THE PURSUIT OF PAT CANTELME

Amid the spectacle of Arizona's notorious law enforcement sting, AzScam, the most chilling facet of the undercover operation remains unobserved by the public and unremarked upon by the press.

The cops and the prosecutors tried to railroad a clean guy.
The Phoenix chief of police, the Maricopa County attorney and their Runyonesque casino promoter, con man Joseph Stedino, stalked one of the Valley's most prominent civic leaders.

Firefighter Patrick Cantelme was law enforcement's target. He had not done anything wrong.

Nonetheless, from the very first moment of AzScam, the bull's eye had Pat Cantelme's picture pinned at the center of the concentric rings of entrapment.

Stedino went after Cantelme like Mike Tyson went after beauty-pageant winners. Though Cantelme was almost never described as anything more sinister than politically potent, the firefighter was hotly pursued while allegations of corruption were ignored, including serious charges involving law enforcement itself.

Tens of thousands of pages of transcripts from secretly recorded meetings during AzScam reveal the truth.

In 1990, from January to September, Stedino played every angle to trap Cantelme, president of the United Phoenix Firefighters. In meetings with lobbyists, legislators, political strategists, candidates for office, labor organizers, the rich and poor, the drunk and the sober, Joseph Stedino tried to find someone to introduce him to Pat Cantelme.

After nine months of this unrelenting police pressure, the authorities succeeded in luring Cantelme into meetings that were filmed with hidden cameras. The police also secretly tape-recorded Cantelme's telephone calls. Stedino's role was to tempt Cantelme into behavior that would put the firefighter behind bars.

Cantelme refused to do anything illegal.
Cantelme refused to do anything illegal at the first meeting; he refused to do anything illegal at the last meeting. Cantelme was just as clean on the telephone.

The problem with trying to set up Patrick Cantelme was revealed in the way people spoke of him and his union on the AzScam tapes.

"Firemen are the cleanest guys in the world," said Representative Candace Nagel.

That didn't stop Stedino. The con man was working for the cops, and as Stedino would later write in his book, "The cops wanted the fireman bad."

Do not take my word for what happened to Patrick Cantelme.
Look at the record.
AzScam has mile after mile of tapes, video and audio, that are part of that record. Thousands of pages of transcripts have also been released.

The problem is that no one, not the press, not the lawyers, not the courts--not even Patrick Cantelme--has sorted through all of the official record.

There is simply too much.
There are 250 videotapes, 600 audio tapes and more than 20,000 pages of transcripts from AzScam, and that only covers the undercover investigation. It does not include documents, exhibits, investigative materials, depositions or trial testimonies.

The AzScam transcripts that relate directly to Cantelme fill 19 floppy disks.
But if you do spend the time, you will see a grotesque effort by law enforcement to set up the firefighter.

Though telephoned repeatedly, former police chief Ruben Ortega chose not to respond. Members of the County Attorney's Office declined to comment until after the conclusion of all AzScam prosecutions.

But in a deposition recently obtained by New Times, Joseph Stedino said Major Timothy Black of the Phoenix Police Department, acting on instructions from Chief Ruben Ortega, instructed the con man to focus on Cantelme. "To the best of my recollection, words to the effect, and I cannot be specific, if you can get close to Pat Cantelme, do so. He [Black] told me this and stated words to the effect of, 'The chief wants to see if you can; if you can get close to Cantelme, do so,'" said Stedino.

Black flatly denied targeting Cantelme. But then the major said something odd. His statement is studded with the fractured syntax of an honest man trying to rationalize the damaging revelations of Stedino.

"I . . . told him [Stedino] that if Pat Cantelme was to . . . ah . . . if his name was to come forward by virtue of someone else, ah . . . that he should be treated like everyone else that . . . that was involved in this investigation. If he came forward, and, ah . . . wanted to be part of this ongoing investigation, that we certainly would listen to him," said Black.

Wanted to be part of an ongoing investigation?
Patrick Cantelme did not want to be part of an ongoing investigation. And despite what Major Black said in deposition, Cantelme was not "treated like everyone else; he was singled out and he was hunted.

In the same deposition in which it was first revealed that Chief Ortega targeted the head of the firefighters' union, Stedino would later back off from that claim. The con man said Major Black's order was rescinded.

The record says otherwise.
AzScam began when con man Stedino told Chief Ortega and County Attorney Richard Romley that Gary Bartlett could lead law enforcement to statewide corruption. A fringe operator in political circles, Bartlett is alleged to have told Stedino that legislators could be bought. But even Bartlett was surprised at the effort that went into cornering Pat Cantelme.

"Over 90 percent of the conversations I had with him [Stedino] were to get introductions to Pat Cantelme and [state fire marshal] Duane Pell. This whole thing, when I was involved, was directed at Pat Cantelme and the fire department," Bartlett told New Times. "I would be out trying to buy furniture and decorate an office, and he would be trying to get me to call Cantelme and invite him to lunch."
This information is not part of the official version of AzScam, which claimed that Stedino did not seek out or entrap anyone.

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