The department had been more diligent in less important cases. For instance, the Mesa Police Department earlier this year turned over to the state Department of Public Safety its investigation into a beer party thrown by Mesa Mayor Peggy Rubach for graduating high school seniors. Since Rubach technically oversees the police department, the department's investigation of the party would have been improper.

County prosecutors have also been sensitive to other apparent conflicts. Last year, for instance, they removed themselves from yet another sex-related incident involving a Mesa cop. In that case, Officer Kraig Bowser pled guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned from the force after a 16-year-old runaway claimed Bowser had sex with her.

The County Attorney's Office asked the state Attorney General's Office to handle the case, said a spokesperson at the time, because Bowser had on occasion testified for the county in criminal cases. Dick Elliget has also testified for the county in criminal matters, but that didn't stop local prosecutors from handling the case against him.

"What Mesa does internally is their business," says Paul Ahler, head of the County Attorney's trial bureau. "We just care about the criminal end of it. Mesa did a fine job in that area."

But the 374-page police report of the Elliget case casts serious doubts upon that. The heavily censored report backs the worst suspicions of concerned Mesa cops and of 16-year-old victim Stacie Elliget. The cops and Stacie use the word "cover-up."

All references to current Mesa cops linked to the sex diary have been edited out of the report, despite an Arizona law that requires only the deletion of the names and addresses of victims. But the Mesa officers named in the diary and in the police reports were not victims--they were active participants in an adulterous sex ring linked by Dick Elliget and Russ Staton to the more serious charge of child abuse.

Despite the whiting out by authorities of police officers named in the sex diary, what was left intact disproves the notion that Mesa detectives investigated this case as diligently as they would others.

For example, in his first interview, Dick Elliget's brother Tim--also a Mesa police officer--told Detective Kay Miller that he'd had "a hunch" that something had been going on between his brother and 16-year-old Stacie. Miller didn't press his fellow cop at all about this potentially stunning revelation.

Miller cut that line of questioning short, then asked Tim Elliget, "Do you have any questions for me?"

Tim Elliget asked what was going to happen with the case against his brother and his sister-in-law.

"We're trying to keep this as low-key as we can as far as just not letting everybody know about it," Miller responded, according to the police report.

WITHIN HOURS OF that interview, Mesa police arrested Dick and Laurie Elliget at Sky Harbor International Airport when the couple returned from San Diego. Dick Elliget faced three counts of sexual exploitation of 16-year-old Stacie and one count of child abuse. Laurie was charged with one count of child abuse. (Police weren't yet aware of the couple's seduction of the 14-year-old boy.)

Dick Elliget declined to discuss the case with fellow Mesa officers and demanded a lawyer. But Laurie consented to an interview. She said she knew of Dick's "booby grabbers" game, but added, "He's not being sexual when he's doin' that to 'em."

In fact, Laurie blamed her daughter Stacie. "She said that she wanted to" pose nude, Laurie told detectives, "so I figured if she was going to, that I wanted to be in there with her. I didn't look at it sexually."

Laurie Elliget claimed that Stacie had "initiated" the nude photography session. Laurie claimed no knowledge of the subsequent session in which her husband had taken the photographs of Stacie fondling herself.

Detective Kay Miller then told Laurie he was going to ask her something "that might be a little harder for you to talk about" than her husband's nude photography sessions with her daughter. "Between the pictures and all the note cards and everything else, you're pretty active sexually," Miller continued. "Whether it's true or not, I don't know. That's up to you and Dick. But in many of the. . . . "

Mesa police officials and county prosecutors have censored the transcript's next section, and Laurie's responses are unreadable. But it's clear from what remains that the editing was done to protect Mesa police officers, not the Elligets' juvenile victims.

There were other serious problems with Mesa's investigation. Reports indicate that Dick Elliget's brother and father removed potential evidence from the Elliget home between the first and second police searches. And detectives did little to find out what it was that they removed. Police had found a film canister containing "a green leafy substance" during their initial search of the home. Laurie Elliget admitted that a friend had given her marijuana.

In her second interview with detectives, Stacie Elliget mentioned a secret compartment beneath a dresser drawer in the master bedroom. The detectives decided to search again, this time to look more closely for drug paraphernalia. The police re-entered the home a few days after the Elligets' arrests. During the 13-minute search, Miller noted in a police report "that person or persons had got into the compartment underneath the dresser prior to our arrival."

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