It is the stuff of Washington melodrama. The careers of two influential United States senators are trapped in the toils of unseemly revelations stemming, in part, from the new era of fiscal candor in American politics, and in part, form bitterly contested divorces.
Democrat Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia is the scion of a southern family dynasty, shrewd and drawling, a major figure in the Senate Democratic establishment. Republican Edward W. Brooke is the first black since Reconstruction to win election to the Senate, an urbane politician who has successfully joined the interests of his predominantly white electorate with the legislative causes of blacks and the disadvantaged.
On both of these men, each a lighly respected member of what used to be called the nation's most exclusive club, the Senate Ethics Committee is now sitting in judgment to decide whether they engaged in financial practices not only unworthy of the Senate but, for that matter, in violation of the law they help fashion.
The affairs of Sen. Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.) are riddled with perplexing contrasts of financial affluence and insolvency. They are dogged, also, by a series of nagging questions.
One afternoon, shopping with a friend in Florida. Brooke remarked that he couldn't afford patio furniture for his $190,000 home on the Caribbean resort island of St. Martin.
A short time afterward. Brooke's financial papers show, he plunked down more than $40,000 in cash to purchase another home - his fourth - a $67,500 duplex in the luxurious Watergate complex here.
Outwardly the junior Sentor from Massachusetts radiates a sense of financial well-being with real estate holdings scattered from Cape Cod to the Carribbean.
But the underpinnings of Brooke's affairs are, in reality, a tangle of precariously balanced assets and obligations pushing him to the brink of insolvency.
The grim arithmetic of Brooke's balance sheet is revealed in a series of admissions he has made in hundreds of pages of court records, sworn depositions. Senate financial filings as well as in a series of public statements and newspaper interviews.
As a Washington personage Brooke has had his share of the limelight, his comings and goings spicing the gossip columns dining at the Iranian Embassy, dancing with Elizabeth Taylor, escorting Barbara Walters meeting with the heads of state in his world-wide travels.
At home, by his own admission he had to seek the refuge of his own room to flee the acrimony of a marriage known well beyond a seriously flawed one. Referring to his domestic battles he once said, "Whenever it started, I'd go to my room and just close the door and stay in there."
The bad news for Brooke began if any one date can be fixed with a small news item in The Washington Post on June 5, 1976. It was a routine announcement from Brooke's office that the senator had filed for divorce in Cambridge, Mass. Two days later another article appeared reporting that his wife would contest the no-fault divorce action. Brooke was reported to have been "stunned by her action.
In the past few months news stories have begun to appear many of them inspired by the accusations of his two daughters. Remi and Edwina, raising a cloud of suggested financial impropriety on Brooke's part.
Under the battering Brooke has now conceded that, although he swore he had no interest in yet another Watergate apartment occupied by his mother, Helen Brooke, his own name appears in Watergate records as co-owner of the one-bedroom unit.
His explanation: he just his name on the Watergate rolls as owner for estate purpose only. His mother, in a telephone interview, said her son "helped me out some" in paying for the apartment. She declined to say how much be gave.
As the stories snowball, the case prompted the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and the Middlesex County, Mass., district attorney's office to open investigations.
In addition to the already publicized Watergate transaction and related issues , a number of other unanswered questions have been raised ina review of land records, Brooke's deposition in his divorce case, and his financial disclosure statements. Among them.
How did Brooke, the ranking minority member of the Senate banking Committee, obtain a $125,000 unsecured personal loan from a Boston bank at a time when he was already deeply in debt? The money went to buy the St. Martin home.
How was Brooke able to pass the bank's later review of the 1969 loan when his finances reached a point, according to his own sworn account, where he was unable to make payments on his outstanding debts and was adding additional debt from his real estate deals?
How did Brooke generate $20,000 in cash in 1970 for a real estate deal when he claimed, in his sworn deposition, that he was without any cash?
Why does the deed to Brooke's St. Martin home say he paid only $46,000 for the property while Brooke, in his Senate and divorce statements, says the property cost him $190,000?
How much of a 1970 land investment on St. Martin by a firm called Rem-Win - named after Brooke's daughters. Remi and Edwina - is actually owned by senator? On his tax returns and Senate disclosure statements Brooke claims only 39 per cent of Rem-Win, with the remainder in the name of hidden partners. Records in St. Martin indicate that the senator may actually be the sole holder of Rem-Win's potentially lucrative landholding.
Spokesmen for Brooke have referred all questions about his financial affairs to his attorney, Charles Mroin. Morin has declined to anser reporters' questions.
Brooke, who has been on the Senate Banking Committee since 1967, got his $125,000 unsecured personal loan from the Commonwealth Bank and Trust Co. of Boston.
In 1969, when Brooke obtained his loan. Commonwealth was known as Commonwealth National Bank, and operated under a federal charter. Legislation affecting all federally chartered banks goes through Brooke's Senate Banking Committee.
In 1970 the Boston bank obtained a state charter. Such shifts for relatively small banks like Commonwealth often allow the bank to profit handsomely from assests relased from the Federal Reserve system and made available for profit-making investment. There is no indication, however, that Brooke played any role in the charter shift.
However, even as a state-chartered bank, Commonwealth is subject to a host of federal regulators, including federal bank examiners who periodically check and reule on the banks's loans and other financial practices.
Federal and commercial banking experts, questioned by The Washington Post about the likelihood that a loan such as Brooke's would pass formal review given Brooke's strained financial straits, were unanimous in saying it would not.
"I would question any of my loan officers who would approve any unsecured loan such as that under those circumstances," said a senior loan official of one of Washington's major banks.
Regulatory officials in the federal banking system said on loan of the type given to Brooke by Commonwealth would almost certainly have drawn attention and a formal query from federal bank examiners.
Officials of Commonwealth Bank and Trust declined to comment on the Brooke loan. However, Brooke, in his sworn deposition, said last year his $125,000 loan has been regularly reviewed and continued by the bank.
According to Brooke's financial statement compiled last month by his attorneys. Brooke still owes $68.390 on his Commonwealth loan.
Brooke's financial statement from his attorneys and his own sworn divorce deposition show that the Commonwealth loan was unsecured. But Brooke's official Senate public financial disclosure report lists the Commonwealth loan as "secured."
Brooke's financial papers show he was deeply in debt because of substantial real estate deals he made since 1969. At one point, according to various documents. Brooke owed about $370,000 in mortgages on six separate properties. In addition, he was paying over $100 weekly to support his wife, Remigia, in their Newton home.
Brooke's source of income at the time was his $42.500 Senate salary, plus about $10,000 to $15,000 in lecture fees annually, according to his federal income tax returns.
Another unanswered question relating to Brooke's St. Martin home is why the deed to the property shows that he paid only $46.000, while Brooke, in his Senate and divorce papers, says the property cost $190.000.
Local real estate brokers on St Martin said in interviews recently that deeds on the island were sometimes purposely undervalued in order to lower the burden of the island's property transfer tax, which can run up to 25 per cent of the sale. In return, they said the tax official handling the paperwork is sometimes given a percentage of the tax saving by the purchaser of the property.
A tax official who handled the paperwork on Brooke's home purchase on St. Martin was jailed because he was involved in such a scheme, according to island officials. However, they said they did not believe Brooke's property was involved in the undervaluation scheme.
Brooke, in sworn court testimony, denied any knowledge of the lowered property value on the deed to his home filed on St. Martin. A spokesman for the senator also recently said Brooke had not part in any undervaluation involving his St. Martin home.
In addition to the purchase of his St. Martin home, Brooke was also deeply involved in two speculative land ventures on the Caribbena island. In 1969 he formed Rem-Win and pruchased 30 acres of land for a commercial development a year later.
The land parcel cost Rem-Win $126.500, according to records on file on the island. Brooke's press spokeman, Robert Waite, waid Brooke put up $20,000 in cash and received a no-interest $30,000 mortgage fromthe the island. Brooke's press spokesman, Robert Waite, said Brooke put up $20,000 in cash and received a no-interest $30,000 mortgage from the seller of the property. The remaining $76.500 was put up by Norman Cohen, a Toronto businessman who, Waite said, was an old friend of Brooke's.
It is unclear, however, where Brooke got the $20,000 for his investment. In his deposition he repeatedly says he was without cash at the time and had to accept small cash loans from Boston area liquor dealer A. Roymond Tye to meet his financial obligations.
Brooke said Tye began lending him money in the late 1960s. Since then, he said in his deposition. "I have consistently had a shortfall in my cash flow." In other testimony he blamed his poor cash position on his heavy 1969 loan obligations.
John Bottomly, an associate of Brooke, said Brooke raised the $20,000 - made out eight months before the Rem-Win land was purchased.
Bottomly, who was on Brooke's seaff when Brooke was Massachusetts attorney general, called The Washington Post in response to questions to Brooke's press spokesman.
Bottomly said Brooke is listed as the sole Rem-Win stockholder of record and "managing director" of the corporation. But he said Brooke had a written agreement with his friend, Norman Cohen, which gave Cohen 61 per cent of the stock. Bottomly said Brooke had been unable to locate his copy of the agreement.
Brooke was also a partner, according to Bottomly, in another land deal involving Herbert Feld, a Virgin Islands businessman. That deal involved the purchase by the pair of a piece of property in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of St. Martin in 1970 for a reported $82.500. The land was sold two years later because Brooke couldn't acquire the adjoining property needed to complete the commercial tract.
Bottomly said Brooke had no financial interest in the Philipsburg tract and was only acting as attorney for Feld in the deal.
On the Philipsburg deed, however, Brooke is listed as a managing director in the transaction, along with Feld, Wallace Peterson, the St. Martin attorney who handled the paperwork for Brooke on both the Philisburg and Rem-Win land transactions, told The Washington Post that he never saw any indication of any other participant in either land transaction.