ARIZONA'S OWN J. EDGAR HOOVER

RUBEN ORTEGA USED THE PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT TO PURSUE HIS PERSONAL AGENDA-AND HIS POLITICAL FOES

McElfresh, a private investigator with the law firm of O'Connor Cavanagh, stumbled upon the tracks of Ortega's snoops when she went to review her private investigator's license file at the state Department of Public Safety in 1988.

Like all private eyes, McElfresh had filled out a lengthy application before obtaining her license. The application demands a host of personal background information--like lawsuits, previously used names, criminal records and so forth. Parts of the file are public record, and other portions are not, although police investigators may see the sealed portions, she says.

When she reviewed her file, McElfresh says, the clerk accidentally also handed her a cover sheet that lists anyone who has signed the files out. On the list was the name of a police internal affairs investigator.

"He [Ortega] was doing background checks on me," McElfresh says. " . . . I had nothing to hide, but it really bothered me that he did that."
Only recently, McElfresh says, she learned that during the same time period an internal affairs investigator called one of her co-workers to ask about McElfresh's friends, her love life, what kind of employee she was.

"That's why I know they did background checks on all civil service volunteers," she says.

State Representative Susan Gerard says Ortega told her pointblank that his department compiled files on community leaders.

In 1987, Gerard says, she was appointed to chair a city task force on AIDS. As the task force was doing its work, news reports surfaced that the police department kept lists of people it knew or suspected were gay, presumably so officers could protect themselves from possible AIDS exposure if they arrested one of them.

Revelation of the list sparked a public outcry.
"Since I was the chairman of the task force, the chicken city council decided I would be the one that would deal with Ortega," Gerard says.

"In one of the meetings I had with Ortega, he was talking about 'We need to have all the information we can in our computer on people.' In the process of this conversation, talking about how they wanted to identify every prostitute that might be HIV-positive, he just made the comment, 'You wouldn't believe the information we have in our files, or the extent to which we have information on prominent people,'" Gerard says.

Startled by the chief's boasting, Gerard asked if there was a file on her.
"He said, 'Well, have we ever had any reason to talk to you about anything?' I said, yes. I've had stuff ripped off out of my mailbox once. He said, 'Did you file a report?' I said, yes. He goes, 'Well, then sure we've got a file on you.'

"After that," Gerard says, "it made me understand why it always seemed that the city council was in such awe and fear of ever challenging Ortega on anything."
The file on attorney Thorne apparently came into play in early 1990, when Ortega was on a tear about the board. Largely because of his complaints, the Arizona Republic ran a lopsided series of stories questioning the board's reversals of city-employee discipline.

Thorne, then-board chairman, was called before the council to explain the board's process. After she had finished, Ortega took the mic, and accused Thorne of abusing her position on the board by threatening a meter maid and trying to beat some parking tickets.

All Thorne could remember was an incident more than a year earlier when she had asked a parking officer to hold off on towing her car while she went and got her checkbook to pay some outstanding tickets.

"I told the meter maid, 'I'm at a Civil Service Board meeting. Can you wait?'" Thorne recalls.

Thorne had all but forgotten the incident, but a year later found herself sitting in a city council meeting as the chief of police held it up as an example of Thorne's abusing her position on the board.

"Chief Ortega turned it into a coliseum-type atmosphere and charged that I personally had abused my discretion," Thorne says. "By threatening a meter maid? By having a number of outstanding parking tickets?

"You kind of wonder how that incident, so minimal [on that] day . . . how something like that got to the chief's attention. Like, was there a secret police there watching enemies of Chief Ortega?"
The council, in an act observers say was true to form when it came to Ortega, empaneled a task force to investigate the Civil Service Board for the bias Ortega claimed existed in favor of disciplined employees. After several months, the panel concluded that no such bias existed.

Logic would indicate that, if there was no bias on the board, there might be a problem on the other side of the equation, perhaps at the police department. The council never instructed anyone to find out, former councilmembers and observers say, because they knew full well what the answer was.

Throughout Ortega's tenure, insiders say, the city council and former city manager Marvin Andrews, the only man with the authority to fire the police chief, would not challenge Ortega publicly.

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