Over a period of time, I have become more than just skeptical of County Attorney Richard Romley and his partner in the AzScam sting, then-Police Chief Ruben Ortega. Nothing personal.
It's just that after years of covering these two, it is my opinion that both Romley and Ortega are more concerned with headlines than with law enforcement.
Last week the professional turned very personal.
Last week I read AzScam transcripts that document an effort to set me up.
From the first moment AzScam became public, Ortega and Romley said they had solid intelligence that state legislators were on the take. It wasn't a matter of entrapping local officials, far from it; Ortega and Romley told us the sting was necessary to root out politicians whose votes were for sale.
Dipping into the bottomless cash pool of drug forfeitures, for which there is no public accounting, Ortega and Romley set up in business a professional hoodlum named Joseph Stedino. The police chief and the prosecutor spent nearly $1 million to lure politicians into their snare.
Portraying himself as a front man for casino interests, Stedino opened up an office in Phoenix. Soon he was passing out stacks of cash to legislators who would vote for legalized gambling in Arizona.
Legislators were videotaped selling their votes.
Stedino, of course, did not know anyone at the statehouse. He relied upon people like Gary Bartlett.
A fringe player in political circles, Bartlett had a keen taste for blackjack and craps. He was also fond of boasting about all the friends he had in powerful places.
In January 1990, Stedino wrote his handlers: If this man [Bartlett] is telling 10 percent truths, he is talking about major political corruption... . I believe this man will open doors in Arizona politics that will fire the shot heard round the world if we go with him." Dazzled at the prospect of firing a shot heard round the world, Ortega and Romley never determined if Bartlett was a barroom braggart or a real player.
Stedino was given the green light to hire Bartlett for $1,000 a week; together they would sell the scheme of legalized gambling in Arizona. While Bartlett and Stedino were setting up shop, they met at the Black Angus restaurant at 2200 East Camelback. Stedino wore a body bug to the meeting on February 8, 1990.
Later, Detective Gary Ball from the Organized Crime Bureau listened to Stedino's tape and recorded the following remarks.
...Bartlett and the leasing agent arrived at the Black Angus. The source [Stedino], Bartlett and the leasing agent talked about office space at various locations around town.
When the leasing agent left, Bartlett told the source [Stedino] that he was sick again and has not been able to work as hard on the office problem as he wants to. The source [Stedino] did pay Bartlett his first week's salary prior to leaving the restaurant.
The source [Stedino] asked Bartlett if he had heard back from [Representative] Don Kenney. Bartlett said he had not heard from Kenney yet... . The source [Stedino] asked Bartlett if he knew a [Representative] Bobby Raymond or Mike Lacey. Bartlett said he was good friends with Bobby Raymond but did not know Mike Lacey other than he has the New Times." Representatives Kenney and Raymond were eventually sentenced to five- and two-year prison terms, respectively, for selling their votes.
But why would Ortega and Romley's front man, Joseph Stedino, try to suck me into AzScam?
Ortega and Romley's story was that the sting was launched to expose corrupt legislators. Law enforcement records subsequently revealed that the allegations of corruption originated with Gary Bartlett. But it isn't Bartlett who puts my name into play; it's law enforcement's undercover agent, Stedino, who pumps Bartlett about me.
I am not a legislator. I am not a lobbyist. I don't have a single friend who is a legislator or a lobbyist. I have never written about, nor do I endorse, legalized gambling in Arizona; in fact, I seldom use my column to comment on any legislation. Prior to the publicity that engulfed AzScam, I don't think I'd ever heard of Gary Bartlett.
And, obviously, he'd never met me. Nor had Joseph Stedino. Brought in from out of state by Richard Romley, Stedino knew nothing about me.
We know now from records that have been released that Stedino's every step was stage-managed by Ortega and Romley. Romley personally worked with the FBI to import Stedino to Arizona from Reno, Nevada. When not directly involved, Ortega was kept briefed on the smallest of details. At one point, prosecutors, who were hidden in an adjoining room watching Stedino work a vulnerable legislator, telephoned into Stedino's office. As Stedino looked his prey in the eye, he was coached over the office telephone on how best to entice the politician into breaking the law.