The purpose of a law enforcement sting is to put a buxom topless dancer on the lap of a sex-starved man to see if he'll get an erection.

State Senator Leo Corbet went bull-goose tumescent when the state Attorney General's Office did the nasty hula in front of his lusting heart in 1987. Corbet behaved as poorly and as foolishly as any man in an advanced state of arousal.

Even so, Leo Corbet, horndog, refused to break the law. In fact, Corbet insisted that the deal go down legally. And that is the only reason he was not prosecuted by Attorney General Bob Corbin, a man who had every reason to loathe the very idea of Leo Corbet.

Now, almost four years after the incident, the details--or at least the incriminating details--have been leaked to the press, and Corbet has been smeared from here to hell and back on the eve of the election.

Instead of sex, Attorney General Corbin wiggled $3 million in Teamster pension funds in front of the destitute Corbet. That kind of cash would make Saint Paul blink; Leo Corbet went pie eyed. And there was such unseemly conduct . . . though you must decide for yourself whose behavior was more scandalous: Senator Corbet, Attorney General Corbin or the media.

On October 25 the front page of the Arizona Republic screamed: "Sen. Corbet discussed kickbacks to Teamsters for land-deal loan."

The expose played out under a grainy photo from a cheap surveillance camera hidden in a ventilation duct. The fuzzy print all but convicted Corbet, who was shown meeting with con man Howard Woodall and undercover police detective John Berentz.

The article sketched a deal wherein undercover agents posed as men with connections to the Teamsters pension fund. In return for an $18 million loan from the union, Corbet was expected to pay approximately $3 million in "points or whatever you wanna call it."

"Whatever you wanna call it" amounted to an illegal kickback for the agents putting the deal together.

Although the attorney general admitted in print that he did not have anything worth prosecuting, Leo Corbet looked terrible.

The section of the Republic's story devoted to Corbet's response hardly helped the senator's position.

"I kept telling him [Woodall] that it had to be through a mortgage broker," which, Corbet said, would have made the whole procedure legal.

He [Corbet] agreed that his insistence on proper procedures isn't reflected in the transcripts, wrote the reporters.

So, the average person reads the newspaper, which has quoted from hundreds of pages of secretly taped transcripts of Leo Corbet setting up this loan through a Teamster pension fund. And the only part of the conversation that wasn't tape recorded, coincidentally, happens to be the part where Corbet insisted on a legal deal?

That's the best you can come up with, Leo?
In fact, the transcripts do show that Leo Corbet, finally, insisted that the deal be done legally, through a mortgage company. Corbet agreed to pay a very high percentage on the loan as long as it was done through normal channels.

"If we can go out of escrow with me paying you 15 percent, that's the mortgage company--if I can do that out of escrow then I got no problem with any bullshit," said Corbet in the transcripts.

The Teamsters could take whatever profit they wanted, but it would be aboveboard and not under the table.

That section of the transcript never made it into the Republic; in fact, the morning paper had Corbet confessing that no such transcript existed.

When Corbet's quote was read to Republic reporter Ed Foster, he responded, "Are you reading from the transcript? . . . Okay, I hate to put you off, but let me ask that you call Rich [Robertson] because Rich is much more familiar with the transcripts than I am. . . . I hate to do that, but I really can't answer the question, to tell you the truth."

Robertson was familiar with the quote but unmoved by its content.
"The thing about it is you've got to take this whole thing altogether. It really doesn't make it legal at all going through a mortgage broker. The idea was for the funds to go back to the individual lenders, the Teamster guys. All it was was a scheme to launder the money back to those people and make it legal."

That may indeed have been Woodall and Berentz's game plan, but Corbet wasn't buying into it, according to authorities who reviewed the relevant part of the taped conversations.

Real estate attorneys explained how a mortgage company acts as a deterrent to fraud.

Parties to a real estate contract can instruct the escrow agent to disburse the monies basically any way desired. It is against the law, however, to take a commission unless you are a licensed real estate broker, which Woodall and Berentz were not. More to the point, if you have a fiduciary responsibility to the pension fund as a Teamster union official who authorizes loans, the escrow agreement creates a paper trail that would put you in prison for taking a kickback.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey