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AN OLD AND TIRED HOOD

"Criminals develop the panic disease," Joseph Charles Stedino says.
His remark is greeted by silence.
Murray Miller, the criminal attorney representing ex-Senator Carolyn Walker, sits across the table from Stedino. Next to Miller sits Walker, facing Stedino. Their faces display no emotion. They are at the start of three days of deposing that will take twelve hours.

"I had sweaty palms all the time," Stedino says, speaking of his life as a criminal.

"I had palpitations of the heart. I had this inability to go outside the house. I would force myself to do things like gardening. Later I learned my condition was called `agoraphobia.'"

Stedino, who has spent lengthy portions of his life in various prisons, now lives the life of a well-paid executive because he was the front man for the AzScam sting run by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

He ran it with the panache of a lifetime confidence man, which he most certainly is. Eventually, Stedino succeeded in bringing grief to the entire Arizona State Legislature.

Everyone who has pursued a long criminal career recalls a defining moment when his nerve was broken.

Stedino tells Miller and Walker about the event that broke his nerve as a criminal at four o'clock one morning in his Las Vegas hotel.

"A detective, who was then with the Las Vegas Sheriff's Office, kicked in my door. He handcuffed me and threw me on a couch. He put his gun to my nose and cocked the trigger.

"`I'm going to kill you,' he said."
"Why did he do this?" Miller asks.
"He had been shaking me down for money. I stopped giving it to him. This was a game they used to play with felons in Las Vegas back in those days. It was an accepted form of life for myself and every other felon.

"This was the holocaust of the 1960s in Las Vegas. Felons disappeared every day. Their bodies would not reappear until months later in what was called `the spring crop.'"

"What does that mean?" Miller asks.
"When spring rolls around and the weather turns nice, they start finding bodies."

Stedino talks about the time when he was peddling jewelry in Las Vegas and decided to return home to Pittsburgh for a visit over the holidays.

"During this phase of my life, I am somewhat entwined with many of my types of person in that they are unsavory," Stedino says. "I went back to Pittsburgh, and one would have thought I was John Dillinger from the way the police reacted."

"What had you done?" Miller asks.
"Absolutely nothing. Not wanting to leave my jewelry in Las Vegas, I had taken a lot with me. I also was carrying about $20,000 in cash. The cops became nervous and suspicious. They came and got me because I had quite a rep in the community. I socialized with Frank Bompancero, Mickey Cohen, and Jimmy Frattiano--people listed in organized crime.

"My business at the time was simple. I had a safe in my home and some friends who owned a jewelry store where I could get goods on consignment. I also knew a lot of people in the casinos who would give me a call when someone was on a losing streak and wanted to sell jewelry to raise quick cash."

It turned out that the main problem was that Stedino was carrying a Super Bowl ring stolen from a member of the Denver Broncos.

"It was a mistake. The ring had been stolen a year before when someone broke into a car. I had bought it in Las Vegas at a jewelry store. They just thought I had stolen the ring. No harm."

From the above account, you can recognize that Stedino is a past master at the art of "vouching." Whenever a wise guy is trying to make himself sound like an important criminal, he mentions the names of well-known mobsters and says they are friends.

Who is going to doubt him? Usually most of the well-known hoods mentioned are in prison or dead anyway. Until now, Stedino has been presented to television audiences in carefully edited police videotapes as being confident and fearless. They have seen him as a romantic hired gun who has gone straight and wants to put a stop to corruption in the Arizona legislature.

So much for perception.
Miller, in his role as Walker's defense attorney, grilled Stedino for twelve hours during three days of depositions.

When you read through the thick deposition book, a different Stedino pops up from the pages. He is a terrified and worn-out hoodlum.

But he has managed to survive by transforming himself into a toady and a lickspittle for the cops employing his services. Stedino clings to them pitifully now for the smallest signs of approval.

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Tom Fitzpatrick