Bonds. Big Bonds.

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"But in the early stages," Hamel admits, "no one knew they were out there."

Until recently, AHELA's Web site listed a partnership with Grupo N, Cantelme's for-profit marketing firm. But while Cantelme confirms that Grupo N was doing work for AHELA, he says it's all pro bono.

Cantelme insists Grupo N never got paid. "You're way off base with that," he says. "Everything we've done has been donated."

AHELA's tax returns indicate that it spent $207,000 on marketing in 2005, but doesn't say where the money went.

Cantelme says the listing was taken off the Web site a few weeks ago, not because New Times was looking into the matter, but because it was a mistake: "It should have never been on the Web site in the first place."

But there are a few other oddities that remain on the Web site,

AHELA lists one special loan designated for workers at a particular company: workers at PMT Ambulance.

Cantelme is one of PMT's owners.

The site also lists only one scholarship — "The Governor's 9/11 Memorial Scholarship."

Billy Shields, AHELA's secretary/treasurer, chaired the 9/11 Memorial Commission. Both he and Napolitano took harsh criticism from Republicans, who angrily criticized its anti-war sentiments. The scholarship, given to the writer of a 300-word essay, is intended to commemorate 9/11 — and "show support for the Arizona 9/11 memorial."

And there's another Web link out there that Cantelme can't take down: According to a listing with the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, his for-profit marketing firm, Grupo N, is using AHELA's Tempe suite as an office.

Cantelme did not return a follow-up call for comment on Monday, so it's unclear what the arrangement between Grupo N and AHELA is. But though Grupo N lists a different address on its Web site, it's obvious that it's not working there. The suite is empty, with exposed electrical wires and construction ladders visible from the doorway.

IRS spokesman Bill Brunson declined comment because the matter involves a specific company.

Cantelme defends AHELA's actions in every case. "This is what's crazy: We receive no compensation and no benefit for doing this. There's nothing we can harvest from this. There is no benefit down the road for us as individuals."

And, he insists, if anyone else wants a piece of the student loan bond money, it's there for the taking.

"There's nothing we could do to stop it," he says.

But history — very recent history — suggests otherwise. Just ask state Senator Dean Martin.

The Phoenix Republican, who was elected state treasurer last week, sponsored a bill in 2005 to reform some of the rules governing industrial development authorities. Those groups — like the one in Maricopa County — compete in a lottery for the tax-exempt bonds that aren't earmarked for student loans. They use the bonds to finance things like hospitals and affordable housing.

Martin says that, in many other states, industrial development authorities have the right to sell bonds for student loans. (Both Cantelme and L'Ecuyer dispute this, and New Times could not find any evidence to support Martin's claim. The lobbyist pushing the bill for Maricopa County's development authority, Kevin DeMenna, did not return calls for comment.)

One part of Martin's bill would have opened the student loan market to development authorities. He thought he had everyone on board: The bill sailed through both the House and Senate with virtually no opposition. No one testified against it, and the only no vote came from Senator Karen Johnson, who hardly has Governor Napolitano's ear.

But Napolitano — to Martin's shock — vetoed the bill. The reason, she wrote in her veto letter in May 2005, was that the student loan system worked just fine as it was.

Never mind that the longtime nonprofit had recently left the state — and that its replacement, Cantelme's group, had yet to issue any reports or audits.

Martin says that supporters of the bill talked to Napolitano's staff. They were told that Shields — a Napolitano ally, a major political player in the Valley, and AHELA's secretary/treasurer — had requested the veto.

L'Ecuyer denies this. "[S]taff had a concern with the provision" about student loans, she wrote an e-mail. "Again, this was an issue identified by staff; AHELA did not raise it."

But in an interview with New Times last Thursday, Cantelme was not bashful about the role he and Shields played. (Shields did not return calls for comment.)

Industrial development authorities, Cantelme insists, should not be in the loan business. He plans to stop them if they try again.

"If a nonprofit wanted to get into this, we'd be fine with that," he says. "But if it's an industrial development authority, we'd ask her to veto it again."

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske