Charles Humphrey Keating Jr. (December 4, 1923 – March 31, 2014) was an American sportsman, lawyer, real estate developer, banker, financier, conservative activist, and convicted felon best known for his role in the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980s.
Keating was a champion swimmer for the University of Cincinnati in the 1940s. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, he was a noted anti-pornography activist, founding the organization Citizens for Decent Literature and serving as a member on the 1969 President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.
In the 1980s, Keating ran American Continental Corporation and the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, and took advantage of loosened restrictions on banking investments. His enterprises began to suffer financial problems and were investigated by federal regulators. His financial contributions to, and requests for regulatory intervention from, five sitting U.S. senators led to those legislators being dubbed the “Keating Five”.
When Lincoln failed in 1989 it cost the federal government over $3 billion and about 23,000 customers were left with worthless bonds. In the early 1990s, Keating was convicted in both federal and state courts of many counts of fraud, racketeering and conspiracy. He served four and a half years in prison before those convictions were overturned in 1996. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to a more limited set of wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud counts, and was sentenced to the time he had already served. Keating spent his final years in low-profile real estate activities until his death in 2014.
In the novel Myron, author Gore Vidal uses the names of various anti-pornography crusaders to take the place of swear words. One of the names is “keating”, which is used many times throughout the book as a synonym for “shit”.
Keating, portrayed by James Cromwell, appeared in Miloš Forman’s 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt, leading a Citizens for Decent Literature charge against Flynt’s Hustler Magazine.
Keating believed that the regulators were against him because he opposed their rules. He also told his staff that some of the San Francisco regulators were likely “homos” who were “out to get him” for his strong moral views. Keating took measures to oppose the FHLBB, including recruiting a study from then-private economist Alan Greenspan saying that direct investments were not harmful, trying to hire FHLBB members or their wives, and getting President Ronald Reagan to make a recess appointment of a Keating ally, real estate developer Lee H. Henkel Jr., to the FHLBB. By March 1987, however, the ally had resigned upon news of his having large loans due to Lincoln. It appeared as though the government might seize Lincoln for being insolvent.
Starting in January 1987, Keating looked for help from what would become known as “the Keating Five”: Democratic U.S. Senators Alan Cranston of California, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, John Glenn of Ohio, and Donald W. Riegle of Michigan, and Republican U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona. Keating had, or would soon make, legal political contributions of about $1.3 million to the senators, and he called on them to help him resist the regulators. Keating became a personal friend of McCain following their initial contacts in 1981, and McCain was the only one of the five with close social and personal ties to Keating. McCain and his family had made several trips at Keating’s expense, sometimes aboard American Continental’s jet, for vacations at Keating’s opulent Bahamas retreat at Cat Cay.
Keating asked that Lincoln be given a lenient judgment by the FHLBB, so it could limit its high risk investments and get into the relatively safe home mortgage business, allowing the business to survive. A letter from audit firm Arthur Young & Co. bolstered Keating’s case that the government investigation was taking a long time. McCain initially refused to meet with Keating over the FHLBB matter and Keating called McCain a “wimp” behind his back. The two had a heated, contentious meeting in which McCain said he had not spent years in North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camps to have his courage or integrity questioned; the friendship ended and they would not speak again. In April 1987, the group of senators met twice with FHLBB members who were investigating American Continental Corporation and Lincoln, in an attempt to end the investigation. Meanwhile, Keating filed a lawsuit against the FHLBB, saying it had leaked confidential information about Lincoln. The outgoing head of the FHLBB in Washington deferred judgment and the new head was more sympathetic to Keating. In May 1988, the FHLBB agreed to an unprecedented memorandum of understanding giving Lincoln a clean slate and forgiveness for any violations up to that point.