Romney's Shady Salt Lake Connections

During five extensive and often candid Daily Beast interviews, Simmons pointed out that he went to the feds voluntarily, but he also conceded that the agents told him at one point to go home "and think about" particulars they thought he was withholding from them. As he later testified, "the pieces all fell together in my mind." Simmons conceded at trial that he was "confronting either being prosecuted" or taking the plea.

Shortly after Simmons pleaded guilty in August 1999, Mitt Romney held a press conference to discuss his first six months as head of the Salt Lake committee.

Romney couldn't have been surprised by the questions about Simmons at his press conference. Simmons had been hammered in news stories since January. His was the first conviction in a scandal that would produce two others, as well as the expulsion of ten IOC members. Simmons was the well-known scion of one of Utah's most prominent Mormon families, and Romney had befriended two of his brothers while at Harvard in the '70s.

Romney nonetheless declined to say a word about the plea. "There are things that make your job easier and things that make your job harder," Romney declared, suggesting that this fit the latter category. He justified his refusal to comment by claiming he didn't want "to interfere with or be seen as interfering with this investigation."

"I'm told," he confided to the Salt Lake press corps, "that we as a community are more focused on the scandal than the country at large."

When David Simmons was orchestrating the Kim scam in the early 1990s, he was also the president of Simmons Family Inc., which controlled the family's interests in radio stations it had been acquiring since 1977. Keystone was majority owned by the Simmons family, while SFI was entirely a family entity. That's why, David says now, he had SFI cover the Kim costs, immediately removing them from the balance sheets of a company that had partners and directors who weren't family members. This decision, however, drew an entity owned by his father, Roy, his mother, Elizabeth, and five siblings into the alleged conspiracy.

In fact, David Simmons testified that he told his father, the chair of the SFI board and a member of Keystone's, that he was using both to pay Kim's salary before he did it. Simmons says he "honestly can't recall" if he told his siblings then, but insists that he ultimately did "voluntarily tell the entire family" everything, even writing a letter about elements of it while others "were delivered verbally." The brothers and sisters were all, he said, "very sympathetic." Their decision to leave him in charge of the family's radio and other properties seems to indicates that they had no real issues with his handling of Kim, as do our interviews with members of the family.

Yet, every month, SFI had immediately repaid Keystone every cent that it had paid Kim. So, when David launched his full court press on Welch to reimburse him for Kim's six-figure salary payments, he did so on behalf of his family, the secret benefactors of the son of an IOC vice president. And when Welch and Simmons worked out their complex set of schemes to repay Keystone, the cash wound up coming back to Simmons and his father, mother, and siblings through circuitous corporate and other routes.

The FBI also told Simmons that SFI's third-party payments on Kim's behalf were required under immigration laws to be disclosed to the Department of Labor and weren't. Had Simmons refused to cooperate, SFI, Roy's approval of the Kim deal, and the family's apparent broader knowledge of this scheme would presumably have been at the center of any case against him.

The first signs of a Simmons family tie to Romney occurred in the 1994 race against Ted Kennedy. Roy Simmons gave two small donations totaling $500. Two days after the first of his father's contributions, oldest son Matthew Simmons gave $1,000. That May, another son, Harris, donated $250, and in October, L.E. Simmons, a Texas oil-investment executive like brother Matthew, contributed $1,000.

Matthew, who died in 2010, and L.E., who declined to talk to the Daily Beast, were in Boston when Romney went to Harvard business and law schools in 1971. Matthew graduated from Harvard Business School in 1967, but taught there, sought a doctorate there, and ran a small equity firm in Boston until he and L.E., a 1972 business-school grad, moved to Texas to start their own energy-investment business in 1974. David Simmons says he thinks that both brothers "met Mitt when they were in Boston at the same time," and that they had "a friendly relationship" with him.

It was Matthew who loaned Romney his private plane and served with L.E. on the campaign's Texas finance committee during the 2008 race. Matthew and his immediate family donated $36,598 to Romney, and employees of his company, Simmons & Co. International, added $29,850.

L.E. Simmons, his wife, Virginia, and their kids have given $214,200. Others at Simmons's investment firm, SCF Partners, have added $31,600, and donors from four companies tied to SCF have given $30,600. Simmons' daughter Virginia worked in the Romney campaign in 2011, when she and every other member of L.E. Simmons's family joined key Romney insiders and donated $12,500 to Tim Pawlenty after he endorsed Romney. In 2010, Romney attended Virginia's Houston wedding.

In the 2008 campaign, L.E. hosted two major Texas events for Romney — at his home and the Houston Hilton — and this February he spearheaded the energy panel at a Beltway campaign-policy fundraiser. Last October, he co-hosted an Oklahoma fundraiser with oilman and sometimes Simmons partner Harold Hamm and other champions of the Keystone Pipeline.

SCF was one of the private-equity funds selected to manage a $200 million initial pool raised by Solamere Capital, the controversial investment firm that includes Romney's son Tagg and campaign-finance director Spencer Zwick. Ann Romney jumpstarted the fund with a $10 million investment.

Harris Simmons replaced his father as CEO of Zions Bank in 1990, with Roy remaining chair of the bank's board and brother L.E. Simmons also serving as a director and major shareholder. A director of Keystone as well, he, his wife, and Matthew were the only family members to give to Romney's 2002 race for Massachusetts governor. Harris and his wife have donated $10,600 to Romney, and employees at the bank gave $30,055. Zions hosted a book party for its clients when Romney's Turnaround was published in 2005 and bought books in bulk.

Tags: 2002 winter olympics, daily beast, david simmons, john kim, mitt romney, sead dizdarevic, turnaround memoir, wayne barrett

    • Wayne Barrett
    • Wayne Barrett was a fixture at the Village Voice for almost four decades, doing his first investigative feature in 1973 and writing more than 2000 stories between then and 2011, when he left the paper. He has also written five books, including two on Rudy Giuliani, a biography of Donald Trump and City for S...

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