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How many times did Linda McMahon go bankrupt?

One of the things that has always surprised me about Linda McMahon's bid for the U.S. Senate is the way she has made filing for bankruptcy an integral part of her biography. She boasts about it.

Indeed, the McMahon campaign even made a mail brochure this summer that told her going-broke story, one she has often repeated in interviews, about filing for bankruptcy 30 years ago at the federal courthouse in Hartford.

"We were forced to declare bankruptcy. We lost our home, our cars . . . everything .. ." McMahon practically gushed in the brochure. "I was seven months pregnant at the time and scared to death about my family's future."

The McMahons, now wildly rich from their successful stewardship of the World Wrestling Entertainment empire, have refused to say exactly how deep in debt they were when they filed for bankruptcy or how much their creditors lost at the time.

And recently, the McMahon bankruptcy got even murkier, with a new interview on The Daily Beast website that suggests the McMahons went bankrupt in Maryland, not Connecticut.

"At one point, when they were living in Gaithersburg, Md., in the 1970s, they went bankrupt and briefly depended on food stamps," said the article, written by editor at large for The Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove, a journalist with a long resume in the mainstream media, including columnist for the New York Daily News and Washington Post.

Grove, who said in the Daily Beast piece that he interviewed McMahon at a Starbucks near her home in Greenwich, quoted her at length about the family's financial troubles when they were living in Maryland.

"I think it was one or two weeks when we were on food stamps, when Vince was working at a rock quarry, making little ones out of big ones, working about 90 hours week," McMahon is quoted as telling Grove. "I would get up early in the morning and pack an almost hockey bag-sized athletic bag for sandwiches, a couple of thermoses and hot meals."

So which was it? Did the McMahons file for bankruptcy in Hartford or in Maryland? Or did they file in both places?

I tried last week to get an answer from the McMahon campaign, but didn't hear back from messages asking for a clarification.

I also couldn't reach Grove, to ask him whether he somehow misunderstood McMahon about filing for bankruptcy in Maryland.

Actually, even before this latest confusion from the candidate about her history of bankruptcy, the campaign has played a little loose with the facts.

A campaign official admitted, for instance, that a vintage photograph of a tow truck in front of the Hartford federal courthouse, which was included in the bankruptcy brochure, to illustrate McMahon's story that she had a flat tire on the way to file here in Connecticut, was a fake.

The photo was made to look, like family photos also included in the brochure, as if it had just fallen out of a family album. But it was a total campaign fabrication.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Hartford has a record of the McMahon filing in 1976, but they don't have any of the records. I checked with the court in Maryland last week and no one could find any record of a McMahon bankruptcy in the 1970s.

That artifice of the faked photograph also makes me question McMahon's bankruptcy quotes in the Daily Beast about making lunches at home for her husband when he went off to split rocks at a quarry.

According to many biographical accounts, McMahon was already working as a wrestling promoter in the 1970s. A narrative in the Shaun Assael book "Sex, Lies and Headlocks" about Vince McMahon suggests that a risky investment in promoting an event by stunt devil Evel Knievel led to big losses and preceded the McMahon bankruptcy.

Vince McMahon was also quoted in a 2001 interview in Playboy suggesting that a series of investments in bad tax shelters, including a horse farm and cement plant, led to the bankruptcy.

That's a much different image than Linda making huge lunches for him before he went off for a day of splitting big rocks into little ones.

Instead of embellishing her bankruptcy stories, since she likes telling them so much, McMahon ought to start telling the truth about what happened.

She should begin by disclosing exactly how much money was owed and to whom and how much was never paid back.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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