after 17 days of deliberations. After the first seven days, the jury had to begin again when Strand replaced a juror after other panel members complained the 74-year-old woman was unfocused, combative and uncommunicative.
Fame, Not Money
Prosecutors called Symington a swindler who raked in hefty developer fees while building office complexes and shopping centers that never made money. They said he misled lenders not for money, but to create an image of a successful businessman. It was an image he exploited when he ran for governor in 1990 and promised to run Arizona's state government like a business.
"He liked the prestige from the illusion that he was a successful real estate developer," prosecutor David Schindler said in closing arguments. "He wanted to create a name for himself like his great-grandfather and all the other people in his family." Symington is the great-grandson of U.S. Steel founder Henry Clay Frick.
In his testimony, though, Symington insisted that the misstatements on his financial statements were simply errors and honest mistakes that his accountants did not catch.
Last week, Strand rejected a defense motion for a mistrial. Symington's attorney, John Dowd, argued the judge erred last month in dismissing the juror and replacing her with an alternate. Dowd argued that other jurors wanted her off because she was possibly the lone holdout for acquittal.
Since then, the new panel had deliberated a total of 10 days, weighing 1,400 pieces of evidence.
This is the second time in less than a decade that an Arizona governor has been accused of official misconduct. The other, Evan Mecham, was impeached and removed from office, but eventually not found guilty of any wrongdoing.
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