HIDE AND SICK THE MESA POLICE DEPARTMENT HAD TO WORK HARD TO IGNORE WHAT DICK AND LAURIE ELLIGET WERE UP TO

A SICK JOKE has been making the rounds. What is the link between the Tucson suspects in the Buddhist Temple murders case and the Phoenix suspects? Answer: They're all in Dick and Laurie Elliget's sex diary.

The sex diary has been the topic of conversation in cop shops, barrooms and lunch counters across the Valley. The diary is a key component in the cover-up by Mesa police officials and Maricopa County prosecutors of a sex scandal inside the Mesa department.

Mesa patrol officer Dick Elliget arranged for an unknown number of fellow cops, including command-level supervisors, to have sex with his wife Laurie, and kept a written account of those extramarital encounters. The diary was apparently intended in part for sexual blackmail.

New Times detailed the cover-up ("The Scandal at the Mesa Police Department") November 6. The newspaper has since learned that the scandal reaches to the second-in-command at the Mesa Police Department, that Mesa police brass were told about Dick Elliget's sexual misconduct as early as 1988 and did nothing, and that the County Attorney's Office first considered a plea bargain that may have allowed Dick Elliget to serve no prison time.

The original New Times piece described how Dick Elliget sexually assaulted his 16-year-old daughter and took pornographic photographs of her, alone and with her mother. The story told of Dick and Laurie Elliget's seduction of a neighbor boy, then 13.

New Times described how county prosecutors permitted the Mesa P.D. to investigate the Elliget case even after Dick Elliget's sex diary linked Mesa higher-ups to sexual improprieties. The story also told of sweetheart plea bargains that called for Dick Elliget's release from custody within seven years and Laurie Elliget's within one year. Finally, the story described an Internal Affairs investigation by Mesa that has been characterized by several Mesa cops as half-hearted at best.

Information gathered since the first story further reveals:
* The Mesa Police Department's second-in-command heard allegations as long ago as 1988 that Dick Elliget was involved in sexual improprieties with higher-ups in the department.

The then-wife of a Mesa cop says she told assistant police chief Del Ballentyne of wife-swapping and other extramarital activities at the Elliget household. Her allegations were not investigated, say sources in and out of the Mesa department. "I begged chief Ballentyne to investigate Dick," Cheri Staton says. "He said he'd look into it. But he didn't. If he had put a stop to it, then maybe that little girl wouldn't have been molested."

The Mesa police detective who recently investigated Dick and Laurie Elliget's criminal cases also tried to interest his department in 1988 in pursuing allegations of moral turpitude involving Dick Elliget. Detective Kay Miller's pleas similarly went nowhere, several police sources say. Coincidentally, Miller made his request about the same time Dick Elliget started to sexually molest his oldest daughter.

* Dick Elliget might not have served any prison time, under a deal contemplated by prosecutors at one point. Deputy county attorney Anne Williams told Larry Elliget--a veteran Mesa cop and first cousin of Dick Elliget--that she might strike a bargain with Dick Elliget that would call for anything from lifetime probation to 14 years in prison. Larry Elliget says prosecutors eliminated the possibility of probation from Dick Elliget's plea bargain offer after he and others vehemently complained.

* Laurie Elliget's original plea bargain would have compelled her to cooperate with the Mesa Police Department's Internal Affairs team, according to Larry Elliget, who cites prosecutor Williams as his source of information. But, for still unexplained reasons, county prosecutors eliminated the "cooperation" provision from Laurie Elliget's plea bargain.

* Mesa assistant police chief Mike Whalen declined an early opportunity to involve an independent police agency in the Elliget investigation. A state Department of Public Safety officer says he heard Larry Elliget suggest to Whalen that the Mesa P.D. should ask another agency to take over the case. Larry Elliget says he cited the "sex diary" and its reference to numerous Mesa cops--including some of Dick Elliget's superiors--as reason to ask another agency to intervene. He says Whalen told him Mesa would handle the investigation alone.

* Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley made the decision to investigate the Elliget case over the objections of some advisers, law enforcement sources say. Romley did this despite a litany of cases in which local law enforcement agencies have asked other agencies to take over investigations and avoid appearances of bias. Last year, for example, Romley avoided prosecuting the high-profile case in which two Smitty's employees were accused of killing a bad-check writer. Romley claimed his office had a conflict of interest because some of his employees moonlight for the store. The controversial case wound up on the desk of another agency.

(Romley spokesman Bill Fitzgerald insists his boss "suggested to Mesa early on that they transfer the case to another agency. It was their call.")

* Rank-and-file sources at the Mesa Police Department express dismay that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office is now reviewing the Mesa Police Department's internal handling of the Elliget case. Their concerns center on the soft plea bargains that prosecutors offered Dick and Laurie Elliget, and that County Attorney Romley allowed Mesa to investigate the Elliget case in the face of clear conflicts of interest.

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