THE PURSUIT OF PAT CANTELME
Amid the spectacle of Arizona's notorious law enforcement sting, AzScam, the most chilling facet of the undercover operation remains unobserved by the public and unremarked upon by the press.
The cops and the prosecutors tried to railroad a clean guy.
The Phoenix chief of police, the Maricopa County attorney and their Runyonesque casino promoter, con man Joseph Stedino, stalked one of the Valley's most prominent civic leaders.
Firefighter Patrick Cantelme was law enforcement's target. He had not done anything wrong.
Nonetheless, from the very first moment of AzScam, the bull's eye had Pat Cantelme's picture pinned at the center of the concentric rings of entrapment.
Stedino went after Cantelme like Mike Tyson went after beauty-pageant winners. Though Cantelme was almost never described as anything more sinister than politically potent, the firefighter was hotly pursued while allegations of corruption were ignored, including serious charges involving law enforcement itself.
Tens of thousands of pages of transcripts from secretly recorded meetings during AzScam reveal the truth.
In 1990, from January to September, Stedino played every angle to trap Cantelme, president of the United Phoenix Firefighters. In meetings with lobbyists, legislators, political strategists, candidates for office, labor organizers, the rich and poor, the drunk and the sober, Joseph Stedino tried to find someone to introduce him to Pat Cantelme.
After nine months of this unrelenting police pressure, the authorities succeeded in luring Cantelme into meetings that were filmed with hidden cameras. The police also secretly tape-recorded Cantelme's telephone calls. Stedino's role was to tempt Cantelme into behavior that would put the firefighter behind bars.
Cantelme refused to do anything illegal.
Cantelme refused to do anything illegal at the first meeting; he refused to do anything illegal at the last meeting. Cantelme was just as clean on the telephone.
The problem with trying to set up Patrick Cantelme was revealed in the way people spoke of him and his union on the AzScam tapes.
"Firemen are the cleanest guys in the world," said Representative Candace Nagel.
That didn't stop Stedino. The con man was working for the cops, and as Stedino would later write in his book, "The cops wanted the fireman bad."
Do not take my word for what happened to Patrick Cantelme.
Look at the record.
AzScam has mile after mile of tapes, video and audio, that are part of that record. Thousands of pages of transcripts have also been released.
The problem is that no one, not the press, not the lawyers, not the courts--not even Patrick Cantelme--has sorted through all of the official record.
There is simply too much.
There are 250 videotapes, 600 audio tapes and more than 20,000 pages of transcripts from AzScam, and that only covers the undercover investigation. It does not include documents, exhibits, investigative materials, depositions or trial testimonies.
The AzScam transcripts that relate directly to Cantelme fill 19 floppy disks.
But if you do spend the time, you will see a grotesque effort by law enforcement to set up the firefighter.
Though telephoned repeatedly, former police chief Ruben Ortega chose not to respond. Members of the County Attorney's Office declined to comment until after the conclusion of all AzScam prosecutions.
But in a deposition recently obtained by New Times, Joseph Stedino said Major Timothy Black of the Phoenix Police Department, acting on instructions from Chief Ruben Ortega, instructed the con man to focus on Cantelme. "To the best of my recollection, words to the effect, and I cannot be specific, if you can get close to Pat Cantelme, do so. He [Black] told me this and stated words to the effect of, 'The chief wants to see if you can; if you can get close to Cantelme, do so,'" said Stedino.
Black flatly denied targeting Cantelme. But then the major said something odd. His statement is studded with the fractured syntax of an honest man trying to rationalize the damaging revelations of Stedino.
"I . . . told him [Stedino] that if Pat Cantelme was to . . . ah . . . if his name was to come forward by virtue of someone else, ah . . . that he should be treated like everyone else that . . . that was involved in this investigation. If he came forward, and, ah . . . wanted to be part of this ongoing investigation, that we certainly would listen to him," said Black.
Wanted to be part of an ongoing investigation?
Patrick Cantelme did not want to be part of an ongoing investigation. And despite what Major Black said in deposition, Cantelme was not "treated like everyone else; he was singled out and he was hunted.
In the same deposition in which it was first revealed that Chief Ortega targeted the head of the firefighters' union, Stedino would later back off from that claim. The con man said Major Black's order was rescinded.
The record says otherwise.
AzScam began when con man Stedino told Chief Ortega and County Attorney Richard Romley that Gary Bartlett could lead law enforcement to statewide corruption. A fringe operator in political circles, Bartlett is alleged to have told Stedino that legislators could be bought. But even Bartlett was surprised at the effort that went into cornering Pat Cantelme.
"Over 90 percent of the conversations I had with him [Stedino] were to get introductions to Pat Cantelme and [state fire marshal] Duane Pell. This whole thing, when I was involved, was directed at Pat Cantelme and the fire department," Bartlett told New Times. "I would be out trying to buy furniture and decorate an office, and he would be trying to get me to call Cantelme and invite him to lunch."
This information is not part of the official version of AzScam, which claimed that Stedino did not seek out or entrap anyone.
A joint operation of Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega, AzScam was financed with nearly $1 million in drug forfeitures. Under the guise of wanting a statehouse bill to legalize casino gambling, Stedino opened up an office where legislators and lobbyists were videotaped as they stuffed wads of cash into their pockets in exchange for votes and influence.
The legal and ethical linchpin of AzScam was the concept that no one was entrapped; everyone sought out Stedino, a con man who boasted, "I chased no one."
This purported refusal to entrap was not a mere decorative legal doily. It was an important distinction.
In a traditional sting, the police open a storefront operation to buy stolen merchandise. The crime, burglary, has already been committed by those looking to fence the hot stereos and cameras. The police bust those who are already trafficking in stolen merchandise. There is not entrapment, because the police have good reason to believe that the participants are already criminals.
AzScam was trickier.
Prior to AzScam, there was not a single legitimate allegation from any reputable source that sitting legislators had ever sold a vote. Without evidence of past illegal acts--stolen color televisions, if you will--Ortega and Romley were at pains to demonstrate that they were not themselves creating crimes for headlines or fostering felonies to eliminate political opposition.
Those ensnared by AzScam must appear to do so of their own choosing. They must be predisposed to commit the crime.
On the witness stand during the trial of ex-senator Carolyn Walker, police supervisor Sergeant Glen Davis testified pointedly, "No one was targeted."
The facts show otherwise.
Pat Cantelme was targeted.
From the very first moments of AzScam, Stedino would interrupt people to force the topic of conversation over to the firefighter. If politicians pointed out that they did not need Cantelme to legalize casino gambling in Arizona, the con man would quickly insist that this particular firefighter was the key to all their dreams.
@body:Why did then-police chief Ruben Ortega instruct Joe Stedino to search out Pat Cantelme? The antagonism between Ortega and Cantelme dates back to 1982. The blood is so bad between these two that the chief did not need a new excuse to target the firefighter; vengeance would do. But you would not have to look hard, either, to understand that a new motive might well have lingered off stage and out of sight.
On June 11, 1991, after the AzScam investigations were concluded but while the headlines were still pungent with indictments, Chief Ortega staged a highly theatrical resignation. Within hours, trial balloons were aloft with "Ortega for Mayor" banners. The political career of Ruben Ortega was short-lived; polls after the chief's resignation showed incumbent mayor Paul Johnson handily winning any race between the two men.
Had Ortega run for any office, however, one given would have been the opposition of Patrick Cantelme and the firefighters.
Though few in numbers--approximately 1,200 in Phoenix--the firefighters have more political throw weight than their enrollment might warrant.
The AzScam transcripts are stocked with grateful references by elected officials to firefighters putting up signs, handing out leaflets and working the polls. And in a community that is always searching for leadership, the firefighters have given us Duane Pell, the former vice mayor and current state fire marshal; Mike Bielecki, who sits on numerous boards, including that of the downtown homeless shelter, as well as serving as his union's liaison to the statehouse; and, of course, Pat Cantelme.
Though the firefighters are viewed as natural democrats, the term is best applied with a small d. The union has established strong relationships with Republicans like Burton Barr, Jane Hull, Tony West and Fife Symington. In defiance of labels, the firefighters are simply political players of the first rank.
Cantelme feels his bitter dealings with Chief Ortega stem from the arbitrary firing of an entire squad of police officers in March 1982. While off duty, the seven cops gave their sergeant a beer-soaked going-away party. Because the celebration got out of hand, the chief fired everyone. When angered police picketed Ortega's headquarters over the dismissal of the "Seventh Avenue Seven," Cantelme joined them and was pictured on the front page of the morning newspaper, urging the police to unionize.
"That was the beginning of the trouble with Ortega," said Cantelme in a recent interview.
Actually, Pat Cantelme had no idea, none whatsoever, about the true nature of "trouble," but he was about to learn.
Later in 1982, the firefighters led the movement to change the method for electing the city council of Phoenix.
Although it must sound like a dry electoral footnote, the thought of restructuring the council was revolutionary. Since the inception of charter government in 1948, the silk-stocking club of concerned corporate citizens had controlled every single election at City Hall. In the 34 years that followed the inception of charter government, only two noncharter candidates had ever made it onto the city council. The supporters of the status quo raised $400,000 to keep it that way.
But it looked like $400,000 wasn't going to be enough.
Although they had only $56,000 to work with, Cantelme and his allies had a charismatic spokesman, Terry Goddard, leading the call for election by district system.
Cantelme and the firefighters clearly had momentum. Then the bomb dropped.
Two weeks before the election, Ortega's troops arrested Cantelme on two cocaine counts: conspiracy and distribution. The allegation was that the firefighter was observed sharing a line of cocaine with others on one occasion. Despite the sort of headlines reserved for decisive naval engagements and presidential assassinations, Cantelme's indictment did not derail his reform movement and charter government was replaced by the district system.
From the outset, the cocaine case against Cantelme was marked by high odor and enough irregularities to suggest the bust was pure politics. Cantelme's attorney, for example, did a nationwide search and was unable to locate a single case in which the federal government had been involved in an indictment involving such a minuscule quantity of powder. In any case, said the firefighter, the incident never occurred.
Cantelme was eager to get into court and clear his name.
Shortly after the election, Judge Earl Carroll of U.S. District Court ordered the prosecutors to show up in court with their evidence. Instead, the U.S. Attorney's Office asked to withdraw all charges. The case was dismissed.
(The prosecutor, Sherry Hergott, said in an interview last week that any suggestion that the case was political was strictly "a defense theory.)
That was not the end of Cantelme's troubles.
One year later, in November of 1983, Cantelme and others associated with the district election were subpoenaed to appear before the state grand jury.
Just before the subpoenas arrived, the union's headquarters was broken into. A police report was filed, though the firefighters couldn't find anything missing.
It wasn't long, however, before the break-in took on ominous significance.
Cantelme's subpoena specifically demanded that the firefighter produce the written authorization from his membership for the $20,000 that the firefighters contributed to the district-system election.
Last week the union's recording secretary, Mike Gibson, recalled what happened next.
"I discovered that the minutes from the meeting where we voted as a union to fund the election were gone. Nothing else was missing. The minutes from the meeting before the authorization and the minutes from the meeting after the authorization were there. Only the minutes that would have kept Pat out of jail were gone," said Gibson.
Whoever made off with the minutes had not counted on Gibson's penchant for organization.
"This was in the days before we were computerized. I took handwritten notes during the meetings and later Norma Gregory [a member of the clerical staff] would type them up. I always kept my handwritten notes at home as a backup. When I went home, I found the notes and the members' authorization."
Wasn't it possible that Gibson forgot to turn in his handwritten notes to Gregory and that is why the typed minutes were missing?
Absolutely not, claimed Gibson.
"When she typed up my notes, she always corrected my handwritten mistakes in red ink before banging them out on the typewriter," said Gibson. "The notes I gave Cantelme to take to the grand jury were all marked up with her red ink."
The grand jury filed no charges.
With good reason. In a recent interview, Corporation Commissioner Marcia Weeks said the entire investigation was a fishing expedition. Her husband, labor leader Jim Weeks, had collected the donations from the firefighters and other supporters of the district system. "A couple of years after it was all over," said Commissioner Weeks, "Attorney General Bob Corbin told me he subpoenaed Cantelme, and these are his words, 'as a professional courtesy to Chief Ortega.'"
Corbin was unavailable to comment.
The next year, in 1984, Pat Cantelme got "the telephone call." By then he was president of the Central Arizona Labor Council.
One morning at his office, Cantelme punched the playback button on his answering machine to pick up his messages. What he heard next shook him.
Cantelme heard his older brother, Mike, on the tape. Mike asked if Pat was home. Pat's mother-in-law, who was baby-sitting the children, responded that Pat wasn't in. All of this taped conversation, from Mike's home to Pat's home, had been tape-recorded on the machine in Pat's office.
Whoever was trying to monitor Cantelme's conversations had botched it. But it was still frightening.
Lola Hudson was a secretary at the Central Arizona Labor Council when the suspicious tape was first played back in the office. Despite 13 years' experience under five different presidents, she was still shocked at what she listened to that morning.
"I remember the incident. How could you forget it?" said Hudson. "I thought, 'Is this place bugged or under electronic surveillance?'" Cantelme asked the FBI to investigate, but the agency declined.
One year later, in 1985, an incident occurred that triggered an explosive reaction between the firefighters and the cops.
After finishing the third shift at the station house, firefighter David Franks was driving home at 8 a.m. when a dump truck plowed into his pickup. The firefighter was killed instantly.
The police, without any apparent justification, demanded that the medical examiner test Franks' body for traces of cocaine.
To Cantelme it looked like the cops were trying to tar-brush the firefighters with cocaine allegations once again.
The firefighters responded with such outrage that City Manager Marvin Andrews summoned Fire Chief Alan Brunacini and Police Chief Ruben Ortega to a well-publicized truce meeting.
Break-ins with unsettling consequences, telephones that behave like those in East Berlin before the wall came down, dead colleagues offered up for intrusive autopsies, grand juries and indictments--the lines between persecution and paranoia began to blur for Cantelme.
But with the city manager ordering an end to the law enforcement harassment, an apparent calm returned to the firefighter's life.
From 1985 to 1989, Patrick Cantelme, Duane Pell and Mike Bielecki continued to build their union into a substantial political force. Cantelme himself became a high-profile civic leader.
By the end of the decade, the firefighters had helped elect Mayor Terry Goddard, Attorney General and later Governor Bruce Babbitt, Governor Raul Castro, Senator Dennis DeConcini, Corporation Commissioner Richard Kimball and numerous others, including, by one estimate, at least 25 percent of the statehouse. Cantelme became everyone's first choice whenever a board needed a blue-collar representative. It was largely because of the firefighters that civic commissions even recognized that the working man and woman had earned the right to sit on such panels.
Cantelme served on the Phoenix Economic Growth Corporation, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Greater Phoenix Affordable Health Care Foundation, the citywide Transit Committee and, from 1986 to 1990, on the powerful Phoenix Planning Commission.
Pat Cantelme made a life without realizing the authorities were still looking over his shoulder.
@body:On January 26, 1990, Pat Cantelme was at home with his new wife, celebrating their boy's first birthday.
"We had the whole family over, the nephews, the nieces," said Cantelme. "Not that Patrick Jr. knew what was going on. Mostly it was for my wife."
Across town, Gary Bartlett was on the telephone discussing Cantelme with Joe Stedino. AzScam was just beginning, and on this day, Bartlett was still trying to impress Stedino with whom he knew. It was the first time Cantelme was mentioned on the tapes.
"If you read today's paper, it says that Pat Cantelme will be deciding who's gonna be the next mayor of Phoenix," said Bartlett.
Stedino couldn't care less. He has no idea who the firefighter is, because the police have not yet told him. Stedino changes the topic of conversation.
After his telephone call with Bartlett, however, it appears Stedino was briefed about the firefighter. There would never again be a meeting or a telephone call in which Cantelme's name didn't get Stedino excited. And generally speaking, it was Stedino who brought up the union leader's name.
A few days later, Bartlett took Stedino on a tour of government offices, the point of which was to impress Stedino with Bartlett's connections. Unlike most of what transpired during AzScam, none of what occurred that day was taped.
Instead, Stedino wrote his own summary and in it claimed that Bartlett said the firefighters were "dirty."
This is a heart-stopping reference.
In the full year of undercover work that went into AzScam, when people said the most outrageous things, unaware that they were being taped, Bartlett's uncorroborated slur is virtually the only reference to firefighters and corruption.
Did Stedino make up this conversation simply to please his law enforcement handlers? Did Stedino invent this allegation to justify the hot pursuit of Cantelme that was about to be launched? And if Bartlett did say this--and he has denied much of what has been attributed to him--did he dream up this "dirt" to convince Stedino that he, Bartlett, was indeed wired into corruption? That is, after all, why Bartlett was being paid.
These questions recall a description given by Yankee legend Billy Martin: One's a born liar and the other's convicted.
Stedino has admitted lying under oath. He was hired for AzScam precisely because he was such a skillful liar. And Bartlett would prove to be such an unreliable blowhard that Stedino would be forced to fire him shortly.
Less than a week after Stedino's and Bartlett's civics tour, the campaign to nail Patrick Cantelme had a full head of steam.
Stedino met with the Democratic candidate for Senate treasurer, George Stragalas, on February 6. In this meeting, you see the pattern that would be established throughout AzScam.
Stedino steered the conversation to the firefighters by asking Stragalas which union was the most powerful. But the con man was frustrated when Stragalas said Cantelme was innocent of the cocaine charge and that the firefighter was "a real ethical guy."
That night Stedino telephoned Stragalas at home. During the telephone call, Stragalas discussed a political consultant from back East, but Stedino interrupted.
Stragalas: "And he's [the New York consultant] about my age and he's a real . . ."
Stedino: "Sounds like he's got a helluva position, as well as that guy you were talking about with the firefighters today, he's got a good position, too."
Stedino: "I think we need him [Cantelme]."
This, apparently, is law enforcement's idea of not chasing anyone.
When Bartlett was fired, he was replaced by bail bondsman Ron Tapp. On June 30, 1991, Stedino called Tapp.
Stedino: ". . . I'll tell you what popped through my mind was some of the information that's carried over from Bartlett that stayed in my brain. His friend Cantelme and his friend Pell, are they friends of yours?"
Tapp: "No, but I can get to know them."
Stedino proposed using the firefighters for a gambling initiative.
When Tapp resisted the idea, Stedino insisted, but to no avail.
By July five months had passed and Stedino was no closer to Cantelme. The stress was beginning to show. Throughout AzScam, Stedino posed as the definitive casino wise guy. People actually called him up for tickets to Sinatra shows in Vegas. Reacting to the frustration of not having grabbed Cantelme, Stedino now tried to palm himself off, not as a connoisseur of lounge acts, but rather as an urbanologist obsessed with mass transit.
On July 9, he met with Tapp and Representative Don Kenney, whom he'd hired for more than $60,000 to "quarterback" the corruption campaign. Stedino explained that he'd watched Cantelme on PBS discussing mass transit.
"So I watched with great zeal, thinking this is a guy I might want to get to know," said Stedino. "This guy might be a major part of our deal."
Kenney, missing the bait, changed the subject.
Later that same day, Stedino met with Stragalas, who had promoted himself as a great friend of Cantelme's.
"Let me tell you about Cantelme and I'll let you go," said Stedino, who must have worried he was becoming a bore on the topic of the firefighter. "I watched him because the [PBS] program interested me. He's appointed by somebody, it's a citizens' group. He's the head on a rapid-transit issue. That interested me, cause it's like bus service all through the Valley. That interested me. And he's the guy I thought I might want to talk to, because the public transportation interests me. I have a vested interest in that. How people get around. And I watched the whole program. It was on Channel 8."
No matter how hard Stedino chased, no one offered to bring in Cantelme. By the end of the month, Stedino began to get desperate.
On July 24, Stedino met with Tapp and Representative Kenney again. The telephone rang and it was a labor leader.
Dave Horwitz, the legislative liaison for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was returning "quarterback" Kenney's call. The state representative got on the telephone to explain to Horwitz that Tapp and Stedino wanted to help Horwitz with his causes. And without further explanation, Stedino jumped in.
The first thing that Stedino asked was whether Horwitz knew the firefighters and Cantelme. When the labor leader's response was vague, Stedino pressed again, "Are you involved with the firefighters?"
Stedino was so pushy on the telephone about Cantelme that he came off like a life-insurance salesman who'd cornered a lottery winner. He was so intense with Horwitz that when the telephone call was concluded, Representative Kenney scolded the con man for acting like Jerry Lewis.
". . . Let me give you a suggestion . . . You don't try to close a deal over the phone when you've never met the guy," advised Kenney.
But Stedino was irrepressible.
"I watched this kid Cantelme on television, he's very smooth. I get a feeling he does business. But I don't know him. You see. And I don't want to meet him wrong. I'd like to meet him right."
Kenney then said the magic words.
"This Horwitz is your entree to Cantelme, to the firefighters."
On August 21, Stedino met with Representative Candace Nagel, who said the firefighters were a force politically and that they "will die for one of their own."
After flattering Nagel, Stedino asked her about Cantelme: "Is he someone you think I should get to know?"
As if Stedino hasn't already been checking every Dalmatian and fire hydrant in Phoenix in search of Cantelme.
The noose was beginning to close around Cantelme, but all the firefighter knew at this point was that some guy who was trying to legalize casino gambling was making a lot of inquiries.
On August 27, 28 and 29, Cantelme took his family on vacation to San Diego. While the firefighter was out of town, Stedino made his move.
On August 28, Stedino met with Dave Horwitz. When he was introduced to Horwitz by Representative Kenney on the speaker phone, the only thing Stedino wanted to know from the union leader was whether Horwitz was close to Cantelme. Having determined that Horwitz did indeed know the firefighter, Stedino acted as if it's someone else's idea that he should sit with Cantelme.
"She [Candace Nagel] thinks I need to meet with Cantelme," said Stedino to Horwitz. "She thinks I'm going to need him at some point."
"You want to meet with Pat, I'll give him a call," said Horwitz.
Having pursued him actively for seven months, Stedino was still coy.
"Well, do you think I should meet with him? It's obvious that the time's gonna come that I'm gonna need him, and I'd just as soon know him now."
The next day, Stedino met again with Dave Horwitz, who was accompanied by fellow labor leader Robert T. Griffin, the president of the Central Arizona Labor Council.
Again, it was Stedino who was the first to bring up Cantelme's name, as he launched into yet another description of the PBS program on mass transit. Stedino was so wide-eyed and innocent that he seemed a veritable Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
"I watched this program with great interest," said Stedino. "I had no idea that he was involved with unionism or firefighters or anything . . . and I said to Dave [Horwitz], do you think that I should meet with this guy? If he thinks I should meet with the guy . . . cause he's a powerful man."
Griffin agreed that a meeting with Cantelme was easy enough to set up, if that was what Stedino wanted.
"I want to tell him what [I'm] trying to do and see if he has an opinion," said Stedino. "He might be able to point me in a direction that I'm missing . . . I got nine people pointing me in the direction to get with this fellow and you guys know him and you're both basically saying I need to sit with him also. I have to tell him what I'm about, what I'm trying to do and then maybe he has some ideas for me."
"He'll have a game plan," agreed Griffin.
"I have a game plan, but I'm a flexible guy," Stedino stated modestly. "I'm not a know-it-all guy . . . if he wants to charge me, whatever he wants to do. It is the cost of doing business."
It is August 29, the last day of Cantelme's vacation, and after months of scheming, Stedino has finally conned the firefighter's acquaintances into setting up a meeting. Now all that remains is to put a bag of money in the firefighter's lap while the video cameras are rolling.
These eight months of hot pursuit are what Chief Ruben Ortega, Major Timothy Black and Joe Stedino mean when they say no one in AzScam was chased.
On September 7, Stedino told Tapp that Horwitz had in fact set up the Cantelme sit-down for the following Friday. Tapp asked to join in, but Stedino ran him off.
"I don't want to spook him on the first meet . . . you know, I really wish I was sitting with the guy alone--in fact, I may suggest to Horwitz, is there any way you can possibly come up, make the introduction and leave."
On September 13, Stedino met with Representative Kenney, who is both Stedino's lawyer and a key adviser. Trying to cover his tracks, that he's specifically targeting Cantelme, Stedino puffs up the firefighter's political importance. He told Kenney that Cantelme was "stronger than the governor." Kenney is incredulous that his client would make such a comment and immediately suggested that this is nonsense.
"I wouldn't say that he's stronger than the governor," said Kenney. "I think that's an overstatement . . . he's helpful because he has firemen who go out and put up signs and . . . that's bullshit work. They have little or no money. I think he had a lot more power when Burton Barr was running the House."
This is important.
Stedino hired two people to mastermind the payoffs to Arizona's politicos. Neither of Stedino's agents wanted anything to do with Cantelme; Kenney dismissed the firefighter outright and Tapp didn't even know him. But Stedino would not be swayed from his mission.
". . . So many people have suggested I meet with him, and when Horwitz and Griffin suggested it, I said, 'Okay. Set it up.'" Horwitz and Griffin never suggested any such thing.
If you read all the transcripts, the pattern remains remarkably consistent. Stedino initiates a conversation about Cantelme, praises the firefighter lavishly, says he wants to meet the union leader and then flatters the listener by asking if he or she doesn't agree that it would be a swell idea for Stedino and Cantelme to meet.
If the listener agrees, all of a sudden Stedino turns it into the listener's idea for the benefit of the next politico. If the listener disagrees and thinks it is not necessary to sit down with Cantelme, Stedino ignores the opinion or runs over the person who suggested it.
The first meeting between Stedino and Cantelme, on September 14, was arranged and attended by Horwitz.
Stedino was all business at first. He talked about the tens of thousands he'd already spent on polling and research, the number of casinos that would be built in Arizona, as well as the convention facilities. He predicted 12,000 jobs in the Valley and 20,000 statewide.
It was a smart pitch.
Arizona already had horse racing, greyhound racing, a statewide lottery, bingo, poker and electronic video gambling on numerous Indian reservations, and a small-scale Las Vegas just across the state line in Laughlin, Nevada, that was wildly popular with Arizona residents.
The idea that Arizona would eventually adopt some form of Las Vegas/Atlantic City-style casino setup is so generally acknowledged that a few large hotels in the state are already wired for gambling. And whenever the economy slumps, you can be sure that someone, and this time it was Stedino, will predict an end to taxation with the state's cut from wagering.
Stedino ended his economic development pitch by predicting $70 million in tax revenues and by declaring, "I'm pro-union."
Cantelme's first question was fundamental: "How do you propose regulating it?"
Stedino's answer mirrored the Nevada Gaming Commission with one charming nuance: Recalling Representative Kenney's statement from the day before that Cantelme was close to the former House majority leader, the con man claimed that new gaming commissioner might just have to be Burton Barr.
It was a nice try, but no dice. Cantelme didn't even nibble.
The union leader's interest was that regulations ought to ensure that the majority of the casinos were confined to population centers like Phoenix.
At some point in the conversation, Stedino was physically unable to restrain himself from turning into a member of the Rat Pack. He started dropping every high-profile name in Las Vegas, he invoked the name of the long-dead Jimmy Hoffa, he did everything except an Elvis impersonation.
And whenever he could, he oozed all over Cantelme: "You impress the hell out of me. . . . This kid was good. . . . This guy knows what he's talking about."
Stedino almost never shut up.
Cantelme broke off the meeting to pick up his son.
Aside from the leading reference to Burton Barr, Stedino had suggested nothing illegal or unethical. As he promised his co-conspirator Representative Kenney the day before, he did not want to press Cantelme: "I'll move real soft on him until I get the feel. . ."
After saying that he would not oppose the move to legalize gambling, Cantelme said he'd think about the idea and if he decided to help, the one courtesy he'd like was some input on who Stedino hired as a lobbyist.
After his performance as show-lounge raconteur, chamber of commerce job developer, tax eliminator and Teamster intimate, Stedino was ebullient. Following Cantelme's departure, he asked Horwitz, "Well, what do you think? Did I impress this guy or not?"
He did. In an interview earlier this month, Cantelme said his first encounter with Stedino was like meeting a character from Rick's Cafe in Casablanca.
In short order, the meetings would turn from colorful to felonious.
Almost three weeks later, Stedino had still not heard from Cantelme. Stedino was obviously upset about Cantelme's silence following their brief meeting.
Talking to Horwitz on October 4, Stedino made it perfectly clear that he was irritated. Once he impressed upon Horwitz the urgency of seeing the firefighter again, Stedino threw in a disclaimer for the courts: "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it . . . I refuse to chase."
Horwitz agreed to summon Cantelme.
On October 5, Stedino and Cantelme talked briefly on the telephone and the union leader said he had an outline on how a gambling proposal could be taken before the voters.
Three days later, Cantelme gave Stedino a two-page outline and discussed the advantages of achieving legalized casino gambling through an initiative. It was at this meeting, on October 8, that Stedino tried to entice Cantelme into doing something illegal.
Stedino did not merely create the climate for illegal activity, he repeatedly attempted to have the union leader break the law. When Cantelme refused to commit a particular crime, Stedino suggested a different one.
First, Stedino proposed that Cantelme turn over the names of all of the union's membership so that their identities could be used to mask illegal campaign contributions from Stedino.
Cantelme literally laughed at Stedino.
Stedino's suggestion was not heavy-handed; in fact it was offhanded, a glancing blow, the sort of graceful tease that would not offend an ethical man.
Stedino then tried to be more direct.
"Now, what can I do for Pat Cantelme?"
"At this point, nothing," said the firefighter. Cantelme refused to become a member of Stedino's team, though he did suggest someone else who would be useful if the casino people decided to do an initiative.
"Either you're comfortable with him or not, because it's no obligation to me to hire him," said Cantelme.
For his part, Stedino could not resist the operatic flourish.
"I'm Italian. I'm dealing with the American people here, and they're gonna take a little shot. They're gonna say, 'We've seen him on The Untouchables.'"
What else could people say if Stedino insisted on acting like he was mentored by Frank Nitti?
Stedino started referring to Cantelme as "Pasquale," and spun out a remarkable tale about Vegas legend Benny Binion.
"Benny killed his first guy when he was 21, with a pop bottle. I mean, with a milk bottle . . . I can't help what his background was, he was a very revered man in Nevada . . . I'm coming back to that question. What can I do for you? There's got to be something that you need me to do for you, because I feel, you know, I feel bad."
Again Cantelme deflected the approach.
Then Stedino launched into a bravura outburst on spending money to realize his goal. He said if he spent $10,000 on each of the 90 legislators, that would only amount to $900,000. Mere pasta money to a big shot like Stedino.
"Eh, I think you understand where I'm coming from," he told "Pasquale."
Cantelme, who is soft-spoken and courteous to a fault, warned Stedino to change his thinking.
"You gotta be real careful in the campaign contributions . . . cause if that's not handled scrupulously . . ."
The con man was quick to recover.
"I gotta be just like you. I wanna be Pat Cantelme on the sidelines. . . . Someday I hope to have the reverence and respect that you have . . ."
Twice more before Cantelme left, Stedino asked what he could do for the firefighter. And twice more he was rebuffed.
The firefighter's attitude was pragmatic throughout the meeting. He said later that he did not know if Stedino was serious or not, though certainly the tens of thousands of dollars already expended by Stedino on economic-impact studies and polling were impressive.
For Cantelme it was an issue of jobs.
This is not mere hindsight revisionism by the firefighter.
In the October 8 meeting, Cantelme told Stedino, "Is gambling good or bad? I think it's good or bad depending upon how it's regulated, who's involved in it."
The final contact between Stedino and Cantelme took place on October 30, on the telephone. The union leader said he could prepare a more detailed outline for an initiative campaign and again suggested the names of others who might be useful in such an undertaking.
"What is it you could see yourself doing?" asked Stedino.
"I'm not so sure that I would be doing that much," replied Cantelme, who described any involvement he might have as "on the periphery."
The union leader did say that a new outline would be more detailed than the two-page draft he gave Stedino at the beginning of the month.
"Pat, what would you charge me to do that?" asked Stedino in his final run at the firefighter.
"Nothing," replied Cantelme. "If you used them [the plans], industries would be built . . . I'm not going to charge you anything . . . you look at it. If you think it's worthwhile, then fine. And if not, you know, well, it's no big deal."
@body:It is eye-opening to compare the zeal used to pursue Cantelme with the lack of interest Ortega and Romley showed in more serious allegations.
Ron Tapp, who quickly replaced Gary Bartlett as Stedino's guide to local corruption, accused Chief Ortega himself of being "on the take."
In his book, Stedino wrote, "Tapp added that the Phoenix Police Department was running drugs, and the only reason they had not been exposed as the River Cops in Miami had was because the operation was so widespread there was nobody on the force to investigate it.
"The only way that stays on the Q.T. is because it goes clear to the top, and that's why you have all of that problem."
The spokesman for the police chief's office, Sergeant Kevin Robinson, denied that Tapp's allegations were ignored.
"I remember accusations came about Chief Ortega," said Robinson. "I think the FBI looked into some of them at the urging of Chief Ortega at the time. All of this has been looked into. None of it is new."
But the FBI claims it never probed Tapp's charge.
"There were no allegations received by us regarding drugs and law enforcement and no investigation," said Special Agent Al Davidson.
Tapp's attorney, Larry Debus, said his client was never asked about his allegations of corruption within the Phoenix Police Department.
"They ignored it totally," said Debus. "Not a single question from anyone."
Numerous allegations about the state police, the Department of Public Safety and former DPS chief Ralph Milstead were also ignored, according to Stedino.
Legislator Bobby Raymond, who would be indicted and serve time, said that "prominent folks in DPS" were involved in land fraud.
"When I pressed the fourth-room boys [undercover cops and prosecutors] about the Milstead revelations, they went cold," wrote Stedino. "It was obvious they wanted no part of an investigation into the activities of the former DPS chief."
Tapp even alleged that DPS was arranging hits out of the prison.
"That was certainly something for the fourth-room boys to chew on," noted Stedino.
But the prosecutors and the police were too busy chewing on Patrick Cantelme to investigate these remarkable allegations.
Raymond would later apologize to Milstead for his remarks, admitting that he was talking through his hat to impress Stedino.
Today, Milstead labels the gossip trotted out in Stedino's book as "preposterous."
"I've never sold a piece of property in my life, let alone been involved in land fraud," said Milstead. "I can't even sell my house."
But Milstead is not surprised by the sleaze repeated in Stedino's book or by the idea that law enforcement picked and chose when it came to targets in AzScam.
"AzScam was dreamt up by the police. It was make-believe crime. The police invented those crimes," said the former director of the state police. "They invented bad guys. They concocted bad guys."
@body:When AzScam erupted, there were not many profiles in courage.
City councilmember Linda Nadolski said at the time that Chief Ruben Ortega had done a good job of protecting the citizens of Phoenix, but she also asked, "Who will protect the citizens from Ruben Ortega?"
Ortega retaliated by holding a press conference at City Hall saying he was resigning because of Nadolski's comment.
Nadolski talked recently about that terrible period.
Her most vivid memory is of the pack of reporters leaving Ortega's staged departure and converging upon her for comment. She recalled the terror AzScam inspired in elected officials. As she made her way to her office, she said she looked over and found fellow councilmember Skip Rimsza "hiding under a secretary's desk" to avoid the media spotlight.
In short order, the voters would throw Nadolski out of office for challenging Chief Ortega.
There is a cynical side to all of us. There is a place in our souls that is satisfied when our prejudices are confirmed, when the welfare recipient is shown driving a new Cadillac, when the multimillion-dollar ballplayer is discovered with hookers, when politicians are shown taking bribes.
That has been the story of AzScam. In January 1991, we all watched, transfixed, as the police released carefully edited snippets of videotape that showed legislators stuffing cash into their pockets. The ensuing indictments of seven politicians and 11 political operatives were accompanied by a public outcry that was deafening.
None of us stopped to look at AzScam's underbelly.
The press was escorted by law enforcement officers for selected viewing of the record.
Later, individual news organizations would establish teams to paw through the evidence. But by then, the blood was in the water and all of us demanded the red meat of crooked politicians.
No one wanted to read in the newspaper or look at a telecast that asked the fundamental question: What proof was there that any of these politicians and their retinues ever took a dishonest dollar in the past? What was the legal justification for AzScam?
Who would stand in front of the mob and ask such foolishness?
Patrick Cantelme was not part of John Gotti's crime family, a hoodlum who had somehow escaped the law. He was a union officer and a civic leader whose passion was organizing people to vote.
Ruben Ortega and Patrick Cantelme were political opponents.
And that is all they were.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, "Of all the rights in the Constitution, the most precious is the right to be left alone."
These are not merely the sentiments of a liberal jurist. It is against the law for the police to target the outspoken for elimination. There are very specific federal civil rights statutes that protect the politically active citizen:
"Every person who . . . subjects or causes to be subjected any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.
"If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution . . ." they are liable.
I asked the firefighter how he regarded the unrelenting law enforcement pressure his criticism of Ortega had provoked.
Cantelme maintained a certain stoic outlook about his ordeal with the police.
"I guess there was a time when it bothered me. But it's become second nature."
That's what standup guys say. They don't come to newspapers complaining about police harassment. You have to go find them, and then they shrug their shoulders. But there is more to the story than that.
In April 1991, three months after the conclusion of AzScam, law enforcement continued to fish for Patrick Cantelme.
Labor leaders Robert Griffin and Dennis Teel were interrogated under oath about any possible wrongdoing by Cantelme they might know about. Minor players in AzScam--Teel, for example, had met with Stedino only once--neither was accused of criminal activity. Law enforcement simply could not resist taking another swing at the firefighter as they pursued their indictments. Griffin, in fact, would be questioned on the same topic again that September.
Finally aware of what was going on, Cantelme was alarmed by what he saw.
"It became apparent they were going to try to get someone to say something, and once something like that is said, it doesn't matter if you're cleared," said the man who is still living down a ten-year-old cocaine allegation.
"Everything runs through your mind," said Cantelme.
"Who remembers a conversation from six months ago? Did I say or do anything that would embarrass my family or union?"
Although he had done nothing wrong, although he was not indicted, the firefighter decided enough was enough.
Cantelme immediately stepped down from the Transportation Committee he served on. He has not been to the statehouse since AzScam.
He speaks of his 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter from his first marriage and his new family and his concern for all of their well-being when he explains his new low political profile.
"You didn't see the firefighters out front on the city's recent bond problems," said Cantelme, describing the difference in his life after AzScam.
Patrick Cantelme is no longer the young rebel who charged and changed City Hall. Nor is he any longer the outspoken critic of a controversial police chief. But Phoenix was a better place when he was.
Pat Cantelme is a middle-aged man with a family and loved ones. He should never have been forced to choose between his political conscience and his heart.
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.
- Inmates Accuse Arizona of Experimenting with Lethal-Injection Drugs
Thu., Dec. 10, 6:25pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:00pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
Fri., Dec. 11, 7:30pm
- 10 Things Arizonans Hate About Snowbirds
- Scottsdale Couple Are Pioneers in Tiny-Home Movement in Arizona