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Keating Connection: The Sequel


Cindy McCain addresses the Republican National Convention. (Wikimedia)

PHOENIX—Sen. John McCain’s wife and father-in-law continued a lucrative business partnership with disgraced financier Charles H. Keating Jr. for 11 years after the GOP presidential nominee said he ended his close friendship with Keating in March 1987.

Cindy McCain’s business partnership with Keating in a real-estate development between 1986 and 1998 netted her a tidy profit, in addition to years of significant tax benefits. Her father, who died in 2000, earned similar returns.


Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

McCain’s campaign and his Senate office did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails concerning Cindy McCain’s investment with Keating. McCain and his wife file separate tax returns and signed a pre-nuptial agreement before their marriage in May 1980. Cindy McCain owns one of the nation’s largest beer distributorships, Hensley & Company.

On Monday, McCain’s attorney, John Dowd, said in a conference call with reporters that McCain was not aware of his wife’s and father-in-law’s investment with Keating at the time it was made. “John was unconnected to that and unaware of it at the time and did not participate in it,” Dowd said.

However, during the Keating Five Senate Ethics Committee hearings in 1990-91, McCain testified that he was aware of the family investment with Keating in early 1986.

Under questioning from Dowd, McCain said he learned of the investment from a Hensley & Co. executive.

“I was told …they were going to invest in a shopping center and that the investment –- the project — was being put together by a subsidiary of American Continental,” McCain told the ethics committee. “He [the executive] later told me that had happened. And I had no interest in it and just noted in passing that this investment took place.”

The GOP presidential candidate writes in one memoir that a turbulent 30-minute verbal altercation in his Senate office on March 24, 1987, ended his six-year friendship with Keating. The argument began after McCain heard from another senator that Keating had called him “a wimp.”

“We never met again,” McCain wrote in his 2002 memoir, “Worth the Fighting For.” “I never had another conversation with him.”

The rupture in their personal relationship, however, didn’t stop McCain from attending two meetings the next month with federal banking regulators at Keating’s insistence. McCain’s attendance at the April meetings nearly halted his political career. The Senate Ethics Committee, which investigated McCain’s actions on behalf of Keating, who was seeking regulatory relief for his savings and loan business, found that McCain used “poor judgment” in his dealings with Keating.

Nor did the end of McCain’s relationship with Keating affect his immediate family’s business relationship with the financier. Cindy McCain and her father, James Hensley, remained investors in the Keating real-estate partnership that included a north Phoenix shopping center. The center sold in July 1998 for $15.4 million.

Their business relationship with Keating began April 15, 1986, when the two bought an 8 percent stake in Fountain Square Associates Ltd. Partnership. Cindy McCain and her father made the $359,100 investment through Western Leasing Co., a partnership they jointly owned.

Fountain Square Associates was structured as a tax shelter for wealthy investors. Its only asset was the Phoenix shopping center, which was built by another Keating-controlled company. The shelter allowed investors to use real-estate depreciation as a tax deduction, a provision later banned by Congress.

The Fountain Square Associates’ prospectus promised investors a 37 percent annual return on their investment. Cindy McCain and Hensley were among 54 investors in the partnership, most of whom were Keating employees and associates. Western Leasing purchased six shares in the partnership, Keating bought two and most of the remaining investors one share or less. Each share sold for $59,850.

Fountain Square Associates’ general partner, which oversaw daily operations, was American Continental Resources Corp., a subsidiary of Keating’s Phoenix-based American Continental Corp. American Continental also owned Lincoln Savings & Loan, the thrift that Keating asked McCain and the four other senators to protect from regulators.

In 1989, American Continental filed for bankruptcy, leaving more than 23,000 investors holding worthless bonds. Many bondholders were elderly and thought thought their investments were insured because Keating had sold them at federally insured Lincoln Savings branches.

Keating was convicted on 73 counts of bankruptcy and wire fraud in 1993, and sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. Four years later, his conviction was overturned on a technicality. In 1999, Keating pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud and was sentenced to time served.

Despite the bankruptcy, American Continental Resources managed to keep control of the shopping center owned by Fountain Square Associates, which allowed Cindy McCain and Hensley to take advantage of its tax breaks. After the shopping center sold, McCain’s 1998 Senate financial disclosure statement reported under “unearned income” that his wife made between $100,001 and $1 million on the sale of the property. In previous years, McCain’s financial statements had valued the Fountain Square partnership at less than $1,000, generating income of less than $200.

In 1998, Cindy McCain held millions of dollars worth of assets in stocks, municipal bonds and other securities, including a partnership share worth at least $1 million in the Arizona Diamondbacks. She also had investments in two other real estate projects, each worth at least $1 million, including a master planned community in Yuma, Ariz., and 160 acres of undeveloped property in Mesa, Ariz.

The same year, Cindy McCain also owed more than $1 million to a Phoenix bank, and had more than $200,000 in loans from the family’s beer distributorship.

Sen. McCain’s only income in 1998, besides his Senate salary, was his $49,688 Navy pension. He also listed three bank accounts totaling less than $31,000. He reported no liabilities.

The Fountain Square sale generated the second largest amount of income from Cindy McCain’s array of investments in 1998, according to Sen. McCain’s financial disclosure statement. Only dividends from Cindy McCain’s investment in Hensley & Company stock, which exceeded $1 million, generated more income.

Cindy McCain’s and Hensley’s 1986 investment in Fountain Square earned the father and daughter team a nice return. Its greater value to the family, however, may have had more to do with politics than money. Their investment was made the same year that McCain was running for the Senate seat held by the retiring Barry M. Goldwater. Keating and his employees contributed more than $50,000 to McCain’s campaign, bringing their total contributions to McCain since 1982 to at least $112,000.

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