People believed him when he called himself Episcopalian, even though he’s Jewish. But so many other stories Joe Waldholtz told stretched the credulity of friends.
He once let drop how in high school he worked at an Arby’s restaurant--purely as a lark, of course, considering his supposed great wealth, says Gregory Hughes, Waldholtz’s friend since 1988.
“He said his stockbroker would always interrupt him on his shift to talk to him on the phone, and his employer didn’t like it,” Hughes says.
Hughes, a home builder in Provo, remembers shaking his head and smiling at the tale, but Enid Greene fell for it completely. Just like she fell for Joe.
“There wasn’t one bit of hesitation on her part,” Hughes says. “She believed him. She was a smart woman, but when it came to their relationship, she was enthralled by him.”
Joe and Enid married in August, 1993, in a civil service officiated by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and attended by more than 500 guests--so many they had to set up TV monitors in the lobby outside. The guest list was a Who’s Who of Republicans from around Utah and beyond.
And then came Enid’s successful second campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. And on the night of Aug. 31, a little girl, their first child and only the second baby ever born to a sitting member of Congress.
Then it all unraveled.
On Friday, after six days as a fugitive on the run from the FBI, Joe, 32, surrendered in Washington. Authorities say he may have kited more than $1.5 million in checks; his family believes he may have bilked $600,000 from his ailing grandmother.
Now, Enid Greene Waldholtz, 37, the honorable member of the House of Representatives from Utah’s 2nd District, wants a divorce, ready to discard her married name and face single-motherhood while she fights to salvage her career.
“They were incredibly loving and very protective of one another--to a fault, I think we see now,” says David Owen, a GOP consultant.
Enid Greene’s passion for politics began early. As a teen-ager in Salt Lake City, she would read U.S. News & World Report while her sister hung posters of pop stars on the wall. In high school, she was a self-described nerd.
Then something happened that changed her life: She canvassed Salt Lake City precincts for her cousin, who was campaigning for city council.
At age 18, she was elected state chairwoman of the Young Republicans, defeating three older men.
“You never had any doubt she was going to get what she wanted in life,” says Linda Evans, who roomed with Enid and four other women at Brigham Young University. The apartment had two telephones-- one for personal use, the other just for Enid’s Young Republicans business.
It was at a Young Republicans convention in Newport Beach that she met Joseph Waldholtz, the son of a Pittsburgh dentist.
He was an oversize man with a personality to match: 6-foot-2, well on his way to 300 pounds, cocky and gregarious, with a caustic wit inviting comparisons to Rush Limbaugh.
“Joe comes at you with one eyebrow higher than the other and one of those grins like he knows something you don’t know,” says Russ Behrmann, executive director of the Utah Republican Party.
While critics considered him a condescending blowhard, his friends found a generous and comfortable shadow in which to stand. His brash opinions were part of his magnetism--and Enid clearly felt the pull.
Enid and Joe soon were an item, each elated to have found someone else whose life spun on politics. Their idea of a good date, one friend says, was to sit on the couch and comb through newspapers for the latest political headlines.
Their eyes revealed two people “not just at peace, but thrilled to be in each other’s company,” says Mike O’Connell, a GOP consultant in Pittsburgh and another of Joe’s friends.
Joseph Waldholtz had discovered politics at the University of Pittsburgh, where he started stuffing envelopes but soon moved up to bigger things.
As a political operative in Pennsylvania, he developed a bare-knuckled style that took more laid-back Utahans by surprise when he moved here in 1992 to help Enid in her first congressional campaign.
For Joe, “the attraction to politics was less about public policy than it was about the excitement, the intrigue, ‘how can we make a deal?’ ” says Mike O’Connell, Joe’s friend.
Joe was Republican--but flexible. Once not opposed to abortion, he’d changed his views by the time he headed to Utah, O’Connell says.
He also made sure others thought he was a wealthy man, spending money freely, grabbing the dinner check before others could, O’Connell says. What he didn’t tell them was that before he moved to Salt Lake City, he lived expense-free in a room in his parents’ house.
With Joe’s help, Enid ran for Congress in 1992. Her losing battle against Democratic incumbent Karen Shepherd was one of Utah’s most negative campaigns ever--and, after the election, Joe became executive director of the Utah Republican Party.
With Joe managing the campaign coffers, Enid tried again in 1994 for Shepherd’s seat.
Two months before the election, she was running third in the polls. But, just in time, she blasted ahead with last-minute infusion of $1 million. She claimed it was her own money, skirting questions by saying only that she and her new husband “had been blessed.”
She went on to become a darling of the freshman GOP class. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) took a shine to her, and she became the first freshman in 70 years to win a seat on the powerful Rules Committee.
The birth of Elizabeth Greene Waldholtz only helped the couple’s image. Enid brought her baby to the House floor when she was 13 days old, casting her vote while Elizabeth slept.
But even as People magazine featured mother and baby in a light-hearted piece about the new mom in Congress, more serious questions were being raised back home about the Waldholtzes’ finances.
The “blessed” $1 million turned out to have been part of a loan from Enid’s parents, made in exchange for assets Joe said he brought to their marriage in a trust fund.
In recent weeks, as questions mounted about discrepancies on the congresswoman’s filings with the Federal Election Commission, Enid said the money was tied up in accounts held by Joe’s relatives.
She promised a more complete accounting as soon as she unearthed more details. Joe, however, apparently balked at providing them.
Meanwhile, other questions surfaced about financial improprieties dating back to the 1994 campaign, when three staff members resigned in protest of Joe’s handling of money.
Answering reports of bad checks and unpaid credit cards, Enid said thieves had stolen Joe’s checks and credit card and run up bills.
On Nov. 11, Joe went to Washington’s National Airport with his wife’s brother-in-law, Jim Parkinson. He promised Parkinson a long-awaited accounting, saying they’d meet representatives of the Waldholtz Family Trust flying in from Pittsburgh.
While waiting in the airport, Joe said he needed to make a phone call. Instead, he vanished--taking his wife’s car keys and leaving her stranded.
“I can’t begin to describe the anger and hurt over the incredible level of deception that we have uncovered in our own investigation of Joe’s activities,” Enid said last Tuesday in announcing that she was filing for divorce. The congresswoman added that her husband may have had access to about $2 million when he disappeared.
The announcement broke loose a wave of other concerns over Joe’s money-handling.
The FBI issued a warrant for his arrest the next day, saying Joe had conducted a check-kiting scheme last winter that ran up false accounts of more than $1.5 million in banks in both Washington and Utah.
And Joe’s father, Dr. Harvey Waldholtz of Pittsburgh, said there was no family trust. He added that Joe had not accounted for more than $600,000 in funds he controlled for his mentally incapacitated grandmother and up to $600,000 more he’d received from other family members.
Enid accused her husband of using the credit card of a staff member for $45,000 in personal expenses.
And Friday, the Washington Post reported that Joe had been fired by Elsie Hillman, a rich Pennsylvanian who helped him get appointed director of the state’s Bush-Quayle campaign in 1992, because he allegedly spent more than $100,000 of her money to finance his lifestyle, including gifts to Enid.
“He left an inordinate amount of wreckage,” O’Connell says.
It appears he used his friends in the deceptions too, O’Connell says.
Two weeks ago, he says, Joe asked him to pull off a “practical joke on someone,” to record a greeting on the phone he still kept at his parents’ house saying, “Thank you for calling the Waldholtz Family Trust.” Joe passed it off as a prank, saying, “I’ll explain the joke later on.”
Enid had called herself an innocent victim of the “tangled web of financial dealings that Joe created.” But she’d been warned by top GOP officials last summer to deal with her husband’s messy handling of finances.
“Something Else Missing: Enid’s Explanation,” read Thursday’s headline in the Salt Lake Tribune. And even state Republican leaders were edging away from full support, saying Enid’s plight as an abandoned mother buys her only a limited amount of sympathy.
But others note that, when doubts surfaced, Joe always managed to quash them.
“He always came through with the money,” Hughes says.
Rumors of his financial problems had surfaced soon after his arrival in Utah, but no one had any idea of their severity, Behrmann says, adding, “This guy looked like someone who was incompetent rather than criminal.”
“In a very unfortunate and unhealthy way, Joe had probably worked out in his own mind that he was doing it for Enid’s good, and that it would all work out all right,” David Owen says.