By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Because of the sentiment of the city, not wanting the unions to get too strong, Ortega kind of took it upon himself to bust the unions," Pell says.
Police suddenly developed a mystifying curiosity about the contents of the fire chief's garage. Years before Ortega became chief, Brunacini had purchased a surplus fire truck from the city. It was a 1952 Mack, the truck Brunacini had first worked on when he joined the department. Firefighters can be sentimental in odd ways, and Brunacini waited for the truck to come up for auction when the city no longer needed it. He paid $500 for it, and brought it home.
Ten years later, Brunacini found himself the target of a police investigation into his purchase of the truck and other surplus equipment he had bought for his memorabilia collection.
"He [Ortega] was grasping at every straw he could possibly find to nail anybody connected to the fire department," says Pell.
Upon learning that he was under investigation, Brunacini says, he gathered up the paperwork showing what he'd bought and when he'd bought it and took it to Ortega personally.
"I went in to the chief and showed him all the documentation I had on the truck," Brunacini recalls. "I bought it in a very open kind of way. Hell, how do you hide a fire truck? Goddamn, it's 26 feet long."
Nonetheless, Brunacini says, investigators spent months on the case. Fire department records were scrutinized. Police used a search warrant to raid the workshop where Brunacini kept the truck. The fire chief and some of his men were followed by police.
Although he had to hire an attorney and endure months of scrutiny, Brunacini says, no charges were ever filed in the case.
Brunacini believes he was targeted solely because he headed the fire department. "I don't think Chief Ortega had much admiration for the Phoenix Fire Department or the union . . . He didn't make any secret of that.
"I didn't realize how much discretionary power that police chief has, and you don't know that until it's directed toward you."
A few months later, Gordon Lange learned that lesson also. He was driven from his union post for good and fired from the police department after another months-long police investigation spawned a curious fraud charge against him.
As part of its normal fund-raising activities, PLEA used telephone solicitors to sell advertising in its newsletter or hustle tickets for police functions. At times, the union would donate some of the proceeds from its telephone bank to Silent Witness, the anonymous-informant program, and telephone solicitors would tell potential donors that some of their money would go to the program.
In early 1982, the Silent Witness board of directors rejected a $250 donation from the union, because it had not given prior approval for its name to be used in telephone solicitations.
At that time, Lange says, he ordered the solicitors to stop mentioning the Silent Witness program in their sales pitch. But a former employee, Lange says, complained to the police department that the union's telephone-bank workers continued to tout Silent Witness.
An investigation ensued, seemingly disproportionate to the gravity of the allegation. Union records were seized, Lange says, and the investigators planted an undercover officer in the union's telephone room.
In mid-December, Lange was indicted on a fraud charge. No one else--including the paid telephone workers who allegedly made the unauthorized pitch for Silent Witness--was ever charged.
Lange was fired, and spent the next several years battling the charges. Twice, the indictments were thrown out by a judge. The third time, Lange went to trial and was quickly acquitted.
Three years after the firing, Lange won reinstatement as a patrol officer when the Civil Service Board could find nothing that Lange had done wrong.
"No evidence of [wrongdoing] was ever presented at the hearing," says Mike Sophy, who chaired the board at the time. "The Lange hearing was just an absolute classic of what this whole controversy [with Ortega] was about, because they'd come in and make conclusory charges, but then they'd never present any evidence to support them."
The damage was done for Lange. He worked as a janitor during his years off the force. Mopping and cleaning 12 hours a day helped him drain away his frustration.
"I [was] pretty much labeled a thief, and I'm gone. Once you're gone from the police department under those conditions, all of a sudden you don't have any friends," says Lange.
"I asked people if they wanted to hire me, and it really came down that I was just a political hot potato," he continues. "As soon as he [Ortega] got me indicted, he accomplished what he set out to do."
Lange, now out of union politics, says he has no doubt that the investigation was Ortega's way of getting even with him. While fighting his dismissal, Lange says, he learned that Ortega was regularly briefed on the progress of the Lange probe.
Ortega had one last shot for the two unions, and he fired it in 1983. Both the police and fire unions had contributed $20,000 to the campaign for single-member districts. The unions had waited until the last moment to donate the money, so their contributions would not show up on campaign finance reports until after the election, a ploy to prevent union support from becoming an issue in the campaign.