The Grafters

This legislative sting orchestrated by the Phoenix Police Department and leveraged with unheard of quantities of cash is so debauched in its gothic proportions that only a team of journalists like Randy Collier and Charles Kelly could introduce it properly.

Collier and Kelly are every bit as eccentric as the once-in-a-lifetime story they are working.

No reporter in Arizona has better police connections than Collier, and that's not surprising; the cops recognize, and like, a Damon Runyon character when they see one.

After his trips to Latin America, it was believed that Collier's most creative prose was found in his expense reports. Collier is a man not blind to life's angles, and insurance agents can only speculate as to the number of neck braces in Collier's Chrysler. The man's status as a legend was secured when a frustrated mangagement banished him to a remote zone, far away from the more prestigious city desk; Collier promptly fell down upon the floor at work with what he identified as a heart attack but what vicious rumor labeled a successful ploy for reassignment downtown. Gossips are unable to alibi how it is that Collier regularly turns out the most compelling articles in the Sunday paper.

Kelly has one of Arizona's largest collections of books on crime and is a walking directory of the inconclusive details behind the murder of fellow journalist Don Bolles. A crack shot after years of training and practice, Kelly is one of the few gun nuts to have mastered the art of the elegant sentence. During a certain period of his life, he hung out in the poker casinos of California looking for action.

In Collier and Kelly, we have two men whose entire careers have pointed them toward this story.

Journalists can detail the latest expose, but how do you explain public life in Arizona to yourself? What world view accounts for Charles Keating, Senators John McCain and Dennis DeConcini, impeached ex-governor Evan Mecham, the votes on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the loss of the Super Bowl, Rose Mofford, the multimillion dollar corruption in the State Department of Education, Keith Turley, Karl Eller, Pinnacle West, Gary Driggs, Gene Rice, Terry Goddard, Fife Symington, and now nineteen indicted legislators and lobbyists?

There simply isn't grammar or syntax, let alone philosophy, to rationalize such goings-on. It all makes about as much sense as one of those Megopotomian war communiques from Saddam Hussein: "We will pluck out the eyes of the infidel invaders and desecrate their brazen idols with the blood of our goats."

Say what?!!

I'm not naive. I don't expect someone the likes of Representative Sue Laybe to sit around discussing the Federalist Papers, but neither do I expect to turn on my television and watch her counting out $10,000 in a cash bribe from some Wayne Newton wanna-be that she's known for all of twenty minutes.

Chief Ortega's videos are like so much grainy smut; no matter how titillating you find them, you always feel like you need a shower afterward.

And now, of course, the hills are alive with the moaning and chest-thumping of politicians claiming they were entrapped or posturing about the future of Arizona.

The senators and representatives have no one to blame but themselves.

For years they have passed every police-state law pressed upon them by Attorney General Bob Corbin and his aide Steve Twist. Prosecutors and cops were patted on the head and told to go out and run their stings. Chief Ortega's speech where he revealed plans to have his officers sell dope on the streets of Phoenix to see who would buy, to see who could be entrapped, drew hardly a comment.

Prosecutors and cops were given the authority by this legislature to amass millions of dollars in cash and assets from dubious seizures of assets to finance stings.

No public accountability was required. The politicians never thought they'd become targets. The legislators assumed Chief Ortega would be content going after the rest of us.

This is where such careless thinking has led: There is nothing inherently evil about blackjack. Churches have run gambling fund raisers for years. Civic leaders opposed legalized casinos not because roulette is immoral but because organized gambling produces such stupendous amounts of cash that corruption always follows.

Ironically, the statehouse wrote legislation that put Police Chief Ruben Ortega in charge of the sorts of cash reserves normally handled by Meyer Lansky.

And Ortega is politically ambitious enough to know just how to spend his loot.

While the legislators are belatedly crying out about civil liberties, Chief Ortega and County Attorney Richard Romley are orchestrating a press campaign that includes juicy indictments and police-escorted viewings of salacious videotapes for reporters.

Ortega and Romley are every bit as self-serving in this circus of corruption as Walker, Kenney, Higuera, and Raymond.

In the end, you can't help but ask yourself if there is anyone in Arizona who isn't on the take.

On February 4, newscasters informed us that pipe bombs had been attached to chemical tanks outside the massive military installations at Norfolk, Virginia. On Sunday, February 10, we learned that the bombers weren't Iraqi terrorists as the FBI originally speculated; they were just another two guys from Arizona running an insurance scam.

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