AZSCAM'S BOMBSHELL

SHIREE FOSTER WAS TREATED LIKE A BLONDE JOKE UNTIL SHE MET JOE STEDINO. THEN IT GOT WORSE.

In the transcripts, Foster repeatedly expressed aggravation about the debt to Stedino, telling him that someone had promised to pay off her credit card, but had let her down. She says today that Sbrocca had encouraged her to run up sizable expenses and declared he was good for them, then had neglected to pay AmEx despite her reminders. "I just gave up asking him. I was embarrassed," she says. Stedino soon muscled into Foster's financial affairs like an overbearing uncle, according to the transcripts. He telephoned American Express to try to calm down Foster's creditors, posing as Foster's employer and saying she would pay as she could. He also began literally tucking money into her purse when she visited him at his office--first $200 and then another $500 that he suggested she send to AmEx. Foster protested the gifts, but Stedino insisted that she had earned them by providing him with contacts. Eventually, she went to Stedino and asked for a $1,600 loan to cover the rest of the American Express bill. In all these instances, Stedino assured her that she was actually performing a lobbyist's function for him.

For it was political networking that Foster undertook to perform for Stedino even before he began raining gifts on her; she quickly became valuable on her own and not as a conduit to Sbrocca. From her grab bag of chamber contacts, she pulled the names of legislators and others and encouraged them to meet with Stedino to discuss legalized gambling. It was she who sent in state senator Chuy Higuera, who was to become the first of the AzScam defendants to go to jail. She also sent others--Stan Barnes and Tony West--who didn't bite. The role of networker wasn't a new one for Foster. In fact, she did nothing for Stedino that she hadn't done for others, for free. A local banker who asked not to be named, a member of the chamber, says that "people phoned me to do business from all over the state because of Shiree Foster. She was really good at saying, 'You should go see Steve.'" She really cared about helping out the business climate.

She cared, he says, but she didn't do much screening. "She was the type who just tried to put Party A with Party B and you did your own due diligence," he says. "She introduced me to some people who from day one I thought were flaky." The banker describes Foster's role with Stedino as "typical Shiree Foster--trying to help people out and maybe make herself feel more important."

"My number one reason for introducing Stedino to anyone wasn't for the money," says Foster, adding that she worked no harder for Stedino than for other chamber members. "It was because I wanted Arizona's economy to do well. I thought gaming would stimulate the economy."
Upon closer questioning, she admits it wasn't the only motive: She also was concerned for her job. She says she was under tremendous pressure at work to bring in more big-business members, and that Stedino had promised her all his casinos would join once gambling was legalized. "I was looking at my career, wanting to do the best job I could, thinking my boss is going to be tickled pink when he sees this one," she says. "I wanted Stedino to be happy."

She wanted it on more than one level: Despite their professed friendship and her dependence on him, she was a little afraid of Stedino. It is easy to see why upon reading the transcripts: Hand-in-hand with proclaiming his affection, Stedino undermined Foster's self-esteem and intimidated her. This is not a difficult thing to do: Foster's associates describe her as a "pleaser" who will subjugate her own views, and she rarely gives herself a break: Even when she is managing to stick up for herself, she is usually simultaneously putting herself down. (My father told me I was dumb," she recounts during an interview, with some resentment. "But I'm not sure I am that dumb.")

She is, in short, a woman who often feels controlled by her need for friends and associates and who does nothing to free herself, a theme that surfaces again and again in the transcripts and in present-day conversations. "I like for people to like me, Tony. . . . It's the story of my life," she told Stedino. "Either they get what they want from me . . . or they drop me. I can't ever have a relationship with people because either I play it their way or 'Screw you, Shiree . . . I don't care if you were laying in traffic, I'm not gonna pull you out of there.'"

She was never a match for the wily Stedino.
He berated her for forgetting to return a call, saying that she had failed a "test." He told her that he gave only one chance to his friends--that once they had revealed themselves to be less than true, he would never have them back. As he was dispensing constant advice, he backhandedly chided her for needing it, calling her a "babe in the woods." He accused her of chasing around after men to the point that Foster feared he was having her watched. He criticized Sbrocca as worthless, then accused Foster of wanting to go back to him.

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