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Tearful Waldholtz Says She’s a Victim of Love : Politics: Utah congresswoman blames husband for financial fiasco in 4 1/2-hour press conference, her first public comments on scandal.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an emotional “tell-all” appearance that lasted more than 4 1/2 hours, Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz (R-Utah) on Monday said that blind love made her the innocent dupe of a husband who defrauded her family and possibly financed her 1994 campaign with tainted money.

Speaking publicly about the scandal for the first time, Waldholtz also apologized, saying that she had been tricked by her estranged husband into filing false campaign reports and income tax returns.

But, she told those assembled for the televised news conference, she has no intention of resigning.

“I loved Joe Waldholtz and trusted him with all my heart,” the 37-year-old lieutenant in the Republican revolution said in hopes of salvaging her image among voters. “I know now, from the experience of the last four weeks, the person I loved and trusted never existed.”

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Nor did the wedding gift of $5 million that her husband had set aside for Rep. Waldholtz in fictitious Waldholtz family trusts, nor the real estate and other assets that he swapped for $4 million of her father’s money--some of which was funneled into her 1994 campaign for Congress.

Moreover, she added, an internal investigation shows that Joe Waldholtz, 32, who was his wife’s campaign treasurer, forged her signature on thousands of dollars of personal and campaign checks, then transferred the money into at least 15 bank accounts--several of them unknown to her. The accounts were apparently used to make payments to his family members to cover funds missing from their accounts.

The full extent of the damages may never be known, she said, because Joe Waldholtz destroyed boxes of crucial documents--including some related to the nearly $2 million that helped finance an ad blitz late in her 1994 campaign.

He also allegedly fabricated loan documents on the “Send Enid to Congress” office computer, her attorney, Charles Roistacher, said. Joe Waldholtz’s password to access the secret computer file: Lie.

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“Everything I thought I knew about Joe Waldholtz was a lie,” said Rep. Waldholtz, who was elected on a promise to promote family values and fiscal conservatism. “I’m sorry most of all that I trusted and believed in a husband who hurt so many people.”

But, she said, “I’m going to finish out my term"--eliciting both cheers and boos from onlookers. “As for running for reelection, that I have not decided.”

Recent polls show that a majority of voters think Rep. Waldholtz, who had for weeks refused to discuss her problems except through terse statements issued through a public relations firm, should not seek reelection.

Monday’s tearful confession aimed to change all that. But critics said that her play to hometown sympathies fell short, leaving many questions unresolved about what Rep. Waldholtz--a seasoned corporate litigator schooled in campaign finance law--knew and when she knew it.

After all, critics noted, Waldholtz--who was named by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to the powerful Rules Committee--had vowed to use her legal savvy to protect Utah against being hoodwinked by big government.

Yet she dismissed numerous warnings, bounced checks, stiffed hotel bills, “stolen” checks--including one her husband claimed was eaten by a dog--and landlord eviction notices as so much political braying. That is, until the FBI took notice.

“The purpose of this display was to make the case that she was not aware of the extent to which she was deceived,” said Richard Davis, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. “But the abused-wife explanation does not play well among those who know her. She has a reputation for being aggressive and acerbic--a very tough cookie.”

The news conference came exactly one month after Joe Waldholtz ditched his wife at Washington’s National Airport, thrusting the couple’s personal and financial problems into the national spotlight.

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He surrendered six days later to FBI agents probing his involvement in suspected bank fraud and an alleged $1.7-million check-kiting scheme--all while the couple lived in an $800,000 townhouse in Georgetown once owned by former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

The first-term Republican recently filed for divorce from her husband of two years, who she says dazzled her with boasts about his wealth and extensive knowledge of campaign finance laws. The congresswoman also is seeking to reclaim her maiden name and wants sole custody of their 3-month-old daughter, Elizabeth.

She is fighting in Salt Lake City court to keep the child-custody portion of the divorce sealed on the grounds that “besides financial misdoings, I have found evidence of other questionable lifestyle choices. But I will not discuss them today.”

In the meantime, her husband, a self-proclaimed political consultant, is trying to negotiate a plea bargain with federal prosecutors in which he would plead guilty to a reduced criminal charge in return for testimony against his wife, law enforcement sources have said.

As it stands, he is accused by his own family of looting his senile grandmother’s trust account of $600,000. He also bounced $60,000 worth of checks to a Salt Lake City jewelry shop, stiffed American Express for $47,000 and persuaded a congressional staffer to charge another $45,000 of his personal expenses on the aide’s credit card.

Federal sources say investigators are looking into the financing of Rep. Waldholtz’s 1994 campaign and her knowledge of or involvement in her husband’s alleged illegal activities. Of particular concern is the source of the last-minute infusion of cash that helped her unseat Democrat Karen Shepherd last year.

On Monday, Rep. Waldholtz--who receives $133,600 annually in congressional salary--denied that she is a target of any federal investigation. She said that she will testify before the federal grand jury in Washington that is probing her husband’s activities. She also said she will file amended financial disclosure forms and Federal Election Commission reports by Jan. 8.

Nonetheless, she said, “I’m truly sorry to the voters.

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“I just ask you to do this: When you go home tonight and you’re with the person you love most in the world, and they’re holding you in their arms as you go to sleep, and tell you that they love you . . . ask yourself if they are capable of what I’ve just told you.”

And she had a message for her husband.

“You hurt a lot of people who loved you,” she said. “And if there’s a corner of care in your soul that can be touched, Joe, stop now. For Elizabeth’s sake, stop hurting people.”


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