A COP EXONERATED
On September 18, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Susan Bolton quietly dismissed criminal charges against Lorne Shantz, the state Department of Public Safety cop accused of knowingly distributing pornography through his computer bulletin board, the Wish Book.
For months, Shantz had endured the cool stares of his neighbors, the pressure of a dwindling savings account and the stress put on his new bride, Jennifer, who never imagined the sweet-natured highway patrolman she married would lose his job and be branded a child pornographer ("Prosecution of an Information Highway Patrolman," June 29).
Shantz is pleased to know he won't be going to jail. Shantz's attorney, Peter Balkan, claims "total victory." The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning charges can't be refiled, and Shantz's only concession was agreeing to a permanent injunction stipulating that the CD-ROMs bearing the images in question be destroyed and that he refrain from putting the same images on the bulletin board again. He had volunteered to do that months ago.
But Lorne Shantz is far from satisfied. He's unemployed. He's broke. The Wish Book, once his pride and joy, is now an expensive chore; he might shut it down altogether. Only two of his DPS colleagues called when news of his exoneration spread. Shantz understands. He believes they're scared.
He's not as understanding when it comes to County Attorney Rick Romley and his prosecutors. Shantz says they still don't acknowledge that he was just a librarian--unaware that the offensive material was even on the bulletin board--and that the real criminals are the ones who created the obscene images.
Shantz created the Wish Book in the late Eighties, and, at the urging of many customers, added an adult section. Authorized users uploaded and downloaded files containing adult-oriented images. Later, Shantz added eight CD-ROMs, each of which can hold about 5,000 images. The images in question--which Shantz claims he has never seen--allegedly included acts of bestiality, sadomasochism and child pornography. They were contained on CD-ROMs Shantz purchased from a St. Louis mail-order firm called The Market Place. There has been no word of any intention to file charges against The Market Place.
"As far as I'm concerned, this is terrorism," Shantz says of the treatment he received from the County Attorney's Office. ". . . I would like to know where I can get my reputation back."
Shantz was indicted by a grand jury in March on 20 counts of possession and distribution of obscene materials. In June, Judge Bolton sent the case to a second grand jury, after it was revealed that the prosecution had bungled the first one.
The first grand jury had voted to indict Shantz without hearing his testimony--a defendant's seldom-exercised right. Prosecutor Gail Thackeray admitted she had erred in not calling Shantz and asked the grand jurors if they wanted to hear from him. They did, and he testified without knowing he already had been indicted. After hearing Shantz, the same grand jury voted to indict again. Bolton ruled that that was unfair.
The second grand jury heard Shantz's testimony before it indicted him. It made a difference.
"I just told them the truth . . . 'Hey, I didn't know that stuff was there,'" Shantz recalls. "And I explained it to them, that I only had three years left before I was eligible to retire. Why would I throw that all away just for a couple disgustingly filthy pictures that nobody would care to see anyhow?"
Shantz gave the grand jury copies of the New Times article that examined the case and revealed that DPS Officer Andy Vidaure, the lead investigator in the Shantz case, had admitted to having a sexual relationship with a woman who worked as an undercover drug informant for DPS. Vidaure, who is married, admitted he used his DPS car to travel to the woman's home, sometimes during working hours, while he was assigned to the elite detail that protects the governor.
For his indiscretions, Vidaure was punished with four days' suspension, without pay.
As he distributed copies of the article, Shantz says he told the grand jury, "'This is the only independent, third-party investigation that I'm aware of. Don't listen to what I have to say. Listen to what her investigation [revealed].'"
He adds, "A couple of the jurors, in my mind, looked like they had already made up their mind. Their arms were crossed and they didn't even look at the handouts I handed out. Some of the others seemed genuinely interested in doing the right thing. They were asking a lot of questions; I felt like they were actually hearing what I had to say. [Balkan and I] went away feeling like, 'Hey, if we don't get it now, nothing will change their minds.'"
The second grand jury voted to end the inquiry, rather than indict. "Peter [Balkan] says that they'll indict a ham sandwich. He was just amazed," Shantz says.
Romley issued a written statement, in which he says, "In the new emerging arena of computer technology, the potential for abuse is overwhelming. The ability to portray obscene material including acts which seriously exploit children is frightening. In this case, two grand juries came to different conclusions about Mr. Shantz's intent to distribute this obscenity. This permanent injunction is a warning to Mr. Shantz and others that they have a legal responsibility to monitor their computer bulletin boards or face further action."
Now Shantz is waiting to get his computer equipment back from DPS. The rest will take longer.
Jennifer is starting to smile again, and days after the case was dismissed, Shantz appears more relaxed than he has in months. At his central Phoenix home, a TV talk show and Sydney, a gray parrot, blare from a back bedroom. Otherwise, the house is still. Jennifer's at work.
Shantz spends his days maintaining the Wish Book. Until recently, he did research for his criminal defense. Now he'll focus on getting his job back. He was fired from DPS in March, the day after he was indicted.
Although the case has been dismissed, DPS does not intend to give the 14-year veteran his job back, says department spokesman Sergeant Dave Myers.
"His status . . . with the department is unchanged," Myers says, adding that he won't comment further because Shantz has an appeal pending with the Arizona Law Enforcement Merit System Council.
That hearing alone will cost Shantz another $25,000 in legal fees. (He won't disclose how much he owes Balkan.) Shantz doesn't have it; he wonders if Balkan will accept his house on retainer. He's using the Wish Book as a way to raise some money, appealing to users to donate to his defense fund. So far, he's raised about $5,000.
Last week, Shantz put a message on the Wish Book to all those who have followed his case. He explained the details of the case, made a plea for money, and concluded:
"For all of you out there that have already helped, my wife and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts! I know thanks isn't enough and I've kept all the return addresses that we have and intend on sending out a thank you once this is resolved. No sense in sending it out now. I'd rather wait until the final disposition. I've not forgotten you and without your help, by now I wouldn't even have this computer in which to thank you! God bless you for believing in me and having the decency to help with action. Thanks again. I hate asking for help, but I don't know where else to turn.
"Lorne and Jennifer Shantz
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.