End of a Smear

Attorney General Grant Woods and County Attorney Richard Romley collided at opposing press conferences last Wednesday, slamming together like a pair of sumo wrestlers with microphones sandwiched between their sweaty haunches.

The sound from the slap of angry flesh inspired alarmed stories in the daily press and endless argument on talk radio; the grappling prosecutors provided the sort of television footage that sends producers into near-sexual fits of ecstasy.

In front of God and country, Woods agreed to repay $24,000 of donated money that had supposedly been misused during four years, plus fines and interest. He also accepted the resignation of first assistant attorney general Rob Carey, who had been in charge of those funds. Less than 24 hours later, Woods announced that Romley's lengthy investigation of the Attorney General's Office had been an outrageous political vendetta.

It was a payback, said Woods, for Carey's criticism of the county attorney's failure in the Project SLIM investigation, a case that Carey broke wide open.

Woods then stunned the assembled press corps by rehiring Carey.
In Macy's downtown window, Romley displayed a self-righteous patriarch's fury, revealing--some might even say reveling in--the extent to which he had abused his prosecutorial powers while seeking to eliminate Carey, a rival, from the political stage.

Romley didn't just lay out his list of alleged abuses of private contributions to the attorney general's Event Fund--although these minor irregularities in accounting for non-taxpayer funds were the only "wrongdoing" the county attorney came close to confirming during ten months of intensive investigation.

The county attorney also included in his press packet a list of investigations his office had conducted about Carey that were entirely unrelated to the allegation of Event Fund misuse. Romley even boasted that he examined whether Carey might have fixed a parking ticket.

That these other investigations were incredibly expensive and failed to prove wrongdoing by Carey or anyone else in the Attorney General's Office did not seem to bother Romley or the press, which repeated some of the county attorney's least-supportable allegations as revealed truth.

Romley did squeeze a settlement out of the Attorney General's Office. It included the admission by Woods and Carey that, during four years, approximately $24,000 had been misused from the Event Fund, a repository of money donated by private parties to support sideline activities of theAG'sOffice.

In their press conference, Woods and Carey insisted that the $24,000 figure is grossly inflated. But, they said, returning the money was a small price to pay to end the county attorney's witch hunt--a witch hunt that had crippled the AG's administrative office by demanding a warehouse full of paperwork that had to be pulled by hand.

The county attorney, however, maintained that this mountain of evidence showed that the large corporations and law firms donating money to the attorney general had been deceived. Those donors, Romley concluded, had been defrauded; they had been told the money would be spent on one specific event, when, in fact, the money was spent elsewhere.

Romley's charges of corruption are absurd.

Richard Romley's investigation of Rob Carey uncovered very little of real importance. But it has inflicted costs on a lot of people, including every taxpayer in Arizona.

Even as Romley announced the settlement that ended his probe, onlookers marveled at its estimated million-dollar price tag. But that number is only a guess. Romley's financial records on the cost of the ten-month witch hunt, which run to 800 pages, only became available at press time. Those records do not reflect the corresponding budgets of the auditor general, the attorney general and the three outside counsel on the defense team, all of which cost also was borne by taxpayers.

The aftermath of the county attorney's probe showed clearly that this incredible waste of public money was largely inspired by Romley's desire to skewer Rob Carey.

The investigation's end also illustrated how Carey's attempts at cleverness can create mistrust and even aid his enemies.

Shortly after the settlement with Romley was announced, Carey admitted, for the first time, that he had lied about the role of his former secretary Deborah Vasquez in the rescue of a 5-year-old multiple amputee from kidnapers (see related story on page 28).

Carey's deception was not germane to Romley's investigation of alleged fiscal mismanagement. But the kidnaping episode was crucial to understanding why Vasquez told amazing, often fanciful tales of Carey's wrongdoing to Romley and the press.

And Carey's clever untruthfulness in regard to the kidnaping was the sort of slick, and ultimately foolish, sleight of hand that critics have pointed to when they explained their distaste for his management style.

It's no wonder his enemies whistled while they worked at spit-roasting his carcass.

But even if Carey has an arrogant, Slick Willie side--and he does--his lawyerly evasions in no way justified Romley's expensive, wide-ranging investigation.

After all was said and done, that investigation proved not one whit of real wrongdoing.

Not a single penny in taxpayer money was wasted by the Attorney General's Office. All of the funds Romley had investigated were donated by businesses.

Not a single corporation or law firm has stepped forward and complained that it had been ripped off.

These donations were willingly given.
Even Romley's contention that these funds were raised for one purpose and spent for another is cockeyed.

Steve Betts, one of the earliest contributors to the Event Fund when it was begun in 1992, said he was told from the start that his donation would go into a general fund that would serve a variety of purposes.

Betts, then an attorney with Streich, Lang, Weeks & Cardon, authorized a contribution from his law firm in 1992, after talking directly to Carey.

"I recall they were looking to fund a broad range of things you shouldn't charge the state for and that you can't tap campaign funds for," said Betts last week.

Now a member of the Gallagher & Kennedy law firm, Betts said he introduced Carey to an executive for one of his clients, Valley National Bank. The pitch remained the same, Betts said.

"The focus of the discussion was the border conference," said Betts, "but it was clear that the money was going into a fund for a range of activities."

Fund-raising letters underscore the multiplicity of events Carey envisioned.
The Event Fund file at the Attorney General's Office is full of letters that begin like the one sent to Dial Corporation chairman John Teets.

"The Attorney General's Office is in the process of setting up the attorney general's Trust Fund. This fund will allow us to promote and participate in events that help this Office do its job and allow Arizona to show some leadership on topics ranging from drug trafficking to cooperation on border crimes ... by enhancing law enforcement abilities--international, interstate and local--the Trust Fund gives us a chance to shape the future of Arizona."

International, interstate and local. That seems plain enough, and broad enough to encompass whatever the attorney general hoped to finance. Yet Romley and the auditor general ignored the wide scope of the fund's intent.

The county attorney claimed that the attorney general's handling of the Event Fund constituted some kind of corruption.

He stated that Carey raised money for worthy causes but spent it on himself.
To highlight his contention, Romley utilized a wall chart that set out all the questionable expenditures, like airline flights for the two young prosecutors.

The county attorney compared it to Carey raising money for the Red Cross but spending it to build himself a cabin up north.

Which only proves how far Romley will go to distort the facts and how little he knows about Woods and Carey.

When you step off the second-floor elevator at the Attorney General's Office, you encounter a bit of a vanity wall with citations honoring Woods, including a framed story about his selection by his national peers as the Attorney General of the Year.

But the largest object on that wall, by far, is a framed poster of Martin Luther King Jr. Ask yourself how many white Republican politicians in Arizona decorate their offices in such manner.

Inside Woods' office, pictures of Robert Kennedy are hung. There is also a startling number of photographs in the conference room of sports legends, including a picture of Vince Lombardi that will speak inspirationally to you if you just push the button.

That's our attorney general: equal measures of heartfelt idealism combined with a sportslike competitiveness wedded to the juvenile conviction that when you have a conference with the state's top prosecutor, Wilt Chamberlain is an appropriate wall motif.

Here are the horrible things that Woods and Carey did with the money they supposedly misused.

They sponsored civil rights luncheons in a state with a national reputation for its racism.

They hosted an international gathering of lawyers and government officials to examine the legal issues that cause friction between Mexico and Arizona.

They organized a Breakfast and Books program to promote inner-city literacy.
They gave inexpensive kachina souvenirs to fellow prosecutors at a national conference.

They ran a retreat for the office's lawyers to advance their continuing legal education.

They recognized state employees at luncheons and held a holiday party.
This was the evil that was foisted on the State of Arizona.

How, then, did Rob Carey end up in such trouble?
Essentially, he wandered into a gray area of the law that Romley wanted to read in black and white--and mostly in black.

To begin with, there was a dispute as to whether the money in the Event Fund is, in legal terms, public or private. This distinction is critical. Private funds are not subject to the strict regulations that govern money considered public.

Reasonable people disagree on the legal status of the Event Fund.
The auditor general and the county attorney maintained the money in the fund is public.

The previous attorney general, Bob Corbin, who operated a similar fund without accusations of wrongdoing, and the current state treasurer, Tony West, sided with Carey, who contended the fund is private.

Until a court takes up the issue, there is no way to say definitively whether the fund is public or private.

But assume Romley is correct.
You have, at the most, $24,000 misused during four years in an office that handles more than $50 million annually.

How did this petty amount of money become such a scandal?
If you actually read the auditor general's report on the Attorney General's Office, you find that this agency, carrying out orders from the state Legislature, never reacted as if it had stumbled upon Robert Vesco operating from Rob Carey's desk.

For example, the auditor general cited as a concern $3,800 the Event Fund reimbursed Carey for money he had used on office events. There is no dispute that the man wrote out checks to two restaurants, one of which he co-owned, for the catering of office functions.

The auditor general, quite properly, insists that in the future there ought to be better documentation of such expenses.

No one argues with that, not even Carey.
The entire tone of the auditor general's report is restrained and insightful.

The books of the Event Fund were a disaster; in fact, there were no books, merely check ledgers that were not maintained properly by the secretaries to whom Carey delegated the task.

The mess is Carey's fault. There is no blame to share. The ledgers should have been in the hands of his financial staff.

All of the clerical screw-ups were complicated by another problem: Woods and Carey are wise guys.

Press reports on the Event Fund "scandal" were salted with indignation; event funds were used to rent volleyball nets for office retreats or to purchase sweat shirts, instead of hair shirts, for government employees.

State workers were awarded recognition plaques and ate from a Mexican-food buffet at the office holiday party, instead of consuming peanut butter on slabs of white bread.

The resentment of donations spent on state employees might have been diffused if Carey had told contributors to the Event Fund that he specifically envisioned underwriting activities designed to boost office morale.

That possibility is not mentioned in a single letter to donors.
Asked about this omission, Carey was at least frank.
"When you do fund raising, you don't lead with your least-interesting activity," said Carey.

So Carey made a broad appeal for funds, which was understandable, perhaps, but too slick by half for government work.

The slickness extended beyond the fund-raising appeals.
On several occasions, Carey footed the bill, and has the canceled checks to show for it, to provide staff luncheons, awards banquets and holiday parties.

It was a decent thing to do and recognized the people who work in the trenches at the Attorney General's Office.

Carey dropped thousands in this manner.
But he was too busy to bother with the state's cumbersome paperwork and seek reimbursement through ordinary accounting channels. He didn't even insist on backup receipts from the support staffers who organized the events.

Instead, as compensation for his spending, he took four airline tickets from a $5,000 voucher account that had been contributed by America West Airlines. The total used by Carey--$1,200 in air vouchers--is thousands below what he contributed out of his own pocket to improve office morale, but the accounting for this wasn't done according to Hoyle.

And Carey should have known better.
For Woods' part, the attorney general used the airline vouchers to have his wife accompany him to a conference in New York.

While a reasonable person might find it a refreshing change to see one of Arizona's public officials bringing his wife on a trip instead of his mistress, the auditor general took a dim view of this expenditure.

Returning from another conference, Woods laid over in Chicago and watched the Bulls play the Suns. The pit stop cost another $500 out of the America West account.

Vince Lombardi might have understood, but he would not have forgiven such childish behavior, and neither did the auditor general.

Coach would have demanded that both Woods and Carey take extra laps.
The auditor general simply asked that steps be taken to correct the irregularities.

Fair enough.
The single-largest problem in the auditor general's investigation swirls around the annual Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon sponsored by the Attorney General's Office.

Woods and Carey arranged the banquet, raised money and disbursed scholarships. The details were handled by staff, but the responsibility was theirs.

The largest contributor, Arizona Bank, gave $15,000 over the years to the luncheon.

The donations were solicited by Mike Williams, a former campaign worker who landed a job at the Attorney General's Office.

After the luncheon was held and the scholarships distributed, excess funds were used for other causes. And this is the focus of the dispute about the MLK lunch.

Williams now claims he raised the money exclusively for the MLK event, and nothing else.

David Wright, who contributed the money from Arizona Bank, no longer remembers what was said to him when funds were solicited.

Carey is adamant that he told Williams tobe sure that Wright understood the donation was for the entire Event Fund, notjust the MLK luncheon.

"Look, I knew it was a simple matter to raise money for the MLK luncheon, and I didn't want Williams taking the easy way out," said Carey.

Tom Augherton, Woods' chief of administration, corroborated Carey's account in a notarized statement.

"I heard Mr. Carey give Mr. Williams a specific direction that the money that Mr.Williams was soliciting from David Wright in Tucson was to be for the attorney general Trust Fund and that it was not to be event-specific for the Martin Luther King Day event," said Augherton.

The county attorney and the auditor general chose to ignore Augherton's sworn statement. Instead, they slapped Carey for using excess funds from the MLK luncheon to underwrite other events.

It is not the auditor general, however, but the county attorney who brought the sense of scandal and outrage to the issue of how Rob Carey handled a few thousand dollars donated to the Attorney General's Office.

The fact is that Richard Romley is wound tighter than a cheap Mickey Mouse watch on the subject of Robert Carey.

Romley's investigation was supposed to be focused on an allegation of abuses of the Event Fund made by a disgruntled secretary.

Yet at his press conference, Romley admitted that his investigators combed through every aspect of Carey's public and private life.

Romley's investigators examined Carey's bank records; they asked questions about how his father made a living; they inquired about the young man's girlfriends in college; they picked apart his case load as a prosecutor; they tore apart his business deals.

What in God's name did any of this have to do with the mismanagement of the Event Fund?

Not a blessed thing. It was a witch hunt.
Far from demonstrating anxiety that hisbehavior might be likened to Joe McCarthy's, Romley used his press conference to make a speech extolling his ruthless pursuit of Carey.

Though his numerous investigations went nowhere, Romley repeated every sleazy allegation made against Carey and cast each in the nastiest light possible.

No ethical prosecutor conducts an investigation that produces no charges against a suspect, and then repeats unconfirmed--even disproven--gossip to smear the innocent man.

That is exactly what Romley did.
The very first thing Romley said at his press conference was that he had not acted out of a compulsion to extract vengeance from Carey in the wake of the Project SLIM fiasco.

After Romley's political benefactor, Governor Fife Symington, asked him to investigate allegations of bid-rigging in Project SLIM, the prosecutor agreed and found all parties innocent of any wrongdoing.

When the county attorney closed the books, Carey reopened the investigation, developing an airtight case of bid-rigging against the governor's personal accounting firm, Coopers & Lybrand, and Symington's deputy chief of staff, George Leckie.

On July 11, 1995, and again on July 17, the attorney general announced he'd extracted $750,000 in two separate settlements from the governor's cronies, humiliating Romley, who looked like he'd taken a dive for Symington.

Two days later, on July 19, Romley announced he was opening an investigation of Rob Carey and the Attorney General's Office.

To prove that his actions were not based on revenge, Romley held up at his press conference a pair of letters, dated March 12, 1995. Pointing to the letters, Romley declared that he had been quietly investigating Carey months before the SLIM settlements were announced.

In the ten months that Romley has relentlessly hounded Rob Carey, no single abuse of prosecutorial power by the county attorney is more reprehensible than the unethical investigation he launched, based on these foolish letters.

Carey broke up massive voter fraud in a rural Arizona community where election-day corruption had long stumped local authorities, the state Department of Public Safety and the FBI, all of whom had opened files on Eloy, a ballot-box Bermuda Triangle.

For two years Carey dogged the case, eventually securing a 51-count indictment against nine individuals.

Carey jailed the mastermind of the voter-fraud ring, a Pinal County sheriff who lived in Yuma and used his extensive, and willing, relatives to organize ballot-box stuffing in his childhood hometown, Eloy.

The two letters Romley possessed accused Eloy police Lieutenant Barry Pritchett and Rob Carey of introducing perjured testimony to the grand jury hearing the case.

Noting the March date on the letters, and comparing it to the July announcement by the attorney general on Project SLIM, Romley argued that this proved he wasn't running a vendetta--that he was investigating Carey long before Romley's $750,000 humiliation was made public.

Which is a bold lie.
"Even though false testimony was provided the state grand jury, by Robert Carey, you have to show there was a criminal intent, and although we had some particular allegations of being in politics, there was some circumstances, for example, a city manager bypassing a Chief of Police and specifically recruiting this Lieutenant to do this investigation, we could not show that there was criminal intent," said Romley. "There is absolutely no crime for not being very good for presenting evidence to the state grand jury or incompetence. That matter was started prior to the George Leckie matter."

This is a vicious twisting of the record, not to mention the English language.

The police chief was circumvented in the election-fraud investigation because his boss, the city manager, had concern that the chief might be mixed up in the voter fraud. It was the city manager who asked the attorney general to prosecute the case.

The letters may have been dated March 12, but Romley's investigators never contacted the police officer accused of perjury, Lieutenant Pritchett, until August 22, weeks after the attorney general announced the $750,000 settlement in the bid-rigging case.

The letters were irrelevant on the point of Romley's vendetta toward Carey.
After issuing subpoenas for a warehouse of documents from the Attorney General's Office, Romley never asked for so much as a presentence report on the voter-fraud case in Eloy. Instead, he simply grilled Lieutenant Pritchett.

Unable as a prosecutor to make the far-fetched charge of perjury stand up against the cop, or Carey, Romley then leaked selected data to the state's largest newspaper, the Arizona Republic, to further smear Carey.

Last Friday, the Republic's Dennis Wagner ran with the phony allegation of perjury.

Though invited by the Attorney General's Office to review its Eloy file, Wagner declined, citing deadlines.

The sources for Romley's allegation of perjury were Guadalupe Ibarra and Oscar Morin. These men wrote the letters claiming perjured testimony had been used. The letter writers were among those indicted by Carey in the voter-fraud case.

Though their indictments were dropped, the two were members of a family hip deep in a voter-fraud ring orchestrated by Sheriff Moses Ibarra, Guadalupe's brother and Oscar's brother-in-law.

The clan's favorite refrain was that a police officer had committed perjury in the case against Oscar Morin.

Romley took the bait.
Listening to the Ibarras on a question of prosecutorial ethics is like consulting with Snoop Doggy Dogg on the theory of clog dancing. Even a desultory reading of the legal file demonstrates that their claim is the worst sort of nonsense.

Without establishing that the police officer in question had committed perjury, Romley investigated the premise that Carey had asked for the perjury.

Romley explored the theory that in a 51count indictment, against nine defendants, Carey suborned perjury, on a single count, against the smallest fish in the barrel, Oscar Morin, an electrician in Yuma.

That county investigators pursued the unique proposition that Carey might have asked the police officer to commit the alleged perjury spoke volumes about Romley's desperation to find something he could pin on Carey.

Romley's tortured theory depended on his faith in the Ibarras.
In Eloy, Sheriff Moses Ibarra was legend.
On election day in the winter of 1992, he personally delivered 150 absentee ballots for the city council race.

Ibarra's suitcase full of absentee ballots showed signatures from people who said they lived in Eloy.

Lieutenant Pritchett documented that many actually resided in Hawaii, or Phoenix, or Yuma, or even Casa Grande. One of Moses' voters lived in a mental institution (not located in Eloy); another dwelled in the Midwest. He cast votes for people who were underage; his sister, who was old enough to vote, did so repeatedly, though she, too, lived in Yuma.

Though he himself lived in Yuma, Sheriff Ibarra had a small house in Eloy and a smaller trailer. His parents also lived there. From these three modest addresses, Ibarra claimed legal residence for enough voters to suggest he was packing them into an Eloy version of Das Boot.

The Eloy council candidates Ibarra voted for dole out patronage. For example, Moses' brother Joel had been appointed city magistrate by an earlier council, a position that only paid $20,000 but which was, nonetheless, better than Joel's other job, picking lettuce.

The Snuffy Smith-like loyalty of the Ibarra clan produced testimony that was hillbilly hilarious.

Guadalupe Ibarra, who was also a sheriff, did not live in Eloy when his absentee ballot for the city council election was filed.

When questioned, his answers were, at best, unusual. He brought two of his running trophies to his interview to demonstrate his reliability, but his statements on voter fraud were contradicted by his own wife.

Guadalupe insisted that his sister-in-law lived with them, but he could not remember if she'd lived with them for two weeks or two years. During a break, Lieutenant Pritchett called Guadalupe's wife, who admitted that the woman in question had never lived with them.

Confronted with a tape recording of his wife's statements, Guadalupe said she was lying. She would later change her testimony to agree with Guadalupe's.

Guadalupe took a polygraph test. It suggested that Guadalupe believed that he could vote in Eloy even though he lived elsewhere.

His ignorance was his defense.
Rather than prosecute the lame, Carey dropped the charges against Guadalupe Ibarra.

Under the methodical hand of Lieutenant Pritchett, the door slammed shut on the remaining Ibarras.

One of the minor characters, Oscar Morin, lived in Yuma, had a business in Yuma, loans, bank accounts and baby-sitter records, all based in Yuma. But his name was on an Eloy absentee ballot.

His wife, Moses Ibarra's sister-in-law, also lived with Oscar in Yuma.
She voted twice in Eloy--once under her married name and once under her maiden name--in the same election.

And although her husband Oscar earned $40,000 a year as an electrician, she told the welfare office that she was a single mother living in Eloy. She soaked the state for $600 a month in benefits, according to her plea agreement. Authorities noted in her presentence report on voter fraud that she and Oscar owned a new $30,000 truck, a big-screen television and a Soloflex exerciser.

During the investigation, Lieutenant Pritchett interviewed Morin at his place of work in Yuma about the fraudulent absentee ballot with his name on it.

The following excerpts are from the interview Pritchett and another officer conducted.

"Oscar was not certain if the signature was his or not ... I referred again to the Absentee Registration and asked Oscar if he remembered signing the document. He replied, 'Not back in November.' ... I asked him again if he signed the document. He replied that it looked like his signature, but he could not remember signing it or registering to vote. ... I asked Oscar if he signed them. He replied, 'I don't remember signing none of those.'"

The police officer explained the process of absentee ballots to Morin, and Lieutenant Pritchett noted in his report, "Oscar replied, 'If I did, I must have been really drunk!'"

At the end of the interview, Lieutenant Pritchett laid it on the line.
"I told Oscar that I thought he had been somewhat evasive during the course of the interview. I told him that he either signed the forms, or he did not. I showed him all of the forms one more time and asked him if he did or did not sign them.

"He replied, 'I couldn't have signed those. I don't know who would. If I wasn't around, how would I know who signed them?'"

After hearing so many charming versions of the truth from Oscar Morin, it was a wonder that Lieutenant Pritchett could even guess what to tell the grand jury. But when he did testify, the cop made a mistake.

In front of the grand jury, Lieutenant Pritchett said Morin admitted signing the absentee ballot.

That was the "perjury."
Lieutenant Pritchett acknowledged his error.
"I misspoke," said Lieutenant Pritchett in an interview conducted before Romley's press conference. "It was a mistake."

In fact, the actions of Carey and Lieutenant Pritchett underscore their assertion that the grand jury testimony was an accident, one slip in a case that took two years to prosecute and filled 36 boxes of files.

Carey certainly did not hide the ball from the grand jury.
He submitted to the grand jury an expert handwriting analysis concluding that the signature on the absentee ballot was not Morin's. Furthermore, the cop accurately noted in his report Oscar's ultimate assertion that he had not filled out the ballot, though someone who knew his correct date of birth as well as his father's name had. The defense was given the report.

Finally, when confronted with the screw-up, Carey dropped the one charge against Morin and dismissed him from the case.

The investigation of the voter-fraud ring was as ugly as it was bizarre.
Lieutenant Pritchett's squad car was spray-painted with obscenities in the parking lot of a Yuma motel while he slept.

Witnesses friendly to the prosecution were bullied.
A half-bright dogcatcher was threatened with prison if he testified against the Ibarras.

Neither Richard Romley nor Dennis Wagner, who declined comment this week, knew any of this.

They had time enough to smear Rob Carey with a half-baked accusation of perjury, but not enough time to look at the file.

The grand jury returned a 51-count indictment against nine defendants. Charges against two, Guadalupe Ibarra and Oscar Morin, were dropped. The rest pleaded guilty and were assigned probation except for the ringleader, Sheriff Moses Ibarra, who spent a year in jail.

On Sunday, two days after printing Romley's perjury hoax, Wagner followed it up with an equally falacious story.


Stephen Miretti was a Tempe city court judge with a gambling addiction. The attorney general prosecuted him and put him in prison. In a presentence report, Miretti lashed out and accused Steve Tseffos, then a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, and Rob Carey of regularly betting on games.

The FBI was called in by the attorney general; Miretti immediately recanted his allegations. The feds did not let it drop. They interrogated Carey and pored through his bank records, check by check, and found no evidence of bookmaking. The worst activity was an occasional $100 bet on an Arizona State University basketball game.

The Department of Justice wrote Woods that there was no evidence of "a gambling culture in your office."

It would appear that no amount of evidence of Rob Carey's innocence--whether a Department of Justice investigation that clears him, or 36 boxes of legal files that destroy a shameless allegation of perjury--can keep the press from ruining Carey's reputation.

At Grant Woods' press conference, he was asked repeatedly why he agreed to pay back $24,000, plus fines and interest, if Rob Carey was innocent.

Why had he accepted Carey's resignation, if only for 24 hours, if he was innocent?

The reporters asked these questions, without any sense of irony, as if they intended tomake an effort at uncovering the truth.

After ten months of relentless pressure from distorted press accounts and an avalanche of documents demanded by Romley, this is what Woods faced:

The county attorney threatened that if Woods did not accept his terms for settlement, the investigation would continue for another six months. Romley had already issued another subpoena to haul yet one more financial administrator before the grand jury and had demanded still more boxes of documents relating to outside legal counsel hired by the attorney general.

Romley agreed in his press conference that he had indeed told that to Woods, but he said it wasn't a threat.

Woods cut his losses and signed the settlement.
The press had a field day reprinting Romley's charts, which showed the picayune "abuses" of the Event Fund. But Valley news media have, in their exuberance, missed the point of the Event Fund brouhaha.

Even if the attorney general had managed the fund without a hint of impropriety, why is it considered ethical for the state's top prosecutor to be soliciting money from Arizona's corporate hitters in the first place?

It's wrong. It doesn't matter what the statutes say; it shouldn't happen.
Look at the airline that gave the attorney general $5,000 in flight vouchers.

America West Airlines is a controversial business. The firm went through bankruptcy, which left businesses stuck with bills and shareholders stuck with wallpaper. Because employees were forced to purchase stock as part of their jobs, the airline had a work force that had legitimate complaints. Flight attendants have watched their bonuses killed, while executives drew enormous compensation packages during the reorganization. And hundreds of employees have been terminated amid cries of union busting.

There is a very large group of people who have a bone to pick with Phoenix's hometown airline.

If you're a labor organizer, if you're a citizen with a beef about America West, do you trust that the attorney general will listen with full attention to your concern, knowing he's been taking donations from America West?

As a voter, why should you have to even think about this?
The whole process of the attorney general approaching corporations with a tin cup extended is repugnant.

No one contends that Woods and Carey protected anyone who contributed to the fund from prosecution.

The issue is one of appearance.
It is not a minor concern.
Faith in the political process is fragile among a populace in which, for example, 50percent of Americans believe in UFOs, according to a Scripps Howard News Service survey conducted last June, and 48percent of the country voted for President Bill Clinton.

Politicians represent an already suspicious electorate that depends on a cynical and deadline-driven press corps that lacks the time to research the allegations it prints. Stories devoid of detail and nuance inform the public about the conduct of officeholders.

In this shabby media environment, Caesar's wife is considered a prostitute until proven otherwise, and politicians must regard appearance as reality.

Having said that, the ten-month reign of prosecutorial terror Richard Romley inflicted on Rob Carey is a disgrace. A grand jury and a staff of investigators were not put at his disposal so he could ruin political rivals.

The media's role in this torture exposed their own venal nature.
Unwilling to tackle the complexities of the $4.6 million bid-rigging at Project SLIM (theArizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette did not even cite it in their list of Top Ten stories in 1995), the Valley press instead swallowed the greasy table scraps handed to it by Romley. Never mind the multimillion-dollar corruption wafting out of the Governor's Office--how about that Rob Carey spending $45 from the America West Airlines account to fly his bicycle back from Seattle?

Without using tax dollars, Rob Carey set up an Event Fund that, for the most part, tried to do good things for the community and the Attorney General's Office. Critics who do not believe that the lawyers and secretaries Carey worked alongside deserve recognition and the occasional holiday celebration need to get a life.

As the auditor general pointed out, the Event Fund was mismanaged. That needs to be corrected.

But Rob Carey also broke up a rural voter-fraud ring that had frustrated law enforcement and was destroying the fundamental nature of democracy in small-town America.

And he put an end to one virulent form of corruption in the state's highest office after Richard Romley whitewashed the Project SLIM bid-rigging scandal.

From Governor Fife Symington to Sheriff Moses Ibarra, Rob Carey never blinked.

And when all of these events begin to fade with time, people should remember that Grant Woods did something you seldom see politicians do.

He stood up to a scoundrel, and he stood by a friend.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey