False Witness

Deborah Vasquez's credibility was an issue from day one for anyone examining County Attorney Richard Romley's investigation of alleged wrongdoing in the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

It was Vasquez, after all, who made many of the claims that Romley's office spent ten months probing. Often, those claims were exaggerated or simply wrong; previous articles in this series have argued that those inconsistencies should have led prosecutors and journalists to question the reliability of her allegations of wrongdoing within the AG's Office.

But now, on one point, Vasquez has been proven at least partly right, and her former boss, first assistant attorney general Rob Carey, entirely wrong.

Although initially unaware of the facts, Carey did eventually learn the truth. Then he hid it. And when pressed by New Times, he submitted misleading statements about the incident in question.

As regards the event that marked the beginning of hostilities between the county attorney and the Attorney General's Office--the kidnaping of 5-year-old Anna Ott--Rob Carey and Deborah Vasquez have both lied.

The incident began last May, when Vasquez took a call from Oakland police, who said Ott, a multiple amputee, had been abducted, and the kidnapers were headed for the East Valley. The secretary then handled many of the details that led to a successful rescue of the child.

Vasquez subsequently left her job as a secretary for Carey because he upbraided her for supposedly exceeding her authority in the Ott case. In interviews for this series, Carey said he was concerned that Vasquez would undertake such a task alone, without once talking to investigators or lawyers at the Attorney General's Office.

In fact, Vasquez had asked an attorney general's investigator how she should handle the Ott kidnaping--and the investigator had given her an answer. Carey knew the conversation had occurred, but did not reveal it through hours of interviews for this series.

Late last Thursday, when confronted with the truth, Carey admitted that Vasquez had discussed, in the briefest fashion, the Ott kidnaping with criminal investigator LeeRappleyea.

In an interview later that night, Rappleyea acknowledged that he was walking into a closed-door conference with Carey on May 16, 1995, when Vasquez told him the Oakland police were on the phone with a hostage situation involving a 5-year-old amputee headed for the East Valley.

The criminal investigator said he told Vasquez to refer the call to the Mesa Police Department.

Both Carey and Rappleyea said in separate conversations that no one authorized Vasquez to coordinate the subsequent investigation among various agencies on behalf of the attorney general.

Which is gilding the lily.
Until confronted with the facts, members of the Attorney General's Office repeatedly asserted that Vasquez was upbraided because she had handled the abduction alone, without seeking advice from anyone else in the office.

But she had sought such advice. And the Attorney General's Office attempted to hide that fact during thepreparation of this series.

During research for the series, Carey was asked for an in-depth explanation of why Vasquez was chided for her role in the Ott kidnaping. Previous press accounts had simply quoted spokesmen from the Attorney General's Office as saying that a secretary simply did not oversee a criminal investigation.

Two division chiefs in administration told New Times the same thing: A secretary is an inappropriate coordinator because you have to be sure that the police do not overreact. You don't want to have the hostage, or the cops, for that matter, trapped in a shoot-out.

But in administrative documents, lawsuit depositions, news reports and interviews for this series, Vasquez has given at least three conflicting accounts of why she coordinated the Ott kidnaping.

So New Times sought answers to two specific questions from officials in the attorney general's criminal division who work these kinds of cases: Did Deborah Vasquez ask the permission of criminal division attorney Michael Cudahy, as she maintained in her most recent version of the kidnaping? And what was the danger in her acting as the liaison in the rescue of Anna Ott?

On February 20, Lee Rappleyea, chief special agent in the criminal division, responded in writing.

"A question was recently submitted for my input concerning the merits of a secretary's active participation in an endeavor to arrest someone who may be a fugitive from justice. Clearly, this scenario presents substantial area for concern relative to the safety of all persons involved with such a venture," wrote Rappleyea, a former police officer.

"Activities of this nature would best be handled by police officers specifically trained in the apprehension of fugitives which would minimize the danger experienced by passers-by or other innocent people in proximity. Police officers in these situations always must evaluate the potential for violence, the probability that the fugitive is armed as well as the safety of those who may be in the company of the fugitive. Absent adequate information or training, a secretary would not be qualified to participate in these apprehensions without a substantial risk to others. Please advise of any questions regarding this matter."

Subsequently, New Times informed Carey that Rappleyea's response did not address Vasquez's claim--that Cudahy had assigned her to handle the hostage situation.

Cudahy refused to respond directly to New Times inquiries.
On February 22, Rappleyea forwarded a second document.
"I have spoken with relevant criminal division employees to determine if they had occasion to discuss with Deborah Vasquez the custodial interference matter originating from Oakland, California.

"Based upon my inquiry, Vasquez was never authorized by any criminal division employee to conduct activity outside the office, or perform investigative or other non-secretarial duties in connection with this matter."

This second memorandum was written by the very investigator who directed Vasquez to handle the Ott kidnaping by calling the Mesa police. And despite the purported public safety menace that Vasquez's behavior supposedly presented, Rappleyea never followed up to see what happened in regard to Ott's kidnaping.

Carey now admits that when the memorandums were written, he knew the truth--that Rappleyea had told Vasquez to call the Mesa police.

"While it is true that Deborah Vasquez never discussed the matter with Mike Cudahy or received his approval," said Carey, "she did mention that matter to Lee Rappleyea."

Carey said he did not tell the truth about Rappleyea's advice to Vasquez because, by the end of February, the motivation for Vasquez's behavior in the Ott case had stopped being an issue with him.

It is a weak rationale for lying.
Although Carey and others in the AG's Office did not initially tell the truth about Vasquez's actions last May, those lies do not bear on the propriety of Romley's massive investigation of Carey. How Vasquez got in the middle of the Ott kidnaping provides emotional background for Romley's heavy-handed probe, but it does not touch on the investigation's validity.

Nor do the admissions by Rappleyea and Carey rehabilitate Vasquez's credibility as a witness.

Take your pick: patently false allegations that the AG'sOffice had killed an undercover investigation because the target was a friend of Attorney General Grant Woods; bogus claims that the AG's Office had denied Vasquez health-care coverage from a federal program over which the AG's Office has absolutely no control; untrue assertions that the AG's staff had forged accounting ledgers and had hidden files from the FBI; and three different versions of how Vasquez coordinated the Ott kidnaping, none involving direction from Rappleyea. Deborah Vasquez is a witness whose words are elastic.

But Carey's behavior in this matter--the lies and the cover-up of lies--is the sort of juvenile stupidity that makes one wonder whether he believes his last name is Clinton.

Asked if he'd ever smoked marijuana, the soon-to-be president initially replied that he'd never broken the laws of the United States.

Realizing that follow-up questions would reveal that he had tried to slick his way around smoking pot in England, Clinton offered the pitiful excuse that he had not inhaled.

Rob Carey has no excuse. He lied, when telling the truth would have served him better.--Michael Lacey

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey