Deep Fix

As the stylishly draped litigator who ran Attorney General Grant Woods' staff of 301 lawyers, Rob Carey was the most powerful prosecutor in Arizona. Carey is cocky, urbane and intellectually intimidating, attributes that might have hung more gracefully from the frame of an older, less ambitious man; having taken over the office at the age of 30, Carey had an obsession with work that inspired as much antagonism as affection.

Whatever others thought of the results, he wielded his authority with a competence that was surprising in someone with so little seasoning.

It was Carey's leadership that allowed his staff to uncover the corruption at the foundation of Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-reduction program for state government. Carey's probe revealed that Symington's deputy chief of staff, George Leckie, was in the middle of bid-rigging that guaranteed Symington's personal accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand, would receive a total of $4.6 million in state contracts.

Carey not only found the rot at the bottom of Project SLIM, but he did so after County Attorney Richard Romley had investigated the scandal and cleared his political ally, Governor Symington.

The Attorney General's Office extracted nearly $800,000 in fines from Coopers & Lybrand and Leckie, as well as agreements that they would no longer conduct business with the state.

It was a great career victory for Carey, and it also qualified him as something of a hero to the people of Arizona--or would have, if they'd ever known the whole story.

Instead, Carey's poisonous relationship with his secretary--a relationship full of enmity stoked by human frailties--buried his career.

Deborah Vasquez was Carey's secretary for a rocky 17 months. Her stomach still curdles at the mention of his name. When she left the office last May, the air sooted with recriminations on both sides, Vasquez believed she knew how to snatch away this high-flier's plumage. She thought she had the goods on Carey.

Vasquez took her bitter charges of financial wrongdoing to Carey's political opponents, the press and a grand jury.

And as her allegations made headlines, the news media ignored her animosity toward Carey and the petty nature of her complaints.

In January, County Attorney Richard Romley, armed with Vasquez's stones, threatened Carey with a multicount indictment about the management of a small trust fund in the Attorney General's Office.

Behind the scenes, Carey was offered a choice: He could admit wrongdoing, resign and make restitution--or face indictment.

Today, one month later, the lawyers on both sides are still positioning for leverage. It is unclear whether there will be a plea bargain or prosecution.

There is more to Romley's desire to convict Carey than a prosecutor's zeal. The two men were widely expected to be the leading contenders for the attorney general's seat, once Woods left it to seek the governor's chair. Now, though, Romley has crippled his rival with a grand jury.

The political fallout from Vasquez's charges is, however, less important than the way those charges have dominated headlines and allowed Romley to abuse his life-and-death powers as a prosecutor.

Worse still, the Vasquez side show has obscured Romley's highly questionable role in Project SLIM. In fact, the Project SLIM bidding scandal, the largest white-collar fraud ever perpetrated on state government, simply disappeared from the evening news once Vasquez surfaced.

Carey's sins were minor. In-depth interviews and review of extensive records show he exercised poor judgment in an area of the law so arcane and murky that no one, except Richard Romley, can see the crime.

Through nine months of publicity, the auditor general, the state treasurer, a former attorney general and other experts on political contributions took this public position on Carey's handling of the trust fund: yes, no and maybe.

Corporate donors, all of whom were eager to help the attorney general, gave easily to the trust fund, which was used to pay for conferences and other sideline activities of the Attorney General's Office. Romley now charges the donors weren't fully informed about expenditures from the fund and that bookkeeping for the fund was sloppy.

Romley's interpretation--that this muddled situation constitutes criminal behavior--is a breathtaking stretch of prosecutorial discretion.

By making this reach, however, Romley was able to use Vasquez to bring down Carey.

It is not hyperbole to say that the press's unblinking readiness to trumpet the allegations of a self-styled whistle-blower for nine months created an atmosphere that allowed Romley and his investigators to grind away until Carey was little more than dry seed caught between mortar and pestle.

And yet the record is clear: The problems Vasquez had with Carey were personal, not criminal.

To know this, you don't have to look any further than the record of her pending litigation.  

Vasquez took the first step in filing a lawsuit over her resignation from the Attorney General's Office when she entered a $15million notice of claim with the State Office of Risk Management. The claim listed a tinker's grab bag of injuries. Her targets were the attorney general and Rob Carey.

Vasquez painted a vivid image for the state examiners of the now-35-year-old Carey; he was a spoiled, rich, embezzling autocrat who, on the few occasions when he was actually in the office, spent most of his time screaming and cursing at Vasquez.

It was no great mystery to Vasquez why the first assistant attorney general was always yelling at her.

Plainly said, Rob Carey was a pig.
"There's no way he would have talked to a man that way, because a man would have gotten up and probably thrown him clear across the room. ... He basically is a man who has no respect for women. He's the type of man that uses young, pretty women, and that pretty much disgusted me in itself. I could hear him having conversations with Grant Woods and his other friends about these women. He would take them out for a very short time and use them and sleep with them and then have me blow them off when they would call him on the phone ..."

Vasquez recalled for the state's examiners how Carey rationalized jumping from one young thing to another, never able to pay more than fleeting attention to any woman.

"[He joked that it] could be considered 'post-ejaculation deficit disorder.'"

Vasquez was not amused.
If the source of trouble in the Attorney General's Office--Carey's misogyny--comes as a surprise, that is understandable.

No one in the daily press has spoken about the dark currents that washed back and forth between Vasquez and Carey.

As Vasquez's more volatile charges of secret slush funds played out in the media month after month, journalists did not bother to question Vasquez closely. She was so clearly a sympathetic underdog--she had lost her job after helping to rescue a 5-year-old kidnap victim, Anna Ott--it was easy for reporters to assume Vasquez was truthful. The press did not check on her facts, talk to witnesses, review documents or examine the public record.

Nonetheless, every story--and scores were published--read plausibly, including the ones that were misleading or wrong. Even the worst articles had small facts that were essentially correct; what was missing was judgment, a sense of scale.

Though you've read articles about Deborah Vasquez for nine months, the secretary's real story is much more dramatic than the tale you think you know.

And because perspective was lost and fundamental questions were glossed over, a more complex and accurate understanding of the bad blood that existed between Vasquez and Carey never congealed. No one, except Vasquez and those who worked around her, knew that she despised everything about Carey.

Rather than ask if the poisoned relationship fueled--even inspired--Vasquez's allegations, the question was treated as an irrelevant personal matter.

Instead, Rob Carey's head was mounted on a pike.
According to Vasquez, Carey was a man who stole scholarships from poor black students in order to finance beer-soaked karaoke parties for the attorney general's lawyers in a lush Tucson resort.

This monstrous allegation was the basis for all the news stories that followed and the foundation of County Attorney Romley's investigation.

This charge was false, a grotesque caricature of reality.
Five hours of conversation with Vasquez, a review of the funds in question and examination of scores of related transcripts and interviews with her co-workers and supervisors show just how alarmingly off-base Vasquez was with her concerns.

In fact, Deborah Vasquez's muckraking was largely unfounded. Her simplest facts were askew. The corruptions and conspiracies were imagined. Even Carey's sexist attitude was not corroborated by those who worked alongside Vasquez. When she occasionally hit the nail on the head, the wrongdoing she revealed was picayune.

Romley's case, such as it is, hangs on sloppiness, not criminality.
Deborah Vasquez is a woman with an enormous heart. The problem is that her imagination is even larger. A small fact in her life can evolve into a Gothic novel with make-believe heroines and demons.

Sherri Van Horsen is a secretary who worked alongside Vasquez and whom Vasquez once described as a confidante.

"I don't know how often I heard Deborah tell me a problem of hers at the start of the day," says Van Horsen. "She'd tell everyone who came by her desk. By the end of the day, the story now had the National Guard involved, and Deborah was leading the charge."

If there were those who believed Deborah Vasquez was capable of histrionics, that belief did not save Rob Carey.  

A coffin awaits his public career.
And why is he breathing this death rattle? The conflict between Vasquez and Carey would not merit review and, surely, the secretary's allegations would not have attracted the obsessive attention of County Attorney Richard Romley were it not for Project SLIM.

Exactly how the county attorney used Vasquez's misguided allegations to ruin a talented prosecutor's career is a tale that will be told over the course of this series.

But it is clear exactly why Romley pursued Carey with such vigor.
While the Department of Justice was adding Project SLIM to its ongoing criminal investigation of Governor Symington, Romley used Vasquez's allegations and a compliant local press to divert attention from his office's failure to uncover multimillion-dollar corruption involving the closest associates of the governor.

In Arizona, a world turned upside down, the prosecutor who caught the bad guys in the bid-rigging, Rob Carey, was ruined by a political rival, County Attorney Richard Romley, who had originally let the perpetrators of Project SLIM off the hook.

On May 16, 1995, Attorney General Grant Woods turned the meeting over to his chief of staff, Rob Carey, and said, "Persuade me."

All of the top guns in the prosecutor's office turned and listened as Carey outlined the case and then handed the evidentiary presentation over to Suzanne Dallimore, the lead attorney in the Project SLIM probe.

"I don't think anyone had slept the night before," said one source. "Some were scared; there was a certain amount of fear and determination."

In the middle of the investigation Dallimore was now summarizing, a furious Governor Fife Symington had spearheaded a legislative effort to strip the Attorney General's Office of its entire civil division. Everyone in the room realized that the future of the attorney general, Grant Woods, and his office might ride on the outcome of this meeting.

Notorious for his wisecracking, Woods was pokerfaced throughout the session.
Participants in the meeting, mindful of the sitting grand jury investigating Carey, spoke on condition of anonymity.

It took all day to lay out the facts and answer Woods' questions.
But when it was all said and done, the attorney general had been convinced.
"This is corruption. It is corruption at the highest level of government. I'm not going to allow it on my watch," one observer remembers Woods concluding.

The declaration set into motion a damning chain of events that Governor Symington has not yet been able to stop--which is not how it had gone the first time around.

When allegations of bid-rigging on a multimillion-dollar Project SLIM contract first surfaced, the governor moved quickly to quell the publicity by asking his longtime political ally Richard Romley to look into the matter.

Because a dark cloud of suspicion hung over the Governor's Office, Woods and Carey believed it was improper for Symington to hand-pick the prosecutor who would examine the evidence. Furthermore, Romley could only investigate criminal aspects of the matter. He lacked jurisdiction to file a complaint in civil court, where, common sense said, the possible violations would be best prosecuted.

Woods went on record, in correspondence with Romley and in the press, saying that his office ought to do the investigation and that if Romley went forward, the attorney general reserved the right to review the results.

The jurisdictional dispute did not get the attention it deserved, which was understandable; Woods, after all, was more than mildly interested in replacing Symington in the Governor's Office.

Romley persisted with his probe and, a mere four months later, announced he could find no evidence of bidrigging, absolving Symington and his associates of any wrongdoing. Romley blamed the bid process for any perception of guilt.

Carey and his people then picked up the pieces. They ordered the 6,000-plus pages of documents accumulated by the county attorney's probe.

Romley's investigation was run by Barnett Lotstein, a man whose name provoked knowing glances in the Attorney General's Office, where he had once worked.

When Woods was voted into office in 1990, Carey personally demoted Lotstein from a position as head of the organized crime and racketeering division to a slot where, among other trivial tasks, he processed driver's-license revocations.

Now employed by the County Attorney's Office, Lotstein was regarded by Carey as little more than Romley's personal operative, a prosecutor with a suspect work ethic and a nose always sniffing the political winds.

Carey's prejudice was contagious.
"If someone killed my mother," said one of Carey's people, "I would not trust Barnett to do the investigation."

Carey's skepticism regarding Romley and Lotstein was not soothed when their investigative report on Project SLIM was published on July 7, 1994.  

To begin with, there was the matter of a series of phone calls between the governor's deputy chief of staff, George Leckie, and John Yeoman during the Project SLIM bid process. The county attorney had skimmed over these allimportant calls.

Leckie was serving on the committee that would award the SLIM contract.
Yeoman, the governor's campaign treasurer, was a partner with the Big Six accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand. He also prepared Symington's taxes and financial statements, controversial paperwork that was already the subject of the federal grand jury probe.

Coopers won the Project SLIM contract in September 1991 when the firm dropped its price at the last second by an astonishing $440,000. People on the selection committee suspected that Leckie had leaked the bids of competitors to Coopers through Yeoman. But it was nothing more than a hunch until state documents surfaced three years later.

Cell-phone records revealed that Leckie repeatedly called Yeoman after the Project SLIM selection committee's discussion of bids.

On Sunday, March 13, 1994, the Arizona Republic reviewed the paper trail of phone calls linking Leckie and Yeoman. The next day, a member of Symington's staff contacted Romley, who swung into action under the auspices of the grandly titled Public Integrity Task Force of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorney's Advisory Council.

In their report four months later, Romley and Lotstein acknowledged the phone calls back and forth between Leckie and Yeoman, but said there was no way to know what to make of them.

"There is no evidence to establish whether or not these phone calls were completed between Mr. Yeoman and Mr.Leckie," read the report.

Carey's people were incredulous. It was a matter of record that one of the phone calls lasted 22 minutes. Romley and Lotstein apparently believed Yeoman was on hold for nearly half an hour.

Evidence ignored by Romley was as interesting as the clues he could not explain.

One of Coopers' accountants, George Blanco, had told a county attorney's investigator something that not only aroused suspicion, but also triggered follow-up questions.

According to Blanco, Coopers staffers were slashing their bid on Project SLIM by hundreds of thousands of dollars days before they were officially informed that they could revise their price for a last and best bid.

Read the transcript of Blanco's interrogation and you get one clear notion: Coopers had inside dope.

"Typically, we were trying to get 100 percent of rate, but in general we'll go down and do work at 80 percent of rate in industry if we need to, if it's a competitive situation," Blanco said.

This time, though, Coopers shaved its bid on SLIM by an unprecedented 50 percent, Blanco told the investigator.

All the bidders for the SLIM contract were offered the chance to reduce their prices for a final offer. But no other bidder came within a country mile of Coopers' price reduction.

Romley and Lotstein ignored the testimony of Blanco in the summary of the county attorney's investigation.

The county attorney's report was troubling on another count.
Ronald Vincellette, a former Coopers manager who helped pitch the Project SLIM bid and who later sued the accounting firm over a fee dispute, told the county attorney his colleagues had the bid numbers of their competitors, thanks to Yeoman.

If the pattern of phone calls between Yeoman and Leckie was circumstantial evidence of bid-rigging, here was a key player admitting to Romley that the contract was crooked.

"Yeoman had told him [Joe Bonocore, a Coopers manager] who was on the short list and what the prices were. So we were a million nine, I believe; I think we were the high and I think somewhere around eight or nine hundred thousand was the low," Vincellette told county attorney's investigator Larry Martinsen.

Like a telemarketer with a hot prospect's phone number, Martinsen dialed in, prodding Vincellette for more details.

"We just talked about the fact that it was, we had to be very careful about the information. And I remember everybody being warned, and I couldn't even tell you who did it, make sure that nothing ever got out of that room.

"Because we weren't supposed to be getting that information."
Although Martinsen had the fat lady singing, Romley and Lotstein were more impressed with the dulcet chords orchestrated by opposition counsel.

Coopers & Lybrand had a smart lawyer. He did not challenge or belittle Romley and Lotstein for conducting an investigation, choosing instead to offer pleasant rationales for unpleasant facts.

Stephen Dichter mounted a defense that drew plaudits from those who watched it unfold. He not only told his client's story, he defused Vincellette's explosive charges by painting the man as a disgruntled former employee, thus providing Romley and Lotstein with a dignified avenue of retreat.  

The two prosecutors dismissed Vincellette's testimony. Like a couple of South Vietnamese colonels wishing to avoid engagement with the Viet Cong, Romley and Lotstein covered their retreat with a meaningless body count. Next to Vincellette's statement, they noted in their report, "All of the [other] representatives of Coopers & Lybrand denied that they had any inside information from the Consultant Evaluation Committee at any time during the evaluation process."

Carey was not overwhelmed by this analysis when he reviewed the investigation.

Of course, he thought, Coopers' senior partners would deny any wrongdoing. But where were all the interviews with the support staff that might have witnessed the suspected hanky-panky? And why hadn't a single subpoena been issued for paperwork?

It was all too pat.
Because Leckie and Yeoman denied talking about SLIM during the cell-phone calls, prosecutors wrote in their report: "...If [the calls were] completed, there is noevidence to ascertain the content of these conversations ..."

But when Carey examined the files the report was based upon, it was apparent why Romley and Lotstein were at a loss to explain the phone calls: No one wanted much to find out what actually had happened.

Lotstein's interrogation of Governor Symington was illuminating in that regard.

A transcript shows that when Lotstein interviewed the governor, he literally fed suggestions to Symington, leading his witness through the array of benign reasons that Leckie and Yeoman might have had for conversing with each other during the SLIM bidding process.

After establishing that Yeoman and Leckie were key players in Symington's election campaign and fund-raising efforts, the prosecutor continued his interview with the governor:

Lotstein: "In the course of that struggle, I assume you communicate with each other?"

Symington: "Oh, all the time, yeah."
Lotstein: "About things."
Symington: "Still do."
Lotstein: "About many subjects."
Symington: "Oh, yes, uh-huh."
Lotstein: "Other than Project SLIM, for example?"
Symington: "Oh, yeah, Pro ... , I mean, I . . . well, I mean, I..."

Lotstein: "Oh, I'm not intimating you communicated about Project SLIM. I meant you communicated about other subjects. There would be a reason for Mr. Leckie and Mr. Yeoman to communicate with each other on a regular basis."

Symington: "It was a necessity. ... We were always fund raising and doing events and, and of course we had our continuing filing requirements. We were always wrestling with the problems ... there were always issues."

Lotstein: "Would it be fair to say that, to your knowledge, Mr. Leckie and Mr. Yeoman had a continual relationship about matters involved in the past campaign, future campaigns, fund raising?"

Symington: "Right."
Lotstein: "Whatever other items that, that they would choose to talk about."
Symington: "That's correct."

Lotstein's helpful cross-examination was an unusual way for a prosecutor to approach a politician already swirling in a well-publicized federal investigation into alleged felony fraud.

At one point in the interview, Governor Symington spun a yarn about how he imagined the Project SLIM bid went down, a vision that all but had a brass band in the foreground playing "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Governor Symington concluded his oration, "Well, what are you going to do if you're in competition and you're concerned and, you know, you want to win?

"Well, you're going to drop the price. How much is up to you and your corporate strategy. But it seems to me that the way that process was set up and the fact that they were all called in at the end, to make their best and final offer, if I were a businessman, I'd sure respond to that."

"Yeah, I, I don't think there's any question that that's logical," responded Lotstein.

The prosecutor was such a mensch that he forgot to ask Symington one simple question: Had he told Leckie to steer the contract to the governor's accountants?

Lotstein was not so obsequious with every Arizona official he questioned. He had the head of state procurement, for example, chewing her nails to the quick.

Margaret McConnell oversaw the bid process on Project SLIM. When Coopers & Lybrand dropped its bid by $440,000, she was alarmed, terming it "extraordinary." According to one interview transcript, she feared that "someone has provided them with inside information."

The county attorney's lead investigator Martinsen was dispatched to interview her.

She told him at the outset that she was dismayed that she was reading sensitive material on the jurisdictional dispute between Woods and Romley--information obviously leaked from the County Attorney's Office--in the morning newspaper.

After their session, she dictated a memo.
"Mr. Martinsen basically indicated that the investigation was not confidential. ... He said that he had never been involved in an investigation like this before, that politics were clearly involved ..."  

McConnell concluded her memo apprehensively: "I am extremely concerned about the nature of this investigation. Under the circumstances, I have very serious doubts about the fairness of it, and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office's desire to discover the truth."

Her cover-your-behind memorandum was sent to the attorney general, who represents her office in day-to-day legal matters. In case the county attorney's investigation turned political, she wanted her doubts recorded in a confidential file.

The note did not remain confidential.
When Lotstein learned of its existence, he started hopping.
He immediately sent Martinsen back to interrogate McConnell a second time.

This was odd business indeed. After all, her doubts were only a repetition of what Martinsen had told her. Yet now he was quizzing her: "Just what did she mean?"

How could she possibly know what Martinsen had originally meant?
McConnell realized that she was now caught in a crossfire between the attorney general and the county attorney.

She told Martinsen she was "scared to death."
Now, you might presume that once informed of the contents of McConnell's memo, Lotstein would have sat his investigator down and asked, "What in God's name did you say to this woman? Do you think this investigation is rigged?"

The public record contains no file on an interrogation of Martinsen.
Nor does the Internal Affairs section of the County Attorney's Office contain a confidential file with the investigator's explanation, according to Lotstein.

Martinsen declined comment for this article, but his boss explained why there was no record of an interview with the investigator who allegedly believed the SLIM probe was fixed: There was no such interview.

Describing Martinsen as "very professional," Lotstein said last week that he couldn't imagine his man making comments questioning the county attorney's probe. So, Lotstein said, his concern was not with his investigator; because he feared McConnell had imagined the whole thing, Lotstein said, his concern focused on her.

Lotstein personally interviewed McConnell, in a clumsy effort to get her to change her testimony. It was her third session with the County Attorney's Office, making her one of the most interrogated subjects in the entire Project SLIM investigation.

The transcript is painful to read.
Lotstein belabors the horrified McConnell with a long list of his accomplishments when he was with the Attorney General's Office. He then recites for her, one by one, all of the people his office interviewed about Project SLIM.

"I wouldn't have sent it [the memo] now, even if you, if you hadn't told me how you conducted the investigation, okay?" confessed a mortified McConnell. "It's a nightmare, it's an absolute nightmare."

Lotstein closed upon his quarry and oozed her into submission.
"Based upon that information and based upon my experience, do you have any doubt at this moment that the County Attorney's Office or the Public Integrity Task Force is conducting a full, thorough and complete investigation? ... Would you have sent this memorandum now, knowing what you know? ... I don't want it to seem at all like we're pressing you or pressuring you to retract the comment that you made ... if it's not your desire to do so. ... Do you know any other steps we can take to conduct this investigation completely and thoroughly? ... Do you feel pressured in any way? ..."

"No, I don't," said McConnell, dissolving like a shortbread biscuit under Lotstein's gumming.

"I do retract that, that, that latter statement. I mean, I really, I really, truly do."

The triumphant Lotstein could not refrain from glancing over his shoulder at the territorial dispute between the county attorney and the attorney general.

Citing Rob Carey specifically, Lotstein asked if McConnell thought her memo "would be an appropriate basis, or your comments would be an appropriate basis for a secondary investigation?"

She most certainly did not.
Rob Carey thought otherwise.

As soon as County Attorney Richard Romley and his deputy Barnett Lotstein issued their report clearing Governor Symington, Coopers & Lybrand, George Leckie and John Yeoman, the second investigation began.

The first big break came when the attorney general located a critical witness ignored by Romley and Lotstein.

Although her name littered the 6,000 pages of documents in the red binders of the county attorney's investigation, Marge Kendall, Yeoman's secretary, was never interviewed until Carey decided to track her down in her new Maryland home.

Kendall, who had handled phone calls and correspondence between Yeoman and Leckie, informed Carey that her boss had received all of his competitors' bids before Coopers & Lybrand submitted its best and final offer; that is why Yeoman's firm had dropped its price by $440,000.  

"They knew the numbers," said Kendall. "The discussions would be, this one came in at this level, at this dollar amount. They kept a running tab. They knew. They would write it down and keep track. ... They were not worried. ... All they had to do was sit back and hear the numbers and just come in close to, or beat the other numbers."

Kendall's testimony corroborated Vincellette's, the former Project SLIM accountant whom Coopers' lawyer had painted as merely disaffected.

Despite Kendall's vivid description of Yeoman and his fellow accountants' smug gloating over their pipeline to illegal data, her statement was only the beginning of the attorney general's probe.

For a full year, Carey and his colleagues pressed ahead. They interviewed two dozen witnesses ignored by the county attorney. Where Romley issued not a single subpoena, the Attorney General's Office sent out 25. The file of documents grew from 6,000 pages to 17,000.

The Governor's Office resisted the subpoenas, even refusing to produce public records, an interesting and illegal position for the state's chief executive to take.

Under the threat of lawsuit, Symington's lawyers relented and agreed to let Carey's people look at voluminous documents stored at the Department of Administration. But, the governor's counsel said, the attorney general would not be allowed to remove any files for copying.

Carey recalled that prosecutor Suzanne Dallimore showed up at DOA with a portable photocopier, infuriating the governor's people, who preferred to make their own copies of whatever the attorney general deemed interesting. Such a cozy arrangement would have kept the governor posted on where the probe was going.

Dallimore ignored the fussing going on around her and set to work. As she reviewed documents through the course of the day, she stumbled upon paperwork that made her heart race.

When Carey saw what Dallimore had found, he knew he had the smoking gun, the gun that George Blanco had handed Romley in the first investigation.

The file contained Coopers' original, computer-generated spreadsheet; it was dated September 4, 1991. It mapped how the firm reduced its bid by $440,000.

The date was critical. Coopers' lawyers had told all investigators that the bid was not lowered until after September 6, when the accountants had met with the selection committee and been officially informed that their bid was the highest of those submitted.

Of course, this was never an adequate, or even plausible, explanation. As a negotiating stance, the selection committee for Project SLIM had told all bidders on September 6 that they needed to sharpen their pencils and give the state of Arizona the lowest number possible, their best and final offers.

Several firms did indeed respond by lowering their bids, a couple of thousand here, a couple of thousand there.

Only Coopers & Lybrand lowered its price by the absolutely cinematic $440,000. In decades of reviewing bids, the veterans on the selection committee told the County Attorney's Office, they had never seen a number in such vertical free fall.

Now Carey had proof that Coopers & Lybrand had made its drastic cut two full days before the selection committee advised all bidders to whittle their bottom lines.

Rob Carey's investigation of Project SLIM had taken nearly a year. It was accomplished against a well-muscled defense of Coopers & Lybrand, in the face of hostile resistance from the Governor's Office and with minimal cooperation from the county attorney.

Later, Romley would claim that he had been unable to prove criminal activity and that his office lacked jurisdiction to pursue a civil-court remedy, which is the kind of sophistry that only a lawyer can offer with a straight face.

If Romley had pursued his investigation with even minimal vigilance, he would have utilized Vincellette and Blanco instead of burying them. He would have interviewed Marge Kendall and subpoenaed the September 4 spread sheet.

And had Romley taken those basic investigative steps, he would have had his criminal case.

Carey's staff uncovered fresh evidence, it located new witnesses and it turned up lost documents. It established the largest instance of white-collar fraud ever perpetrated on state government.

Despite the problems presented by Romley's earlier whitewash, Carey weighed pursuing a criminal indictment.

But the attorney general's probe had taken a full year, and the criminal statute of limitations on certain activity occurring in 1991 was running out. If the attorney general obtained criminal indictments, the targets would have constitutional protections, including the Fifth Amendment, which would have allowed Leckie, for example, to avoid testifying.  

And if Leckie did not testify against Symington, there was little chance of successfully prosecuting him.

Finally, even though it was obviously deeply flawed, Romley's investigation provided a bulletproof argument for any defense attorney fighting a criminal indictment by the attorney general: The Public Integrity Task Force had already investigated and cleared everyone involved of criminal activity. If Woods took the criminal route, he could easily be portrayed as someone going after the governor for political reasons--to grease his own path to the governor's chair.

For all those reasons, when Suzanne Dallimore made her case in front of Grant Woods, she argued to the attorney general that the state should seek civil damages from Coopers & Lybrand and Governor Symington's fixer, George Leckie.

"Do it," said Woods.
That day, May 16, 1995, was the pinnacle of Rob Carey's professional life.
That day, events began that would humiliate Rob Carey and cost him his career.

Just outside the conference room where Woods and Carey huddled, Deborah Vasquez's phone was ringing.

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