Fife’s Sweetheart Deal

Arizona Gov. Fife Symington loaned himself $30 million of other people’s money.

In 1983, Fife Symington was a land developer hoping to build a major residential and commercial complex in Phoenix called Camelback Esplanade. Providentially, Symington was also on the board of directors of Southwest Savings and Loan, a Phoenix thrift.

Southwest lent Symington $30 million to build Camelback, making the loan despite Symington’s position as one of the thrift’s directors and even though the property had not been appraised–both serious violations of federal regulations.

Southwest’s $30 million investment provided virtually all the funding for Camelback; in return, Southwest received a 50 percent share in the project. Symington, meanwhile, received a 19 percent share for a reported investment of $432.

Southwest also arranged to pay Symington 5 percent of all development costs, which meant that the more expensive Camelback Esplanade got, the more money Symington made, even if he never built anything. Symington hired more and more consultants, paid them more and more money, and produced no practical result.

In the end, Symington walked off with $8 million; Southwest, on the other hand, lost $52 million, according to government documents. In 1989, Southwest failed, costing taxpayers $941 million.

Symington is now the governor of Arizona. In 1991, he was sued by the Resolution Trust Corp., but the suit was dropped in 1994. The Justice Department is currently investigating him for negligence. In September 1995, he declared bankruptcy. No one knows what happened to the $8 million in federally insured funds he took from Southwest.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.