By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Says Mesa police spokesman Chuck Kennedy: "The word is that no comment will be made on anything, including this issue, until after the county attorney completes his investigation."
That stance does not sit well with Cheri Staton.
"The chief convinced me that he sincerely wants to get to the bottom of this mess," she says, "but he told me Del Ballentyne doesn't recall ever meeting me. I remember Chief Meeks saying he'd try to jog Del's memory on this. I'm very upset by this."
LARRY ELLIGET WAS preparing to barbecue on the evening of July 28 when the telephone call came in. It was his cousin Tim's wife, B.J., and she blurted out that Dick Elliget had been molesting his daughter.
DPS officer Bill Hansen happened to be visiting that night, and the two veteran cops rushed over to Tim and B.J. Elliget's home in east Mesa. Minutes after he arrived, Larry Elliget tried unsuccessfully to call Mesa police chief Guy Meeks and then assistant chief Del Ballentyne. Finally, he reached assistant chief Mike Whalen.
Hansen recalls what happened next. "I heard Larry tell his assistant chief that Dick had been molesting his kid," Hansen tells New Times, "that there were hundreds of nude photographs, and there was a diary with the names of officers in it. I remember Larry saying it was a bucket of worms, and that it sure sounded like a case for another agency. I thought it would be an easy call to make. Larry said he had someone standing right here who could get the ball rolling over at DPS."
Larry Elliget describes how assistant chief Whalen responded to his suggestion: "He told me in the strongest terms that Mesa was going to handle this one within the department. That was that. When an assistant chief tells you something, there's not much argument you can make."
After the Elligets' arrests, the two youngest of their four daughters moved in for a time with Larry Elliget, his wife Kathy, and their two children. Despite the family ties, Larry and Kathy Elliget resolved to do what they could to make sure Dick and Laurie Elliget both received long prison terms.
"When a little 9-year-old girl tells you that she saw her mom having sex on her living-room floor with a man," says Kathy Elliget, "and that she saw her mom making out in the kitchen with Rick Heath--her damn husband's lieutenant--it makes you want to strangle a whole bunch of people."
Larry Elliget gets livid when he recalls a conversation during which prosecutor Terry Jennings allegedly promised him Dick Elliget would be treated as severely as possible.
"Terry said in so many words that he was gung ho about sending Dick away," Larry Elliget says. That's not what has happened. Under the deal he agreed to, Dick Elliget was to face a prison sentence of about 5 to 14 years, but it was to be "soft time"--he'd have to serve only half of his term before being eligible for parole. In a separate plea bargain, Laurie Elliget pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse and faces up to a year in jail at her sentencing next month.
Neither plea bargain required Dick or Laurie Elliget to speak to Mesa Police Department Internal Affairs investigators. That meant the department's dirty laundry could remain hidden. Nor did the plea bargains require either Elliget to take the stand in the event that other Mesa officers are prosecuted.
Larry Elliget recalls a telephone call he received in September from prosecutor Anne Williams.
"She said things weren't set in concrete," Larry Elliget says, referring to notes he made of the conversation, "but her office had decided to let Dick plead to charges that could mean lifetime probation or up to 14 years in prison. Laurie was going to plead to child abuse and would serve no more than a year in jail, and she'd have to talk to the Internal Affairs people at Mesa about everything."
He was outraged by the proposed deal and he let prosecutor Williams know about it.
"I told her she was out of her damned mind and that it was bull if they thought Laurie was a victim of Dick," Larry Elliget says. "I said she's no victim and that she and Dick should be going down for this in a big way. Anne said she didn't want to make an example out of Dick. She asked if I thought a cop should be treated worse than someone else, and I said that he ought to be serving a long, long prison term. These days, all of a sudden, she's playing hardball in the press and she's denying she ever said any of this to me. But I swear to God she did."
Neither Terry Jennings--head of the County Attorney's Office sex-crimes unit--nor prosecutor Anne Williams responded to telephone calls from New Times. However, Paul Ahler, head of the agency's trial bureau, bristles at the accusation that "Terry Jennings or anyone else from our office was in bed with the Mesa Police Department. That just isn't true. We were going to go in and argue for an aggravated sentence from the start."