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DPS Honchos' Ethics Are Questioned After Sports-Ticket Probe

The cops sat in clubhouse seats at Chase Field, not too far behind home plate, as guests of the Arizona Trucking Association.

It was early evening on September 8, 2011, and the Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the San Diego Padres. Pitcher Ian Kennedy was shooting for an impressive 19th win of the season.

Watching a baseball game from such great seats was just what Lieutenant Colonel Jack Hegarty needed.

That summer, the Highway Patrol chief at the Arizona Department of Public Safety was feeling a lot of heat. Morale was much worse than normal at the resource-strapped agency, and Hegarty was getting the blame. The troops wanted his head.

Getting wrapped up in a scandal over baseball tickets had to be the last thing Hegarty wanted.

Yet he knew that accepting free tickets from the trucking association could be considered unethical. The organization represents trucking and transportation companies regulated by the DPS. But Hegarty wouldn't have been concerned about getting in trouble over this game. After all, he and other DPS employees had accepted free tickets in the past.

Hegarty wasn't the only DPS honcho the ATA had invited to the game.

Captain Ken Hunter, the DPS' Southern Commercial Vehicle District commander from Tucson, also went. For him, the Thursday game coincided nicely with an overnight trip in Phoenix he'd planned so he could participate in a Taser International project the next morning.

DPS Captain Deston Coleman Jr. also got an ATA invite. So did Sergeant Jimmy Chavez, president of the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, the labor organization that represents troopers.

All four men worked within the DPS commercial vehicle enforcement unit. Treating them right helped keep the trucking group's wheels turning smoothly.

Chavez and Coleman later ended up unable to go, and Hegarty gave one of their tickets to DPS Sergeant Tim Mason.

It was an enjoyable game to watch for Arizona fans, as the Diamondbacks went on to win 4-1.

But for Hegarty and Mason, sitting one row down from ATA President Karen Rasmussen, the big moment of the night came about a half-hour into the contest, which started at 6:40 p.m.

A TV camera pans the crowd. For a brief moment, Hegarty and Mason appear on TV and also on Chase Field's giant video screen. They don't smile and wave, as fans normally do when this happens. Hegarty, wearing a red D-backs polo shirt, wears an embarrassed smirk, his brow furrowed. Mason's mouth hangs agape. Rasmussen can be made out sitting directly behind Hegarty.

Busted!

Somewhere among the many thousands of TV viewers, someone recognizes one or both men. And takes a still shot of the video.

A couple of weeks later, the picture is distributed widely among DPS staff. Hegarty becomes a laughingstock.

Plus, accepting gifts from an industry you regulate is a serious matter — at least when you get caught.

About a month after the game, Hegarty is called before DPS Deputy Director Dennis Young, who tells him an investigation is under way.

Hegarty reportedly tells Young he's "curious" to see how that plays out, since agency employees who accepted free tickets from the trucking association in the past included Director Robert Halliday.

Hegarty is out of the DPS by January.


Offering free game tickets — especially for prime seats — is a common way to curry favor with Arizona public officials and bureaucrats. Taking the tickets has gotten a lot of these officials in trouble — some more than others.

The Fiesta Bowl scandal was the worst case of gift-taking in the past few years, with 31 officials wined and dined in the hopes of influencing their votes.

Then there was the case of former state lawmaker and Tempe City Councilman Ben Arredondo, who resigned from his seat earlier this month after pleading guilty to federal felonies in a corruption-related case. He killed his career by accepting about $6,000 in free tickets that essentially were bribes from people he thought were land developers but really were FBI agents.

Arredondo was one of the officials who took game tickets from the Fiesta Bowl; he also helped the bowl obtain a $6.5 million subsidy from Tempe. But last December, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery decided not to press criminal charges against Arredondo or the other officials, saying the gift-taking law is too vague.

According to statements by Hegarty, DPS officials took expensive baseball tickets from the trucking association in 2010 and 2011, by which time it seems they must have heard about the Fiesta Bowl scandal. The law enforcement officials should have known better.

The probe of Hegarty revealed that the practice of DPS supervisors accepting baseball tickets from representatives of the industry they were charged with regulating had become routine. And it revealed apparent dishonesty in the ranks of DPS supervisors.

A 204-page investigative report depicts Hegarty, when pressed about the source of the tickets, as a double-talking back-stabber. Captain Hunter was shown to be less than truthful, as well.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.