Ariz. governor claims innocence in S&L failure

December 16, 1991|By Arizona Republic

PHOENIX -- Gov. Fife Symington yesterday denounced the federal government's planned lawsuit against him as "outrageous" and "typical of Washington run amok."

The planned lawsuit by the U.S. Resolution Trust Corp. is not as severe as he had been led to expect, Mr. Symington said in an interview.

Federal officials are planning to file a civil suit against Mr. Symington in U.S. District Court in Phoenix for his role as a former director and largest borrower in the downfall of Southwest Savings and Loan Association. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the suit could be filed as early as today.

Mr. Symington, who was at his home preparing for an afternoon Christmas party, said the suit would not disrupt his duties as governor.

"It's not the first time I've been sued by the RTC, and it probably won't be the last," he said.

Southwest Savings collapsed in February 1989. Its failure is expected to cost taxpayers $941 million.

In addition to the civil suit, the Post yesterday quoted sources as saying a criminal probe of Mr. Symington and Southwest directors was begun after a referral two months ago from RTC investigators.

Mr. Symington said that he knew nothing about a criminal probe and added, "I'm not, frankly, concerned about it because there's no criminal activity there."

The Republican governor -- who grew up in Maryland and graduated from the Gilman School -- comes from a family prominent in Maryland and national politics.

His father, J. Fife Symington Jr. of Glyndon, was a major contributor to Republican campaigns and ran unsuccessfully in 1958, 1960 and 1962 for Congress in Maryland's 2nd District. In the 1970s, the elder Mr. Symington served as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr. Symington, 46, was the developer of Phoenix's huge Camelback Esplanade hotel-office-retail complex, a joint venture financed by Southwest.

He was a director of Southwest in 1983 when approval was given for the project, which RTC regulators contend lost $52 million for the thrift.

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