By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
* The Mesa Police Department has resurrected its internal investigation into the Elliget affair, police sources say. "The word before the New Times story came out was that the Internal was over," says one officer, who requested anonymity. "But the people on top realize their own heads could roll if things don't go their way."
UNTIL A FEW WEEKS AGO, the cases of Dick and Laurie Elliget seemed on the surface to be moving along smoothly. Their soft plea bargains were dutifully reported without analysis by local media, and the chiefs at the Mesa Police Department were primed to put this sordid chapter behind them.
That's all changed now.
In the wake of negative publicity about their handling of the case, county prosecutors recently asked Superior Court Judge Steven Sheldon to sentence Dick Elliget to the maximum of 14 years. (That would mean fewer than seven years to serve in real time, because prosecutors technically consider the charges Elliget plea-bargained to "nondangerous" and "nonrepetitive.") But on November 14, Sheldon went a giant step farther than prosecutors had requested. The judge told Dick Elliget that he may order a much longer sentence than prosecutors have asked for. If he decides to ignore the provisions of the plea bargain, Sheldon told Dick Elliget, he'll offer Elliget the opportunity to withdraw his plea.
What has fascinated the public more than the legal machinations, however, is the sex diary. Why did Dick Elliget keep the diary? A strong hint that Elliget might have been sexually blackmailing his peers was apparent in a letter then-Mesa cop Russ Staton wrote to his wife Cheri in 1988.
"I had an affair with another police officer's wife, which I know now was a setup deal which . . . he has tried to use against me," Staton wrote in part. The other officer was Dick Elliget, who had described his wife's encounter with Russ Staton in his pornographic diary.
Cheri Staton tells New Times what happened after she confronted Laurie Elliget in a telephone call. "Laurie said it wasn't true and that Russ was wrong," she says. "I said, `Why would a husband make something like this up?' I told her that I knew from Russ about their wife-swapping and all the other perversion. I had asked Russ why he never had said anything to his bosses about what was going on at the Elliget house. He told me, quote, `They're part of it.' He was talking about his bosses. Dick came on the line and tells me how him and Laurie are God-fearing Christians, and they wouldn't do anything like I was accusing them of. I didn't buy it."
Cheri Staton says she met with Mesa detective Kay Miller at a city park after investigators learned of her husband's letter. "At the time, I wanted to protect my kids from going through a trial and all that," says Staton, a Mesa resident who has six grown daughters.
"I trusted Kay and I still trust Kay. If he bungled anything, it was because he wasn't allowed to do things proper. I told him I knew nothing could be done to save Russ' job, but there were things he should know about Dick Elliget. Kay told me that every time he tried to get something going on Dick, nothing happened. I told him I was going to see [assistant chief] Del Ballentyne."
Miller would not discuss specifics of his contacts with Cheri Staton, but he tells New Times, "Cheri is a very honest person." As for his own work on the Elliget case, the detective says, "I did the best job possible. I know I did my job."
Cheri Staton says the details of her conversation with Del Ballentyne are as clear to her as if they happened yesterday.
"I told him about everything I knew about the Elligets and I named names," she says. "My sole intent in coming forward was not to protect my husband, but to let them know the guy they were protecting--Dick Elliget--was another person they should be investigating."
After Dick and Laurie Elliget were arrested in late July, Cheri Staton says, she again spoke with Kay Miller. "I asked Kay if he remembered back in 1988 when I mentioned going to meet with Chief Ballentyne," she says. "Kay said that of course he remembered. Then he asked me, `Do you remember how I told you I'd written a memo about Dick and nothing happened?' I did remember that."
Asked to confirm the existence of the memo, Kay Miller says, "I can't comment on all that right now," emphasizing the last two words.
Two Internal Affairs investigators interviewed Cheri Staton after the Elligets' arrests. "I told them just what I had told Ballentyne," she says, "and I think I told them that Dick probably wouldn't have done that awful stuff to his daughter if things had been right at the department."
She says she demanded a meeting with Mesa police chief Guy Meeks and assistant police chief Del Ballentyne after the New Times story was published earlier this month. Meeks met with Cheri Staton, but assistant chief Mike Whalen sat in, not Ballentyne.