THE SCANDAL AT THE MESA POLICE DEPARTMENT

DICK ELLIGET WAS A HERO COP. HE WAS ALSO A CHILD MOLESTER AND THE CENTER OF A CIRCLE OF POLICE CORRUPTION.

* Press reports protected Dick Elliget and victimized his daughter Stacie. Local newspapers, following a policy of not reporting the names of minors, identified Stacie only as a "16-year-old girl." Reporters made no effort to interview her, but instead quoted her father's defense attorney, who portrayed Stacie as a teenager who "consented" to sexual acts. The press also failed to analyze the 374-page police report that revealed the victim was Elliget's daughter, and gave details showing that, far from consenting, she had been sexually exploited. "I wasn't consenting," Stacie angrily tells New Times. "I was molested."

* The Mesa Police Department's internal investigation into Elliget's sex diary and the conduct it documents has done little to get to the bottom of the scandal.

* Despite its strong criminal case against Dick Elliget, the County Attorney's Office failed to use its power as leverage to uncover the extent of sexual misconduct in the Mesa Police Department. The practice of extracting information from defendants in return for a softened deal is routine in criminal cases. But prosecutors gave Elliget a free ride in allowing him to plea to reduced charges, without extracting information about the sex ring and the extent of Elliget's blackmail.

* County prosectors known for their unforgiving stance against child molesters have granted Dick Elliget what one Mesa cop calls "a sweetheart of a deal," a plea bargain that could have him out of prison in less than seven years. Elliget has evaded prosecution under Arizona's punitive Dangerous Crimes Against Children laws. Prosecutors have deemed his sex crimes "nondangerous" to children and "nonrepetitive," despite solid evidence that he'd been molesting his teenage daughter for years, had started to play sex games with his next-oldest daughter and had arranged for a 14-year-old neighbor boy to have sex with his wife.

Dick Elliget, in jail since his arrest, is scheduled to be sentenced November 14 by Superior Court Judge Steven Sheldon. Five sex charges--including the forced genital massage of his daughter--were dropped as part of the plea bargain. Elliget has pled guilty only to taking pornographic photographs of Stacie and to arranging a sexual encounter between his wife and the underage neighbor boy. (Laurie Elliget, out on bail, pled guilty last week to one count of felony child abuse. She will be sentenced in December.)

Mesa police spokesman Mike Hayes vigorously denies his department has participated in any cover-up. "It's been embarrassing and it's been a sad day in our department," Hayes says, "but I think our investigation into this matter will stand up to any scrutiny."

But the entire Elliget affair has sickened many Mesa cops. "We have mostly decent people working here, but there's this cancer," says a veteran Mesa officer, who, like the other dozen officers who spoke with New Times, fears reprisals if identified by name. "People have things to hide. We don't know what to do."

Stacie Elliget, the molested daughter, wants the public to know the "real story" about the sex scandal. "Do it," she repeatedly told New Times after being informed of this story. "Someone has to."

NO LONGER a sleepy Mormon suburb, Mesa is the third-largest city in Arizona. In recent years, the Mesa Police Department has been buffeted by what one retired cop calls "more than its share" of sex-related offenses involving its officers.

Many of the cases were kept from public view, but Mesa cops have been both reprimanded by the department and even prosecuted for, among other things, soliciting sex from female defendants, indecent exposure, window-peeping and sexually abusing complainants. The officers involved in those incidents are still employed by the Mesa Police Department.

One of the most controversial sex-related events involved Lieutenant Bill Hamilton, the officer who initially supervised the Elliget case. Hamilton was suspended for a month in early 1988 for what could be viewed as no more than a tasteless joke--handing out a phallic-shaped flashlight he called the "purple penis award" to officers on his bad side.

Far more controversial, however, was the accusation of a male officer who said he had seen Hamilton caress the breast of a rookie woman cop. Although then-Mesa Police Chief Ivan Nannenga declined to punish Hamilton on that charge, Nannenga later publicly attributed a slip in officer morale to Hamilton's lenient treatment. An underground flier called the P.D. Journal, written by officers, excoriated Nannenga for not firing Hamilton.

"We put people in jail every day under less-clear circumstances," the flier complained.

It wasn't hard for someone like Dick Elliget to flourish in a department so riddled with skeletons. During the late 1980s, Elliget's friendship with his bosses made him a formidable player. Several Mesa cops say Elliget's powerful standing in the department far exceeded his rank of patrol cop. One of his best pals was Lieutenant Rick Heath, who happened to be his supervisor.

That friendship came in handy in 1987 when a Mesa woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against Elliget. "Rick Heath took care of it," says a high-ranking Mesa officer. "He always took good care of Dickie."

(Heath and his wife were vacationing with Dick and Laurie Elliget in San Diego last July when Stacie Elliget told her aunt about the molestation. Sources close to the case say Heath's name appears in Elliget's sex diary. Heath had received a ten-day suspension in 1987 for fondling a woman police employee at his home. He retired shortly after the Elliget sex case broke, though he'd previously told fellow officers he planned to stay on until 1992. Heath did not respond to a New Times request for an interview.)

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