Dirty Tricks

A call to an ex-gubernatorial candidate's campaign cell phone is linked to forged documents used to slam Napolitano and Salmon.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety investigation has linked a call to former independent gubernatorial candidate Dick Mahoney's cell phone to forged state Attorney General's office documents circulated to the press last September.

The The fake documents appeared to be internal AG memoranda strongly suggesting that then-Attorney General Janet Napolitano was covering up appalling conditions in a fundamentalist Mormon polygamous enclave in Colorado City.

After discovering last winter that the documents were bogus, DPS investigators asked Mahoney and long-time aide Sam Vagenas to voluntarily submit to interviews after not only Mahoney's phone records but also Vagenas' were linked to a woman whose name appears in the forgeries.

Mahoney and Vagenas refused to meet with authorities, and referred investigators to their attorneys. Inexplicably, the DPS did not pursue the case further, and Attorney General Terry Goddard's office declined to prosecute earlier this month, citing a lack of evidence.

While Mahoney and Vagenas were mentioned frequently in the DPS' investigation report, they were never identified as suspects. Neither could be reached for comment. Mahoney is said to be out of the country while Vagenas is traveling in California with business associate and University of Phoenix founder John Sperling.

Vagenas was Mahoney's media consultant during last fall's gubernatorial campaign. A former girlfriend of Vagenas' told a DPS investigator that Vagenas "was in charge finding dirt" on Napolitano and Republican candidate Matt Salmon and producing "negative television ads" for the campaign.

The DPS investigation found that several calls were placed between phones listed as belonging to Mahoney, Vagenas and someone identified in the forged documents as Stephanie Lynn Olsen, who reportedly had been beaten and raped in Colorado City. DPS efforts to locate Olsen have been unsuccessful.

A call between Olsen's phone and Mahoney's campaign cell phone occurred one day after the bogus documents were anonymously faxed last September 26 to New Times and the Arizona Republic.

It should be noted that while the documents themselves are fake, most of the allegations contained in them have been substantiated by New Timesduring a 10-month investigation of Colorado City polygamists started immediately after the materials were leaked. New Times has confirmed that incest, rape, coerced marriages of underage girls into polygamy, welfare abuse and weapons violations indeed have occurred in the polygamous enclave north of the Grand Canyon along the Arizona-Utah border.

Napolitano asked the DPS to initiate its criminal investigation into the authenticity of the leaked documents last October 4 during the final weeks of the tightly contested gubernatorial campaign. The probe concluded that a three-page memo that appeared to have been prepared by the Attorney General's special investigations unit, a letter to Napolitano from purported rape victim Olsen and an affidavit submitted to Mohave County authorities were all forgeries.

The "special investigations" document contained the handwritten initials "TM," which, the DPS concluded, were forged to simulate the signature of Tina McMillon, an investigations supervisor for the AG's office. The documents appear to have been sent to the newspapers from a fax machine in the basement of the state Department of Corrections headquarters in Phoenix.

After receiving the documents, New Times conducted a series of interviews with the Attorney General's office and independent sources. The AG's office substantiated "investigatory aspects" raised in the documents and confirmed that the office had conducted a two-year criminal investigation into polygamy-related issues in Colorado City that had resulted in no arrests.

Several days later, the AG's office declared the documents were forgeries -- after New Timeshad already gone to press with a story based on them. The article appeared on October 3, and stories also appeared in the Republic.

Within days, the Mahoney campaign began using the news accounts as the basis for television commercials that raised the specter of a possible violent confrontation in Colorado City reminiscent of the Branch Davidian conflagration in Waco, Texas. The commercials featured a Phoenix woman named Flora Jessop, who maintains she was raped and beaten while living in Colorado City in the 1980s.

In one ad, Mahoney accused Napolitano of inaction and covering up the mistreatment of women in Colorado City. In another, he claimed that Salmon, if elected, would not address the problems related to polygamy because he is a Mormon.

Mahoney's television commercials ripping his opponents were widely criticized at the time as slimy and misleading. A Republic editorial compared Mahoney to a cockroach.

Salmon says Mahoney's TV ads may have cost him the election because it appears to have discouraged thousands of Christian Republicans from voting for him because of concerns about his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints. Ironically, the Salt Lake City-based Mormon church disavowed polygamy in 1890 and claims to have excommunicated anyone practicing it since, including the fundamentalist Mormons in Colorado City.

"His commercials hurt us very badly," Salmon says.

Napolitano could not be reached for comment.

She narrowly defeated Salmon in one of the closest gubernatorial elections in state history. Her margin of victory was 11,819 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast. Mahoney came in a distant third.

Mahoney ran for governor as a clean-elections candidate and received more than $1.69 million in public funds for his campaign. He spent several hundred thousand dollars on the Colorado City TV ads in the last few weeks of the campaign.

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