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DRUNK WITH POWER

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Mandatory weapons are a big change from previous administrations. The Liquor Department gumshoes have always spent, and still do spend, most of their working hours doing paperwork or sitting around in bars on undercover assignments--two activities that don't usually require loaded guns or military titles. Even when they go on raids, liquor sleuths usually are accompanied by armed cops from other agencies. But Jonovich and Ennis say it is their statutory mission to turn the investigators into bona fide "law enforcement officers."

Jonovich's zeal is the target of insider jokes. But he also is feared. Several people, including former and current department staffers and an attorney familiar with the department, have told New Times that Jonovich unleashed a vendetta against the team of Liquor Department investigators who had been critical of Ennis' method of sanctioning booze in the ASU skyboxes.

"Jonovich formed a special internal investigations unit and put a lot of pressure on the staff," says Steve Reynolds, a decorated Vietnam veteran who was a supervisor of one of the investigators who looked into the Ennis-skybox issue. "We spent hours in interviews going over countless documents that didn't amount to a hill of beans. They used police-agency tactics to psychologically brutalize us. It got so bad employees were carrying tape recorders around because they didn't trust each other."

Jonovich calls the accusation an "out-and-out lie," and Ennis denies that a post-skybox internal bloodletting ever happened. "They've said that to the civil service board," he says. "They've said it everywhere. There was talk of a civil suit, but there never was one. I know why. There's no basis for one."

Of course, the sword cuts both ways. As soon as staffers figured out they were being investigated, they in turn began to investigate Ennis and Jonovich. After months of snooping around, several investigators say the two most powerful people at the Liquor Department were taking care of their private businesses on state time--Ennis owns a lottery-consulting business and Jonovich sells municipal bonds. They both deny the accusations.

THE STORIES ABOUT the department's investigations and counterinvestigations make a person a little fuzzy-headed: Investigators investigating each other, instead of the state's saloons. It's like a Keystone Kops movie, complete with a touch of pathos. These are the kinds of stories you might hear during a drinking bout with pals.

But then the Liquor Department has always been a little crazy.
In the Sixties, there was news of public officials, including legislators, involved in the under-the-table sale of liquor licenses. In the Eighties, Attorney General Bob Corbin alleged that Peerless Importers, a New York firm that sold about one quarter of the booze in Arizona, was linked to the Mafia. Peerless denied the charges, but chose to avoid public hearings by permanently turning in its license.

And then there were the Mecham appointees. First there was Alberto Rodriguez, a former cop from southern Arizona who'd been linked with a shooting in Mexico. The legislature wouldn't confirm Rodriguez's appointment, so Mecham replaced Rodriguez with Thad Curtis, another ex-cop from southern Arizona. Curtis wanted to revamp the Department of Public Safety. But instead, Mecham asked him to revamp the Liquor Department. He did, sort of, by tying up the staff with raids on bars that served booze to college students with fake I.D.'s.

Sandwiched between the Peerless Period and the Mechamite Era were the Golden Days, the two years from 1985 to 1987 when a lawyer named Philip MacDonnell was superintendent. MacDonnell, an appointee of Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt, actually focused on something important. He was known for ordering detailed background checks to see if licenses had "hidden owners," like organized-crime thugs whose rap sheets prevented them from legitimately obtaining liquor licenses. MacDonnell wanted to ferret out these "fronts." (MacDonnell doesn't toot his own horn about this. Now in private practice, he often appears before the Liquor Board and would not return repeated telephone calls for this article.) During the Golden Days, the department treated all licensees more fairly, investigators say.

Under Ennis, several people say, "mom and pop" bars get more scrutiny and less service from the department than do big-time saloons. One lawyer calls this arbitrary treatment "policy du jour."

The Prescott Sheraton, for instance, belongs to a corporation headed by a member of the family of construction giant W.M. Grace. The hotel got a liquor license in record time. That may be because Grace himself wrote the Liquor Department and asked to "expedite" the application.

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Terry Greene