When Charles Keating died in Phoenix last week, I thought of my meeting with him in Iceland (of all places) in August 2001. I was staying at the Foss Hotel Skaftafell in Svinafell (see photograph below), about two kilometers south of what was then the Skaftafell National Park, and is now merely part of the giant Vatnajökull National Park that occupies most of the country’s southwestern quadrant. Since I was traveling alone and without camping gear, it was the only place I could stay in walking distance of the park without roughing it.
I was sitting in the hotel dining room, close to a large center table where there was a large, noisy group who were swilling large amounts of imported wine. (What other kind is there in Iceland?) The oldest member of the group excused himself for a rest room visit, while his friends talked about him behind his back. It was then I learned the man was the infamous Charles Keating, whose leadership of the American Continental Corporation and the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association led him afoul of the law, more so because he had tried to suborn five legislators (the so-called “Keating Five”) into letting him off scot free. It didn’t work, as in December 1991, he was convicted on seventeen counts of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy and given the maximum sentence of ten years by Judge Lance Ito. At the time, Ito is said to have remarked, “More people have suffered from the point of a fountain pen than from a gun.”
When Keating returned to the table, he noticed my sour looks (I don’t much cotton to strangers, especially when they’re drunk ratbags) and invited me over to his table. I politely refused and finished up my meal to return to my room and read Viking sagas about even more thoroughgoing ratbags.
The next morning, as I was hiking to the national park headquarters, I saw the Keating party leave in a small chartered tour bus and sighed with relief. I knew two people who had invested in his S&L and nothing good to say for or to the man. It was rather pitiful that he found it necessary to travel with a bunch of yes-men who had nothing particularly good to say about him while he was out of earshot.
So it goes.