A NEW CHARACTER ENTERS AZSCAM
The vacant expression in Joe Stedino's eyes shocks me. I expect him to look more menacing, more unfeeling, like a Mafia soldier from a Mario Puzo novel.
But instead Stedino seems vulnerableÏperhaps a little lost. For years he has suffered from a panic disorder. In order to raise the courage to go out in public each day, he must take pills to drive the ghosts from the shadows.
At six foot three and 240 pounds, Joe Stedino is a man who passed his 50th birthday without friends. And his business acquaintances shun him as much as possible.
In the courtroom, former state senator Carolyn Walker avoids making eye contact with him. Ron Tapp, the other defendant, makes it a point to duck his head whenever Stedino glances his way.
Defense attorney Murray Miller accuses Stedino of being a killer, and demands that a police officer be placed next to Stedino to protect all from harm. Joe Stedino could laugh about this if people weren't taking it all so seriously.
Now it is recess time. Looking tired, Stedino pushes open the door of Judge Michael Ryan's sixth-floor courtroom.
He stands alone in the hall, staring at the opposite wall.
People stand apart from him, giving him space. Stedino remains alone. No one approaches. No one nods hello. Everyone pretends that Joe Stedino, the famous sting man, isn't even there in that quiet hall with them.
During the entire AzScam investigation, Stedino managed to become friends with one manÏDeputy County Attorney George Mount.
No one should be surprised this happened.
You don't have to watch the tapes of Stedino's interviews with the doomed legislators very long to see that he possesses natural charm. He is good at small talk. He is a natural entertainer. In some circles, he might be referred to as a great bullshitter.
During a botched criminal career that has seen him convicted and sent to prison three times, Stedino has developed a quick wit and an abundance of fascinating stories. He tells them well. He would make a great guest for Jay Leno. At least for one night.
Mount and Stedino dined together often in Stedino's rented apartment. Mount trusted him. So they became unlikely friends, this county attorney and his sting man.
But Stedino can't help himself. He is seemingly star-crossed. Stedino has since been forced to admit under oath that Mount ordered him to lie while Stedino was giving a deposition.
So now Mount is under indictment, too. Another friendship on the rocks.
Mount, who undertook the AzScam investigation, thinking it would be the crowning act of his 20-year prosecuting career, sees himself on the brink of destruction. He has gone underground. He will be tried later.
Since that time it has been learned that Mount also knew that Stedino, a three-time loser, was carrying guns wherever he went for self-protection. Mount also may have made the grievous error of telling Stedino secret grand-jury information. That's another case for later on.
So people talk to Stedino these days at their own peril.
Social ostracism is the price Joe Stedino pays for being the undercover informant in the biggest political sting in Arizona history. But Stedino's financial arrangements with the police and County Attorney's Office indicate he'll come out of it with financial security.
Later this month, Stedino's book, What's in It for Me?, will be in the bookstores. Written with Dary Matera, it's Stedino's own story. Read it carefully and you will get a different view from the one you've read in the daily newspapers.
It is written in a simple, straightforward style, without animosity. And there is so much vicious gossip that it's hard to put it down. When there is an index at the back to check out the names it will be an endless resource of political gossip in the state. In the end, Stedino comes out just as much a victim as Carolyn Walker.
They were both used by the system, and both will end up badly.
But the most amazing character to come out of What's in It for Me? is Rich Scheffel, once the most-skilled and highest-paid lobbyist in the state.
Scheffel was reportedly making more than $250,000 a year when caught up in the sting. Scheffel decided to roll over and help with the sting the moment he was arrested.
But then Scheffel hired Tom Henze, his next-door neighbor, who is one of the best criminal lawyers in Arizona. From then on, Scheffel never did do anything that helped the sting.
Scheffel has dropped out of sight. His case will be disposed of much later, when the heat dies down.
This may not seem significant to you until you learn the extent of the role Scheffel played in Stedino's make-believe world.
Since every meeting Stedino had with Scheffel was either filmed or recorded, this book, which relies heavily on transcripts, gives us an astonishing record as to the manner in which Arizona lobbyists perform.
No wonder no outside force has ever been able to make the hundreds of lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State's Office reveal more than a bare minimum about their relationships with the men and women who make our laws.
Scheffel was brought into the sting by Representative Bobby Raymond several months into the operation.
Rich Scheffel and I have done enough business together to land both of us in jail for a long, long time," Raymond told Stedino.
He knows where every body is buried. He knows what buttons to push." Raymond explained how Scheffel operated.
Probably the most controversial bill he ever got through was the chiropractor bill. You couldn't fathom how controversial that bill was. Every major insurance company in the United States came down against it.
They hate chiropractors. They didn't want to be forced to pay for chiropractic visits. The bill set chiropractors on the same playing field as doctors." Scheffel not only represented the chiropractors but also Anheuser-Busch beer and R.J. Reynolds tobacco and all the race tracks.
Raymond went on singing Scheffel's praises. If Stedino wanted legalized gambling in Arizona passed by the state legislature, then Scheffel was the man for the job. ²ÔI watched him kill the cigarette tax last year. I mean the bill never even got up to committee, just boom, dead. The beer industry is constantly in legislation." According to Raymond, Scheffel could pull the strings on 14 of the 22 Democratic House members.
I don't think there's but about two other people that Rich does the kind of deals he does with me. One is Art Hamilton, and he is a major key to this.
Rich does business with Art. I mean, Art travels all over the United States and Rich takes care of it, somehow. Art makes $20-30,000 a year in speaking fees for R.J. Reynolds and for Anheuser-Busch, who are Rich's clients.
You see, Scheffel's a dealer. Don't you understand? He's a player." When Stedino finally met Scheffel, he had this reaction: The big-time political fixer I'd been hearing about for months was a short, bald, bespectacled guy. He was smart, glib, well-connected. Even his wife was tied in. She was the administrative assistant for Francis X. Gordon, the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
He informed me that he had decided to accept me as a client. For that he wanted a cool $20,000 for the remaining days of 1990Ïsome decent coin considering that the legislature wasn't in session. After that, he wanted $90,000 for 1991." As an introduction, Scheffel discussed bundling checks and buying legislators. He then went quickly through the legislators directory, jotting down their prices next to their pictures.
When Stedino told Scheffel he would like to hire him, Scheffel reached immediately into his pocket and pulled out a contract for Stedino to sign.
Scheffel went to work at once.
He jumped on my phone," Stedino writes, and began a series of calls asking people to let him use their names. Included were some of his chiropractor friends. Although it was illegal to allow one's name to be used to cloak someone else's political contributions, Scheffel didn't receive a single turndown. The Arizona system had been greased right down to the local shoemaker." Throughout the rest of the book, Scheffel keeps popping into Stedino's office to pick up money to deliver to lawmakers. Several of the drops are to House Majority Leader Art Hamilton and Senator Alan Stephens. Stedino says the total was $68,000.
One day, Scheffel arrives for a $20,000 payment.
Stedino hands it over to him. In cash.
You know," Scheffel says, this isn't the kind of state where you gotta hit people with twenty grand." I guess he was speaking for everyone but himself," Stedino writes in a wry aside.
Scheffel turns out to be tougher than Stedino thought.
When AzScam starts to unravel, the insiders suspect that lobbyist Ernie Hoffman has been doing the talking.
Scheffel suggests that someone stick an ice pick in Hoffman's ear.
Later, at a meeting, Scheffel describes his own predicament. At the same time, he clearly implicates Hamilton and Stephens:
We did this for Art and Alan. They named the people they wanted the money to go to. They haven't forgotten that, I mean, let's be honest here. They don't want this investigation to go very far, either...I'll tell you what...I'm a wimp. You know, I've got a $250,000-, $300,000-a-year business, I'm not getting rich, but I do okay. I get nailed with one campaign violation and I'm history. I mean, I'm history! Hell, I got a wife and kids..." Not long after this, the door of Stedino's office opened and Jim Keppel of the County Attorney's Office and half a dozen police officers entered. They informed Scheffel that the game was over.
They set up a video monitor and began to play back some of Scheffel's conversations with Stedino.
Keppel advised Scheffel that he could be of great help to the police in completing the case against Stephens.
I think Stephens is scared to death," Keppel said, and you think so too, but Alan would give you up in a New York minute." Keppel then explained to Scheffel what charges he was facing.
First, this is an overall conspiracy to ...bribe public officials, money laundering, hindering prosecution and filing false campaign disclosures.
Second, since your involvement in this case, you participated in a criminal syndicate, which is a Class 2 felony, you participated in the bribery of Bobby Raymond, the bribery of Art Hamilton, the bribery of Alan Stephens, the bribery of Jim Hartdegen...and a judge could stack these sentences if you were convicted of these crimes." Stedino watched in awe.
Keppel's speech was so frighteningly effective it made me squirm," Stedino writes. I had no idea the crimes went that deep. I could only imagine how Rich was feeling." Scheffel sat down. He had trouble catching his breath.
Then Scheffel said:
I guess the first question I should ask you is, would it be advisable for me to get some legal counsel?"
FARMING'S BARREN LEGACY IN OTHER PLACES,... v6-03-92
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.