THE SCANDAL AT THE MESA POLICE DEPARTMENT
LATE ONE NIGHT, after everyone else had gone to bed, Dick told Stacie to take off her clothes.
"Let me massage your whole body," he whispered. "Take off your shirt and bra and I'll just give your whole body a little somethin'."
Dick squirted some baby lotion into his hands and went to work. He rubbed Stacie all over, front and back, spending time on her breasts, buttocks and genitals. He told her over and over, "You have a beautiful body."
Forty-five minutes later, Mesa police officer Dick Elliget finally stopped sexually assaulting his 16-year-old daughter.
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Utah Jazz
TicketsWed., Oct. 5, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Oct. 7, 7:00pm
TicketsSat., Oct. 8, 7:00pm
NBA Preseason Basketball: Phoenix Suns v. Dallas Mavericks
TicketsFri., Oct. 14, 7:00pm
BY LAST JULY 27, Stacie had had enough of the sexual abuse that had gone on for years. Her parents were in San Diego for the weekend. Stacie telephoned her aunt, B.J. Elliget, and told her about the massage.
Stacie also told her aunt of nude photography sessions her father had made her submit to. She said over and over how frightened she was for her three sisters, age 13, 9 and 7.
Nearly hysterical, B.J. drove over to the house. Stacie showed her aunt some of the photographs. Stacie's mother, Laurie, had posed naked with her daughter in some of them. In others, her father had made Stacie fondle herself.
Things moved quickly. The next morning, Mesa police executed a warrant to search the Elliget home. Investigators found the photographs and other incriminating evidence, and hours later arrested Dick and Laurie Elliget at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Stacie's decision to report her father ended his reign of terror inside the Elliget household. But Dick Elliget was not only a child molester. Investigation into his abuse of Stacie revealed a situation potentially devastating to the City of Mesa. Dick Elliget was the ringleader in a circle of sexual depravity that reached into the upper echelons of the Mesa Police Department.
But the extent of the corruption within the Mesa Police Department may never be known. The police department has hidden its misconduct from the public, and county prosecutors have acted in complicity with that cover-up by allowing Dick Elliget a plea bargain that will likely free him in less than seven years.
The County Attorney's Office declined to bring more serious charges against Dick Elliget as leverage, forcing him to reveal the full extent of police wrongdoing. The Valley press has also assisted in the cover-up. Public records showing that the Mesa Police Department was protecting itself have been available to reporters for weeks. However, news stories based on these documents have produced little of substance about the situation.
Although Dick Elliget declined an interview with New Times, police reports and other public records as well as interviews with sources inside and outside the Mesa Police Department reveal the following:
* Dick Elliget arranged for Mesa cops, including command-level supervisors, to have sex with his wife Laurie. Elliget kept a diary and file cards on these extramarital encounters as "insurance . . . so that certain people will not touch him," Dick's sister-in-law B.J. Elliget told investigators.
MDRV * Three years ago, Russ Staton, a Mesa police officer suspected of child molestation, told a detective that Dick Elliget would someday be investigated for a similar crime. In a deviation from commonly accepted police procedures, the investigating detective did not follow up that lead.
* Russ Staton also claimed to have been sexually blackmailed by a fellow Mesa cop. He said he had been conned into having an affair with the cop's wife. Staton was referring to Dick Elliget. Again, detectives did not pursue the lead, and missed the chance to uncover the widespread sexual misconduct in the Mesa Police Department centering around Dick Elliget.
* Internal affairs guidelines dictate that when one officer accuses another officer of blackmail and child molestation, those allegations must be pursued. Instead, the Mesa Police Department sought to keep its misdeeds under wraps by offering Russ Staton a deal to simply go away. * The County Attorney's Office assisted in the current Elliget cover-up when it permitted the Mesa Police Department to investigate the child-molestation case against Dick Elliget. This was done even after Elliget's sex diary implicated police higher-ups and showed how the department had been compromised.
* The original supervisor in the Elliget case was Mesa Police Department Lieutenant Bill Hamilton. Not only is he a friend of the Elligets, but he is also one of those named in the sex diary, say sources in and out of the Mesa Police Department. (Hamilton was eventually taken off the case, and he has failed to respond to verbal and written inquiries from New Times.)
* Dick Elliget's brother Tim--also a Mesa cop--and his father Richard Sr.--a Mesa police civilian employee--removed guns and other potential evidence from the Elliget house during the investigation. Mesa police detectives have never determined all that was taken from the crime scene.
* County prosecutors allowed the Mesa police to protect officers linked to the sex ring by whiting their names out of a 374-page report released to the press on the Elliget case. In several instances, however, these same authorities neglected to delete the names of the juvenile victims, which is required under the Victim's Bill of Rights.
* Press reports protected Dick Elliget and victimized his daughter Stacie. Local newspapers, following a policy of not reporting the names of minors, identified Stacie only as a "16-year-old girl." Reporters made no effort to interview her, but instead quoted her father's defense attorney, who portrayed Stacie as a teenager who "consented" to sexual acts. The press also failed to analyze the 374-page police report that revealed the victim was Elliget's daughter, and gave details showing that, far from consenting, she had been sexually exploited. "I wasn't consenting," Stacie angrily tells New Times. "I was molested."
* The Mesa Police Department's internal investigation into Elliget's sex diary and the conduct it documents has done little to get to the bottom of the scandal.
* Despite its strong criminal case against Dick Elliget, the County Attorney's Office failed to use its power as leverage to uncover the extent of sexual misconduct in the Mesa Police Department. The practice of extracting information from defendants in return for a softened deal is routine in criminal cases. But prosecutors gave Elliget a free ride in allowing him to plea to reduced charges, without extracting information about the sex ring and the extent of Elliget's blackmail.
* County prosectors known for their unforgiving stance against child molesters have granted Dick Elliget what one Mesa cop calls "a sweetheart of a deal," a plea bargain that could have him out of prison in less than seven years. Elliget has evaded prosecution under Arizona's punitive Dangerous Crimes Against Children laws. Prosecutors have deemed his sex crimes "nondangerous" to children and "nonrepetitive," despite solid evidence that he'd been molesting his teenage daughter for years, had started to play sex games with his next-oldest daughter and had arranged for a 14-year-old neighbor boy to have sex with his wife.
Dick Elliget, in jail since his arrest, is scheduled to be sentenced November 14 by Superior Court Judge Steven Sheldon. Five sex charges--including the forced genital massage of his daughter--were dropped as part of the plea bargain. Elliget has pled guilty only to taking pornographic photographs of Stacie and to arranging a sexual encounter between his wife and the underage neighbor boy. (Laurie Elliget, out on bail, pled guilty last week to one count of felony child abuse. She will be sentenced in December.)
Mesa police spokesman Mike Hayes vigorously denies his department has participated in any cover-up. "It's been embarrassing and it's been a sad day in our department," Hayes says, "but I think our investigation into this matter will stand up to any scrutiny."
But the entire Elliget affair has sickened many Mesa cops. "We have mostly decent people working here, but there's this cancer," says a veteran Mesa officer, who, like the other dozen officers who spoke with New Times, fears reprisals if identified by name. "People have things to hide. We don't know what to do."
Stacie Elliget, the molested daughter, wants the public to know the "real story" about the sex scandal. "Do it," she repeatedly told New Times after being informed of this story. "Someone has to."
NO LONGER a sleepy Mormon suburb, Mesa is the third-largest city in Arizona. In recent years, the Mesa Police Department has been buffeted by what one retired cop calls "more than its share" of sex-related offenses involving its officers.
Many of the cases were kept from public view, but Mesa cops have been both reprimanded by the department and even prosecuted for, among other things, soliciting sex from female defendants, indecent exposure, window-peeping and sexually abusing complainants. The officers involved in those incidents are still employed by the Mesa Police Department.
One of the most controversial sex-related events involved Lieutenant Bill Hamilton, the officer who initially supervised the Elliget case. Hamilton was suspended for a month in early 1988 for what could be viewed as no more than a tasteless joke--handing out a phallic-shaped flashlight he called the "purple penis award" to officers on his bad side.
Far more controversial, however, was the accusation of a male officer who said he had seen Hamilton caress the breast of a rookie woman cop. Although then-Mesa Police Chief Ivan Nannenga declined to punish Hamilton on that charge, Nannenga later publicly attributed a slip in officer morale to Hamilton's lenient treatment. An underground flier called the P.D. Journal, written by officers, excoriated Nannenga for not firing Hamilton.
"We put people in jail every day under less-clear circumstances," the flier complained.
It wasn't hard for someone like Dick Elliget to flourish in a department so riddled with skeletons. During the late 1980s, Elliget's friendship with his bosses made him a formidable player. Several Mesa cops say Elliget's powerful standing in the department far exceeded his rank of patrol cop. One of his best pals was Lieutenant Rick Heath, who happened to be his supervisor.
That friendship came in handy in 1987 when a Mesa woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against Elliget. "Rick Heath took care of it," says a high-ranking Mesa officer. "He always took good care of Dickie."
(Heath and his wife were vacationing with Dick and Laurie Elliget in San Diego last July when Stacie Elliget told her aunt about the molestation. Sources close to the case say Heath's name appears in Elliget's sex diary. Heath had received a ten-day suspension in 1987 for fondling a woman police employee at his home. He retired shortly after the Elliget sex case broke, though he'd previously told fellow officers he planned to stay on until 1992. Heath did not respond to a New Times request for an interview.)
In the late 1980s, Elliget was a key player in two of the Mesa Police Department's most controversial sex-related cases. In both instances, he acted as a snitch against fellow cops.
In late 1987, Sergeant Chris Cartolano was accused of sexually harassing a woman officer. He was demoted to detective and sued the Mesa Police Department. Cartolano claimed the department acted unfairly in demoting him for suggestive comments, while only suspending Lieutenants Rick Heath and Bill Hamilton for more serious infractions.
Cartolano also sued Dick Elliget, claiming Elliget had "maliciously" hastened the harassment charge by repeating to the woman officer racy private remarks Cartolano had made.
(Cartolano's lawsuit was settled out of court in July 1990. He received $15,000 from the City of Mesa and a promise of reinstatement to the rank of sergeant.)
Another example of Elliget's growing role in the Mesa Police Department came during the Russ Staton case. Records obtained by New Times show that in April 1988, Officer Staton wrote a letter to his wife Cheri in which he confessed to having molested her daughter--his stepdaughter--years before.
Significant for the Elliget case, however, was another part of the letter. Staton wrote, "I had an affair with a police officer's wife, which wasn't really my doing. I know now it was a setup deal . . . for his own gain, which he has tried to use against me."
Staton did not identify the officer whose wife he'd had the affair with.
But Cheri Staton apparently knew who it was. She confronted Dick Elliget. Several Mesa officers familiar with the Staton case also tell New Times the blackmailer was Dick Elliget. A source who has read Elliget's sex diary says Staton's name appears in it, and that the diary describes Staton as a sexual partner of Laurie Elliget.
Records indicate that the day after Cheri Staton confronted him, Dick Elliget squealed to a Mesa sergeant about Russ Staton's child molesting. It's not clear how Elliget learned about it.
After Elliget talked, Cheri Staton turned her husband's confessional letter over to Mesa police. Russ Staton was quickly and quietly allowed to resign. The Mesa police never followed up on Staton's reference to a "setup deal" for Dick Elliget's gain, or on the inference of blackmail.
But the child-molestation case against Russ Staton was important for another reason. It paralleled the Elliget case and foreshadowed the preferential treatment police and prosecutors would give Dick Elliget. The Staton criminal investigation was handled as if police wanted it to simply go away.
"I was told by the detectives that the case would be turned down for various reasons," Staton wrote in March 1990 to Arizona's police-certification board. "Then-police chief Ivan Nannenga, in the presence of his staff, told me no charges would be filed if I resigned from the department." (The Mesa Police Department denies this.)
The handling of the Staton case came under fire in an internal memo by deputy county attorney Terry Jennings. He chided the Mesa detectives for not pursuing the Staton case with proper vigor.
"I think the victim ought to be interviewed by someone outside the Mesa Police Department," Jennings wrote in the May 1988 memo, referring to Cheri Staton's daughter. "It doesn't seem like the victim was pressed very much for details. Maybe an independent examiner could get the victim to be more cooperative and specific."
Jennings was also suggesting that a conflict of interest existed in having Mesa detectives investigate a fellow cop in a child-molestation case.
The shallow nature of Mesa's original investigation against Staton was borne out earlier this year when a second stepdaughter came forward with allegations that Russ Staton had molested her, too. Mesa detectives reinvestigated the case, and a grand jury indicted Staton on four counts of child molestation.
The superficiality of the Staton investigation allowed the Elliget cancer to grow. Had the Mesa authorities pursued Staton's allegations of blackmail, they could have followed the trail to Dick Elliget three years ago, when he was just beginning to molest Stacie.
When she finally reported that molestation, and the Elliget case came before Terry Jennings, Jennings seems to have forgotten the lesson of the Staton case. He did not demand that an outside police agency take over the case. Jennings' refusal came despite Dick Elliget's sex diary, which indicated a widespread sex scandal inside the Mesa Police Department.
Prosecutor Jennings says he made "the right call" by not insisting that the Mesa Police Department remove itself from the Elliget criminal investigation. He says this even though Detective Kay Miller, who fumbled the original Staton case, was put in charge of the investigation. An experienced police lawyer, however, disputes that. "They clearly should have called in an outside agency, like DPS, to investigate this case," says Jack LaSota, a former in-house legal adviser to the Phoenix Police Department. "Where it involves allegations of a ring within the department, smuggling, forgery, or in this case, sex, you bring in another agency. That's particularly true if the allegations involve superiors or anyone who might be viewed as having the ability to influence the investigation."
And Mel McDonald, whose law firm represents the Phoenix Police Department in civil matters, also says another agency should have been brought in to investigate the Elliget case.
"The more serious the charge against an officer, the more compelling the reason for a department to bring in another agency to investigate," says McDonald, a former United States Attorney. "When you're talking about sex and children, it can't get much more serious. Law enforcement can't operate under a cloud. Even when it's a close question, you get out of the way."
Terry Jennings' refusal to call in an outside agency becomes even more critical in light of something Stacie Elliget recalls. "Kay Miller told me when he was going to interview me that now he knew what Russ Staton had meant," Stacie tells New Times. "Kay said Russ had told him that `someday, you'll be asking Dick Elliget these same questions--you'll see,'" Stacie says. "It's weird, 'cause right around that time my dad started playing these little sex games with me."
SIX WEEKS BEFORE Dick Elliget's fiefdom crashed, the Mesa Tribune published a story with the headline, "Police work all in the family for dad, sons."
The story described glowingly how Dick, Tim and Richard Elliget Sr. had been serving the City of Mesa for years. "I try to keep my career separated from my personal life as much as possible," Dick Elliget told a reporter, adding that his cop job fascinated his four daughters. "There's always that `wow,'" he said.
Dick Elliget had been a cop for most of his adult life. He served a tour in Vietnam after being graduated from Phoenix Central High School, then went to work for a few years as a deputy marshal in the northern Arizona town of Fredonia. The Mesa Police Department hired him in 1978.
Laurie Elliget gave birth to the second of their four daughters shortly after the family moved to Mesa. Over the years, he earned a reputation as a go-getter. The department awarded him its Medal of Valor in 1984--he is the only Mesa officer ever to receive that honor--after he rescued a suicidal woman from drowning in a canal. He later won a second Medal of Valor in another rescue of a suicidal woman.
Those honors have been called into question by some Mesa cops. Both awards came upon the recommendation of Elliget's alleged "godfather," Lieutenant Rick Heath, the retired supervisor whose name is said to appear in Elliget's sex diary. "It just looks fishy," says one cop who knows both men. "They were best of buds, looking out for each other. I know that we do rescues all the time and don't get nominated for big awards. A lot of us have wondered about the medals, even before we knew about the diary and all that."
Though the public knew Dick Elliget as a hero, fellow officers knew him as a Lothario. They dubbed him "Dick the Stick," a reference to his incessant chasing of women both in and out of the department.
Once in the late 1980s, according to police records obtained by New Times, the manager of a Village Inn restaurant called the Mesa Police Department to complain about Elliget and another officer's sexual harassment of a waitress. The department took no official action against either officer.
"I've known for years that Dick and Laurie both have slept around," B.J. Elliget told detectives. "One night I said, `Dick, how can you sleep around like that? You can't love your wife.' And he says, `I do love my wife. The women that I sleep with, I don't make love to them, I just sleep with them. I make love to my wife.' He went into some weird details, like he would actually bring underwear home to Laurie of other women."
For years, Laurie had been posing for nude photographs for her husband. Elliget displayed the nudes prominently in his gun room. The room--supposedly off-limits to the kids--is where Elliget often hung out with his police buddies. He made his wife available to some of them.
A transcript of B.J. Elliget's first interview with detectives details several of Laurie's sexual encounters with Mesa cops. But higher-ups in the Mesa Police Department and prosecutors in the County Attorney's Office have censored the names from public view.
"Can we police ourselves?" says Mesa police spokesman Mike Hayes. "When people read the report in its entirety, people will conclude that Mesa P.D. did it quite professionally and very well." Hayes adds, however, that he has not read the Elliget police report. "I'll do that when the case is over," he says.
IN RECENT YEARS, Dick and Laurie Elliget expanded their sexual horizons. Last year, they seduced a neighbor boy, then 14, when the girls were out of the house.
Elliget detailed what happened in his sex diary--the only part of the diary that has been made public. He called the encounter "Number 33."
The boy later recalled the event almost exactly as Elliget had in the diary--without Elliget's explicit language. The boy told detectives that Dick Elliget had led a blindfolded Laurie into the Elliget living room, turned on some "oldies" records and told her to "do her thing." Wordlessly, Laurie stripped off her clothes and reclined on a coffee table. The boy performed oral sex on Laurie, then, in his words, "proceeded to do it" with her as Dick Elliget stood by. Then the boy watched Elliget have sex with Laurie.
(Elliget is to receive probation for this felony. Laurie wasn't charged, prosecutors say, since she was blindfolded and unable to identify her sex partner as a juvenile.)
This was the atmosphere in which Dick and Laurie Elliget's four daughters were being raised. As oldest daughter Stacie started to mature physically, her father started playing sex games with her.
"At first, it was just like little things," Stacie later told detectives. "He'd walk by and bump into my breasts or stuff like that." Elliget called that game "booby grabbers."
"I really didn't think anything of it at first, until it started getting worse," Stacie said.
Things escalated as she got older. In one game Elliget dubbed "the short-hair pull," Stacie recalled that her father "would try to pull the hair out of my crotch."
Other times, "instead of little grabs, he reached underneath my bra and grabbed me and made me sit on his lap. I didn't like it. It scared me. He used to tell me that nobody could ever touch me the way he could. Only he could."
Earlier this year, Dick Elliget was taking a shower and he shouted to Stacie to fetch him a washcloth. When she brought it, Stacie told police, "he grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me into the shower." Elliget urged his daughter to strip and only released her when he heard the door open. Laurie Elliget walked in and saw her daughter standing there, drenched. Her mother said nothing, according to Stacie.
Dick Elliget also forced Stacie to undergo the massage with baby lotion. A girlfriend advised Stacie to turn her father in before it got any worse, but Stacie hesitated.
So it got worse. Just before school recessed last May, Elliget insisted that Stacie sit for nude photographs with her mother. "He asked me if I wanted to, and first I was like, `No, I don't, no,'" Stacie recalls. "And then he asked me again, and just the way he looked at me, he scared me. I figured if I did it and got it over with, he'd leave me alone."
Mother and daughter posed for Dick Elliget in a variety of ways--standing, sitting, with teddy bears, with their legs spread. Elliget took more than 100 photographs in the first session, according to police property records.
About a week later, Elliget cornered Stacie alone at the house. He wanted to take some more photographs of her, and he wanted her to play with herself while he did so. "He said I had to look like I was enjoying what I did--it made me look more sensuous," Stacie recalls. "I was scared. He kept telling me, `If you're gonna do this, you're gonna do it right, unless you wanna piss me off.' Those were his exact words."
Dick Elliget snapped some photographs, then left for work.
One day, Dick Elliget tossed Stacie a copy of a police report. It was an account of the Russ Staton case--the former Mesa cop Elliget had turned in for child molestation. In a taunting tone, Dick Elliget told his daughter to read it.
Stacie was repelled by the account of child molestation; she was also frightened by her father's machinations within the Mesa Police Department. He was her father, he was a hero cop and he had a terrible temper, but none of that mattered anymore. Elliget was playing "booby grabbers" with Stacie's 13-year-old sister, and she saw her own history with her father repeating itself.
"I wanted to protect my sisters," Stacie later told a detective. So on July 27, 1991, she called Aunt B.J.
THE MESA POLICE searched Dick and Laurie Elliget's home on the evening of July 29. Two detectives, a sergeant, an I.D. technician and Lieutenant Bill Hamilton--the officer in charge of the investigation whose name was in Elliget's sex diary--were present during the search.
Prosecutors Terry Jennings and Ann Williams also watched as the detectives confiscated the nude photographs of Stacie and her mom, two dildos, a canister containing a small amount of marijuana and other items.
They also located the sex diary. B.J. Elliget had told detectives of the diary her brother-in-law had been compiling for "insurance." She says she knew about it from Stacie. "It's going to hurt a lot of people if it comes out," B.J. told detectives.
"The key is the diary," one department veteran tells New Times. "Everything is hush-hush about it, because it's got names and dates in it."
The Mesa cops turned over the diary and two sets of index cards that also recounted Laurie Elliget's sexual encounters to the County Attorney's Office. Prosecutor Terry Jennings points to that as evidence that the Elliget investigation was on the up-and-up.
"The Mesa police invited us to participate in the whole thing from square one," Jennings says. "They wanted us to hold onto certain evidence as to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Everything was done by the book."
Not quite. The Mesa Police Department and the County Attorney's Office decided there was nothing improper about a law-enforcement agency investigating its own officers for possible criminal violations. And so the Mesa Police Department was allowed to investigate the Elliget case, even after the sex diary linked some of its high-ranking supervisors to the scandal.
The department had been more diligent in less important cases. For instance, the Mesa Police Department earlier this year turned over to the state Department of Public Safety its investigation into a beer party thrown by Mesa Mayor Peggy Rubach for graduating high school seniors. Since Rubach technically oversees the police department, the department's investigation of the party would have been improper.
County prosecutors have also been sensitive to other apparent conflicts. Last year, for instance, they removed themselves from yet another sex-related incident involving a Mesa cop. In that case, Officer Kraig Bowser pled guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned from the force after a 16-year-old runaway claimed Bowser had sex with her.
The County Attorney's Office asked the state Attorney General's Office to handle the case, said a spokesperson at the time, because Bowser had on occasion testified for the county in criminal cases. Dick Elliget has also testified for the county in criminal matters, but that didn't stop local prosecutors from handling the case against him.
"What Mesa does internally is their business," says Paul Ahler, head of the County Attorney's trial bureau. "We just care about the criminal end of it. Mesa did a fine job in that area."
But the 374-page police report of the Elliget case casts serious doubts upon that. The heavily censored report backs the worst suspicions of concerned Mesa cops and of 16-year-old victim Stacie Elliget. The cops and Stacie use the word "cover-up."
All references to current Mesa cops linked to the sex diary have been edited out of the report, despite an Arizona law that requires only the deletion of the names and addresses of victims. But the Mesa officers named in the diary and in the police reports were not victims--they were active participants in an adulterous sex ring linked by Dick Elliget and Russ Staton to the more serious charge of child abuse.
Despite the whiting out by authorities of police officers named in the sex diary, what was left intact disproves the notion that Mesa detectives investigated this case as diligently as they would others.
For example, in his first interview, Dick Elliget's brother Tim--also a Mesa police officer--told Detective Kay Miller that he'd had "a hunch" that something had been going on between his brother and 16-year-old Stacie. Miller didn't press his fellow cop at all about this potentially stunning revelation.
Miller cut that line of questioning short, then asked Tim Elliget, "Do you have any questions for me?"
Tim Elliget asked what was going to happen with the case against his brother and his sister-in-law.
"We're trying to keep this as low-key as we can as far as just not letting everybody know about it," Miller responded, according to the police report.
WITHIN HOURS OF that interview, Mesa police arrested Dick and Laurie Elliget at Sky Harbor International Airport when the couple returned from San Diego. Dick Elliget faced three counts of sexual exploitation of 16-year-old Stacie and one count of child abuse. Laurie was charged with one count of child abuse. (Police weren't yet aware of the couple's seduction of the 14-year-old boy.)
Dick Elliget declined to discuss the case with fellow Mesa officers and demanded a lawyer. But Laurie consented to an interview. She said she knew of Dick's "booby grabbers" game, but added, "He's not being sexual when he's doin' that to 'em."
In fact, Laurie blamed her daughter Stacie. "She said that she wanted to" pose nude, Laurie told detectives, "so I figured if she was going to, that I wanted to be in there with her. I didn't look at it sexually."
Laurie Elliget claimed that Stacie had "initiated" the nude photography session. Laurie claimed no knowledge of the subsequent session in which her husband had taken the photographs of Stacie fondling herself.
Detective Kay Miller then told Laurie he was going to ask her something "that might be a little harder for you to talk about" than her husband's nude photography sessions with her daughter. "Between the pictures and all the note cards and everything else, you're pretty active sexually," Miller continued. "Whether it's true or not, I don't know. That's up to you and Dick. But in many of the. . . . "
Mesa police officials and county prosecutors have censored the transcript's next section, and Laurie's responses are unreadable. But it's clear from what remains that the editing was done to protect Mesa police officers, not the Elligets' juvenile victims.
There were other serious problems with Mesa's investigation. Reports indicate that Dick Elliget's brother and father removed potential evidence from the Elliget home between the first and second police searches. And detectives did little to find out what it was that they removed. Police had found a film canister containing "a green leafy substance" during their initial search of the home. Laurie Elliget admitted that a friend had given her marijuana.
In her second interview with detectives, Stacie Elliget mentioned a secret compartment beneath a dresser drawer in the master bedroom. The detectives decided to search again, this time to look more closely for drug paraphernalia. The police re-entered the home a few days after the Elligets' arrests. During the 13-minute search, Miller noted in a police report "that person or persons had got into the compartment underneath the dresser prior to our arrival."
As the cops prepared to leave, they were met by Dick Elliget's father, Richard Sr.--a civilian employee of the police department. He said he and Tim Elliget had been in the house after the first search to remove Dick Elliget's rifles and pistols. Dick's father denied knowing anything about a secret compartment.
That's where this potentially critical issue sat for two weeks. On August 15, Kay Miller finally reinterviewed Tim Elliget, who denied that he or his dad had taken anything from the secret compartment.
Tim Elliget did say, however, that his father had taken a white metal filing box and a brown briefcase out of the house. Detective Miller apparently accepted Tim Elliget's explanation that those items contained nothing of value to the criminal investigation.
The evidence-tampering remains an unsolved mystery. And no drug charges were filed against the Elligets.
"I kind of realized the media was in on this because of what they didn't write," says one Mesa officer. "Then I saw what they did write about the plea and I told some of my buddies, `I don't think I'm paranoid, but what the hell is going on out there?'"
The stories concerning Dick Elliget's plea bargain focused on a decorated police officer's fall from grace with a teenager who was a willing participant.
Phoenix Gazette reporter Karen Fernau quoted only Dick Elliget's attorney Geoff Jones in her story: "These were consensual actions on the part of teenagers in this case. . . . These were teenagers, not children."
Susan Leonard of the Arizona Republic also dwelled on the "consent" angle, noting that Elliget's attorney "plans to ask [Judge] Sheldon to consider the minimum sentence because Elliget had no previous record and because the teenagers consented to the acts." Leonard did add, "A police report says the 16-year-old girl said she allowed Elliget to take her picture because she feared his violent temper."
The Mesa Tribune's Lynn DeBruin made the same point: "[Geoff] Jones noted that Elliget has no prior convictions, that the charges involve consensual actions and involve teens rather than young children."
Following newspaper policy in all three cases, none of the stories identified Stacie Elliget by name or described her as a victim of incest. More important, none of the reporters attempted any analysis of the powerful material left in the uncensored parts of the 374-page Elliget police report. Reporters have had access to that report since cops and prosecutors released it weeks ago. It would be "far-fetched, to put it mildly," says a Mesa cop who has studied the report, for anyone but a defense lawyer "to conclude the girl consented to anything, even if she legally could have."
Detective Kay Miller's first police report of the Elliget case backs that assessment on page after page. "[Stacie] describes Mr. Elliget as telling her to take off her clothes," says Miller's account of the lotion massage. "[Stacie] related that she did not want to do this, but that she felt that if she did not give in to what [her father] told her to, that he would not leave her alone."
In her first interview with the police, Stacie's aunt B.J. Elliget also depicts Stacie as an unwilling victim: "She's just scared of him. He tells her he will do whatever he wants." Dick Elliget, 37, is scheduled to be sentenced November 14. He is likely to serve three to seven years in prison. Before his plea bargain, Elliget faced a mandatory sentence of at least 12 years without the possibility of parole. One Mesa cop calls Elliget's plea bargain "a sweetheart of a deal." Adds the cop, "I guess it's just as outrageous as everything else in this mess."
Mesa Police Chief Guy Meeks announced two months ago that he had ordered an internal investigation into the Elliget affair. "Some people may be affected by this investigation, as some people will be affected by this story," says Mesa police spokesperson Mike Hayes. "That's the way it is. If clothes need to be washed and hung to dry at Mesa P.D., then we'll do it and move on."
But several Mesa cops tell New Times the investigation has been laughable.
"They sent a form with about ten very general questions to a bunch of officers," sniffs one cop, who says another officer showed him the document. "It's like, `Did you see nude photos of Laurie Elliget or her daughter? Yes or no.' Not exactly probing. No one wants to know the truth."
Veteran Mesa officers can recall no other internal investigation that relied upon a questionnaire.
Because of Dick Elliget's plea bargain, this case--like the Russ Staton case before it--may fade away without anyone finding out the full extent of the corruption within the Mesa Police Department.
Because of his plea bargain, Elliget cannot now be compelled to corroborate the events depicted in his diary, even if prosecutors eventually file charges against other officers in the sex ring.
And because of the plea bargain, many questions about the Mesa Police Department linger:
* Did Dick Elliget use the sex diary for purposes of "insurance" and "blackmail," as alleged by B.J. Elliget and former Mesa cop Russ Staton?
* Was Elliget protected from charges of sexual harassment by a Mesa police supervisor who was sexually involved with Elliget's wife?
* Were Elliget's commendations for valor a result of his close relationship with that same supervisor?
Because the actions of the County Attorney's Office and the Mesa Police Department have created a cover-up of the real story, the remaining officers on the East Valley force who insist on integrity must carry on without knowing the full extent of the corruption of their colleagues.
And there is another casualty in this matter: The people of Mesa must face the fact that there is one standard for police investigation when it involves ordinary citizens and a second, more benign standard when the probe focuses upon officers of the law.
"This sort of case is very corrosive within a department and repugnant to the average guy on the street," says former police attorney Jack LaSota. "At the first allegation of blackmail or influence, you had to examine what effect being involved with the Elligets had on assignments, promotions and discipline. What message does this send to the officers trying to get by on merit?
"It seems to me that with the diary and all the other stuff the prosecutor had, you are depriving the community of the chance to get this guy on the witness stand. That is an unnecessary concession."
In the midst of all this smarm, says a veteran sex-crimes detective, one person set the right example: Stacie Elliget, he says, "is a real hero."
"She was looking out for herself, sure, but her sisters were the most important thing," says the detective. "That's what being a hero is all about."
Dick and Laurie Elliget's four daughters have been wards of the court, living in crisis shelters and foster homes, since shortly after their parents' arrests. And how does Stacie Elliget assess what the police, prosecutors and press have done in this case? "What a crock," says the young woman, who will turn 17 next week, the day after her father's scheduled sentencing. "What a crock."
"She was looking out for herself, sure, but her sisters were the most important thing. That's what being a hero is all about."
Dick Elliget was the ringleader in a circle of sexual depravity that reached into the upper echelons of the Mesa Police Department.
"I wasn't consenting," Stacie Elliget says angrily. "I was molested."
Prosecutors have deemed Dick Elliget's sex crimes "nondangerous" to children and "nonrepetitive." It wasn't hard for someone like Dick Elliget to flourish in a department so riddled with skeletons. "I try to keep my career separated from my personal life as much as possible," Dick Elliget told a reporter.
"I do love my wife. The women that I sleep with, I don't make love to them, I just sleep with them. I make love to my wife."
"Just the way he looked at me, he scared me. I figured if I did it and got it over with, he'd leave me alone."
"The key is the diary," one cop says. "Everything is hush-hush about it, because it's got names and dates in it."
Stacie Elliget mentioned a secret compartment beneath a dresser drawer in the master bedroom.
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.