After last week's column about Dr. William Bartel, the Paradise Valley dentist, there were some interesting phone calls.
Dr. Bartel, 46, has, of course, pleaded guilty to being involved, along with his wife and sister, in a cocaine conspiracy. He faces ten years in a federal prison and a $4 million fine.
The first call came from an old friend.
"I haven't read your column yet," he said. "But Al Burke, the real estate man, has. He's a good friend. He says you've made a big error. He'd like to talk to you about it."
My insecurity knows no bounds. I had no idea who Al Burke was.
"Which column?" I asked.
My friend didn't know.
"Can I give him your home number?"
"Sure," I said.
A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Burke. He explained immediately that he was Dr. Bartel's father-in-law.
Burke told me I'd been wrong when I described the $3 million in bonds found in Bartel's safe-deposit box as being part of the drug proceeds.
"You wrote that the police found $3 million in bonds in Dr. Bartel's safe-deposit box," Burke said. "That makes everyone assume he was a big dope dealer.
"Those bonds are actually mine," Burke said. "I'm 62 years old and I've been selling real estate in this area most of my life. That's money I've set aside for my retirement."
Burke said that he travels a great deal. For safety reasons, he decided to put the $3 million in the safe-deposit box rented by his daughter, Jody, and her husband, Dr. Bartel.
When FBI agents seized the bonds, they assumed they belonged to Dr. Bartel.
Burke was forced to hire Michael Hawkins, the former U.S. attorney, to represent him. Hawkins demonstrated Burke's ownership to the satisfaction of the FBI, and the bonds were finally returned to him late last week.
Perhaps it's something in the water. But I'm always surprised by the unusual things that turn up in Arizona. Why does someone willingly burrow $3 million away in the only place where it won't gather interest?
Why can't a man who has managed to save $3 million rent his own safe-deposit box? Better still, why not put the funds in a regular savings account where the annual interest rate would stagger the minds of ordinary wage earners?
I must admit I didn't ask Burke these things. It wasn't lack of curiosity, merely an embarrassing lack of knowledge about how money works.
Burke expressed more sorrow than anger at Dr. Bartel's cocaine involvement.
"I think it's a tragedy for my two grandchildren and my daughter," he said. "Dr. Bartel has ruined their lives and his own. He's been a good son but he's made a terrible mistake.
"His parents are hardworking people who are now up in their eighties. His father worked in a textile mill on Long Island.
"Ask around about him. He had a wonderful dentistry practice and he worked hard at it. The stories in the Arizona Republic make it look like he's rolling in money with the implication that it all came from drugs.
"He and my daughter live in a thirty-year-old house which they bought for $50,000 a long time ago. Later, they put another $10,000 into it. When they tried to sell it, they didn't get a single offer.
"They bought a secondhand Mercedes-Benz for $20,000.
"Now, the government has taken both their home and their car."
I actually do know several people who've been Dr. Bartel's dental patients for years. They say he's a terrific dentist, and they don't know how they're going to replace him.
That's understandable. After a certain stage, we become almost incapable of switching dentists, barbers or service stations.
But Dr. Bartel's patients will most certainly be forced to find a new man. His license to practice dentistry has been stripped.
The length of time he spends in prison will probably depend on how important his testimony is in helping the government convict the others in the case.
This has become the most highly visible cocaine case in recent memory. I rarely believe the inflated figures released by the police. So it's their own fault that we've grown bored by their inadequate attempts at drug interdiction.
Every arrest is generally followed by a press conference and the boast that it is the biggest drug bust in Arizona history. This time, Dr. Bartel had 81 pounds in his car and a freezer at his home.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
He may be every bit as nice a guy as his father-in-law maintains. But with 81 pounds, he's got to be considered a fairly serious player in the cocaine game.
Why can't a man who has managed to save $3 million rent his own safe-deposit box?
"The stories in the Arizona Republic make it look like he's rolling in money with the implication that it all came from drugs."