After suffering through ten years of what he calls an "ongoing vendetta" by former Phoenix police chief Ruben Ortega and other powerful law enforcement officials, Pat Cantelme has fired a $1 million countershot.
Cantelme, president of the Phoenix Firefighters Union and a frequent political foe of Ortega's, last week filed formal claims against Ortega, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley, the City of Phoenix, Maricopa County and others, seeking at least $1 million in damages. Cantelme claims his civil rights were violated and his privacy invaded by law enforcement efforts to drag him into the AzScam political-corruption sting.
During the controversial investigation, undercover agent Joseph Stedino repeatedly tried to lure Cantelme into accepting a bribe for his support of legalized gambling in Arizona. Cantelme was targeted, he says, because Ortega wanted to silence a political opponent (The Pursuit of Pat Cantelme," December 30, 1992).
The city, county and other defendants have 60 days to respond to the claims. If they do not, Cantelme will pursue them in a civil lawsuit he also filed last week in Maricopa County Superior Court.
"The battle between Ortega and myself has been going on for over ten years," says Cantelme. "Now it's my turn." In his lawsuit, Cantelme claims that Ortega, Romley and others engaged in a "gross abuse of public trust and police power" by instructing Stedino to go after him, even though there was no evidence Cantelme had ever committed a crime. Stedino and James Keppel, Romley's former chief deputy, are also named in the suit.
(Ortega--now police chief in Salt Lake City--Romley and Keppel did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the suit. Phil Haggerty of the Phoenix City Attorney's Office said the city had no comment on the claims.)
Efforts to entrap him in AzScam, Cantelme says, followed years of politically inspired maneuvering by Ortega to obtain some sort of criminal charge against Cantelme to silence Cantelme's criticism of the chief's behavior.
A vocal union leader, Cantelme sided with police officers who had been arbitrarily disciplined by Ortega, and spoke out against Ortega's heavy-handed reign as police chief.
Ortega, in turn, tried to have Cantelme prosecuted on a cocaine charge, which was dropped, although Cantelme demanded a trial to prove his innocence. Ortega's department also repeatedly investigated Cantelme and the firefighters' union.
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Once a rising political star who some considered a likely future mayoral candidate, Cantelme says his reputation suffered under the constant assaults by Ortega.
Although he had been active on numerous city boards and commissions in the early 1980s, Cantelme withdrew from the spotlight and was forced to spend most of his time looking over his shoulder, he says.
Cantelme says he hopes his claim will finally force Ortega and Romley to defend their actions in the AzScam sting, and lay bare some of the abuses of power allegedly committed by Ortega during his decade at the helm of the Phoenix Police Department.
"He [Ortega] was absolutely unchecked and unsupervised and free to do whatever he wanted to whomever he wanted," Cantelme says. "It never leaves your mind that this person with all this power is unrelenting in trying to get something, trying to create something, to destroy you.