AZSCAM'S BOMBSHELL

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

"That's okay, that's okay," said Foster. "I'm worried about this thing with you. . . . I just wish you would just, um . . . get out til the smoke clears or something."
Still unaware of the true nature of their friendship, she called back that afternoon to report to Stedino every word that she and Collier had exchanged. She asked him this about Collier's curiosity about her role in introducing legislators to Stedino: "Why would they be pressuring me about introductions? What's the deal on that?"

When she read about AzScam and "Tony Vincent" in the Republic, she was relieved that Stedino was a cop instead of the gangster some part of her had suspected. She still didn't know she was in trouble. She called Stedino on his beeper, unable to believe they weren't still friends. She wanted him to explain the "sting" to her directly.

She never heard from him again.
@rule:
@body:"When she came in here, she was like the scene in Bambi where the mother says, 'Run, Bambi, run!' And he runs and runs and runs and then looks for his mother. She was lost," says Jones of his first meeting with Foster.

If you spend much time with her today, she doesn't seem to have found her way, although she pays determined lip service to it. "AzScam has been nothing but positive for me. I have dealt with things in my past, the need to please," she says one day. "It's okay to be me." The smile she flashes begins and ends with her lips.

But a day or two later, she telephones to cancel an appointment, her voice choked with tears. She holes up by herself for days, citing "depression" and "pressure." (These same complaints surfaced often in her conversations with Stedino; they are themes in her life.) Her boyfriend, Armand Verdone, says she has had "four bad days to one good day" since he met her last September, and Verdone figures it's all because of AzScam. He says, "She needs continual reassurance."

And yet some of her friends believe AzScam has changed her for the better. "She is a very attractive woman and I think she lived off those looks--going to nice places, having boyfriends that would spend money on her for clothing," says attorney Jones. "But I think she has opened her eyes as to who her friends are in life--that people can act like friends and not be friends, and not just Stedino. I think she realized that a lot of those high rollers are like that."

If she realized it, it wasn't until she'd received a few more hard knocks, however. She says that the months after AzScam were ones of continuing disillusionment. First Sbrocca was indicted, making her wonder, "Is he also not the man he claimed?" Then, she says, she began dating a fellow who turned out to be a con man wanted by the Scottsdale police. "He ended up stealing my credit cards," she says. "The police wanted me to meet him somewhere and help them nab him." (She declined.)

And then there was the out-of-state lawyer, who didn't bother to telephone her during an entire week when she was stressed out and ill. (I'm tired of being put on the back burner," she says, another refrain she lobbed frequently at Stedino when discussing her relationships with men.)

It has all seemed a continuation of themes, as did the job she briefly held after leaving the chamber: She says she was sexually harassed. "My boss was always grabbing me and propositioning me, saying, 'You need this job, you'll never find another one with that indictment hanging over your head,'" she claims. "He came to see me three times at night and I huddled down in my kitchen because I didn't want him to see me through the miniblinds."

The experience, together with Stedino's published revelations about the leers of the Phoenix police, has been salt in her wounds. "I feel like such a fool," she says. "I feel so degraded."

Although maybe it is over now; she says that she wouldn't trade boyfriend Verdone "for anything." Her job at his car dealership is a welcome success experience, although she still misses the days of heady networking at the chamber. (She also misses having a salary; she complains one day that having Verdone simply pay her rent and other bills directly rather than put her on the payroll undercuts her independence. She declares feelingly that unless he starts paying her, she'll stop going in to work. Asked later whether their salary dispute is resolved, Verdone says, "I am not offering any response on that. I am just telling you that I don't think you should be printed that, period.")

Foster spent the holiday season doing outreach with Verdone's customers, dropping off gift baskets and checking to be sure their experiences with the dealership were all they'd hoped. Verdone says he couldn't be more pleased with the results, and that he will expand her PR responsibilities for as long as Shiree wants to continue working for him. "I have not really had a blond girlfriend before," he confides. "I have always had this image of blondes. But Shiree is very, very intelligent.

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