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A Secretary's Revenge

Anna Ott was a youngster whose troubles nestled into the souls of friends and strangers alike. At the age of 2, her arms and legs were amputated that she might survive a rare and pernicious disease. In this precarious state, 5-year-old Anna did not even have the comfort of her mom's loving embrace.

Anna's natural mother, a drug addict, no longer had legal custody of the little girl, who lived with a maternal grandparent in Oakland, California.

When Anna crossed paths with Deborah Vasquez, the Phoenix secretary opened her heart to the hapless child's predicament. Vasquez's well-meaning but misguided response to the child's misfortune brought the world crashing down upon her own already-weary shoulders.

And as her world disintegrated, Vasquez would do everything she could to make sure that her boss, the most powerful prosecutor in Arizona, paid a high price, too.

Vasquez peddled a string of incredible charges--sexual, financial and political--that were either false or misconstrued, but which nonetheless all but ruined first assistant attorney general Rob Carey.

Among a huge array of allegations, Vasquez would charge that Carey had looted a trust fund intended to finance minority scholarships, using the money to pay off a boozy retreat for lawyers in the Attorney General's Office.

Even though the charge was false, Vasquez would become a hot property in the media, as well as a battering ram that the county attorney used to launch a legal assault on Carey.

But these allegations were the furthest thing from Deborah Vasquez's mind when fate brought little Anna Ott into the secretary's life last spring. At the time, all Vasquez could think about was the hush-hush meeting her boss was in behind closed doors.

Attorney General Grant Woods met with his division chiefs last May 16 to decide the next step in Rob Carey's investigation of bid-rigging in Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-reduction program for state government. County Attorney Richard Romley had cleared all parties of any wrongdoing, but Carey and his staff had subsequently assembled an airtight case of fraud that led right to Symington's accountants and his deputy chief of staff. Woods had to decide whether to prosecute the governor's lieutenants.

As Woods and Carey huddled, a phone started ringing on Vasquez's desk.
She picked up the receiver and spoke to an officer from the Oakland Police Department who told her that a child, Anna Ott, had been kidnaped and that the abductors were headed to--might already be in--Arizona.

The California authorities informed Vasquez that the child had been snatched by Anna's substance-abusing mother and her heavily armed boyfriend. The police had reason to believe the desperate couple intended to use Anna as a prop at flea markets to help hustle money. Worse, the little girl needed medication that the abductors did not have.

Vasquez knew she should alert Carey to the emergency, but she was reluctant. She'd already interrupted his critical meeting earlier in the day to pass him a note. She hadn't cared in the least for his withering glare.

Now, she decided to handle the Ott crisis personally.
The Oakland police told Vasquez the abductors might be heading to Mesa, and the adults were expected to apply for welfare there.

"They were afraid that this guy Wagner [John Wagner, the armed boyfriend of the little girl's mother] was going to kill the child when he found out that he couldn't get [welfare] money because he had no legal custody. He had records in several states for violence," said Vasquez last week.

Working the phones, Vasquez alerted the Department of Economic Security. She also called the Mesa cops.

Identifying herself and making itclear that she was calling on behalf of the attorney general, Vasquez sounded the alarm.

And she saved the day. Local police swung into action and, to everyone's prayerful relief, the suspects were apprehended without violence.

Vasquez's involvement did not end with the capture of the kidnapers, however. At her direction, the child was taken to the county hospital for examination and treatment.

After work, Vasquez sped to Anna Ott's bedside to comfort the tot until the child's grandmother could arrive from Oakland.

Looking down at the now-safe 5-year-old, Vasquez was overcome with emotion, some of it connected to her own circumstances.

Only days earlier, Vasquez had received devastating news about her own daughter, 14-year-old Marisa.

Following a routine visit, Marisa's new doctor remarked upon her unusual appearance. Though a teenager, the young girl was so short that people often thought she was only 6 years old. Vasquez had known for some time that her daughter had health problems, but she had not sought a definitive answer. And this was the first time a doctor had come forward and suggested that there might be an explanation.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey