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.

In the late 1980s, Elliget was a key player in two of the Mesa Police Department's most controversial sex-related cases. In both instances, he acted as a snitch against fellow cops.

In late 1987, Sergeant Chris Cartolano was accused of sexually harassing a woman officer. He was demoted to detective and sued the Mesa Police Department. Cartolano claimed the department acted unfairly in demoting him for suggestive comments, while only suspending Lieutenants Rick Heath and Bill Hamilton for more serious infractions.

Cartolano also sued Dick Elliget, claiming Elliget had "maliciously" hastened the harassment charge by repeating to the woman officer racy private remarks Cartolano had made.

(Cartolano's lawsuit was settled out of court in July 1990. He received $15,000 from the City of Mesa and a promise of reinstatement to the rank of sergeant.)

Another example of Elliget's growing role in the Mesa Police Department came during the Russ Staton case. Records obtained by New Times show that in April 1988, Officer Staton wrote a letter to his wife Cheri in which he confessed to having molested her daughter--his stepdaughter--years before.

Significant for the Elliget case, however, was another part of the letter. Staton wrote, "I had an affair with a police officer's wife, which wasn't really my doing. I know now it was a setup deal . . . for his own gain, which he has tried to use against me."

Staton did not identify the officer whose wife he'd had the affair with.
But Cheri Staton apparently knew who it was. She confronted Dick Elliget. Several Mesa officers familiar with the Staton case also tell New Times the blackmailer was Dick Elliget. A source who has read Elliget's sex diary says Staton's name appears in it, and that the diary describes Staton as a sexual partner of Laurie Elliget.

Records indicate that the day after Cheri Staton confronted him, Dick Elliget squealed to a Mesa sergeant about Russ Staton's child molesting. It's not clear how Elliget learned about it.

After Elliget talked, Cheri Staton turned her husband's confessional letter over to Mesa police. Russ Staton was quickly and quietly allowed to resign. The Mesa police never followed up on Staton's reference to a "setup deal" for Dick Elliget's gain, or on the inference of blackmail.

But the child-molestation case against Russ Staton was important for another reason. It paralleled the Elliget case and foreshadowed the preferential treatment police and prosecutors would give Dick Elliget. The Staton criminal investigation was handled as if police wanted it to simply go away.

"I was told by the detectives that the case would be turned down for various reasons," Staton wrote in March 1990 to Arizona's police-certification board. "Then-police chief Ivan Nannenga, in the presence of his staff, told me no charges would be filed if I resigned from the department." (The Mesa Police Department denies this.)

The handling of the Staton case came under fire in an internal memo by deputy county attorney Terry Jennings. He chided the Mesa detectives for not pursuing the Staton case with proper vigor.

"I think the victim ought to be interviewed by someone outside the Mesa Police Department," Jennings wrote in the May 1988 memo, referring to Cheri Staton's daughter. "It doesn't seem like the victim was pressed very much for details. Maybe an independent examiner could get the victim to be more cooperative and specific."

Jennings was also suggesting that a conflict of interest existed in having Mesa detectives investigate a fellow cop in a child-molestation case.

The shallow nature of Mesa's original investigation against Staton was borne out earlier this year when a second stepdaughter came forward with allegations that Russ Staton had molested her, too. Mesa detectives reinvestigated the case, and a grand jury indicted Staton on four counts of child molestation.

The superficiality of the Staton investigation allowed the Elliget cancer to grow. Had the Mesa authorities pursued Staton's allegations of blackmail, they could have followed the trail to Dick Elliget three years ago, when he was just beginning to molest Stacie.

When she finally reported that molestation, and the Elliget case came before Terry Jennings, Jennings seems to have forgotten the lesson of the Staton case. He did not demand that an outside police agency take over the case. Jennings' refusal came despite Dick Elliget's sex diary, which indicated a widespread sex scandal inside the Mesa Police Department.

Prosecutor Jennings says he made "the right call" by not insisting that the Mesa Police Department remove itself from the Elliget criminal investigation. He says this even though Detective Kay Miller, who fumbled the original Staton case, was put in charge of the investigation. An experienced police lawyer, however, disputes that. "They clearly should have called in an outside agency, like DPS, to investigate this case," says Jack LaSota, a former in-house legal adviser to the Phoenix Police Department. "Where it involves allegations of a ring within the department, smuggling, forgery, or in this case, sex, you bring in another agency. That's particularly true if the allegations involve superiors or anyone who might be viewed as having the ability to influence the investigation."

And Mel McDonald, whose law firm represents the Phoenix Police Department in civil matters, also says another agency should have been brought in to investigate the Elliget case.

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