Everyone hereabouts knows Herminia Rodriguez's story: 64-year-old ex-migrant worker wins $330,000 on a slot at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino. Casino celebrates with her, then says it won't pay up because the machine was broken. New Times gets the ball rolling with a story about the snafu. Harrah's decides to end mounting public-relations disaster by paying off, in full.
Then came a backlash which twisted Rodriguez's image from saint to sinner. It came in the form of an investigative report from the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory agency. The report asserts that Rodriguez pocketed quarters from the machine that she knew she wasn't entitled to shortly before she hit the jackpot. At a press conference last week, tribal officials noted that senior field agent Carl Olson, who led the investigation, had recommended that federal prosecutors go after the gambling granny. The U.S. Attorney said no dice.
Some background provides context to this development. In the aftermath of the Rodriguez imbroglio, the Ak-Chin tribal-gaming agency's executive director, Robert Mulryne, killed himself. A few days after that, Rodriguez's attorney, Charlie Buri, met with agent Olson. The next day, Buri mailed a letter about the meeting to Olson's boss in D.C.
"He accused Mrs. Rodriguez of fraudulent conduct; specifically, taking quarters from the slot machine that did not belong to her," Buri wrote. "He continued on to say that he thought she should be prosecuted . . . When I challenged the basis for his charge, he acknowledged that the slot machine had been malfunctioning, that Mrs. Rodriguez was not responsible for the slot machine, and that he did not know how many credits remained on the machine when she supposedly took the quarters that did not belong to her. Clearly, he had no basis to accuse Mrs. Rodriguez of doing anything improper . . . let alone fraudulent conduct."
That wasn't all that disturbed Buri. "When we stepped into the hallway immediately outside my office," Buri wrote, "I learned the reason for his behavior. He confronted me with the fact that [Bob Mulryne] had committed suicide . . . He then said, 'Think about that as you try to sleep tonight.' The insinuation was clear: He believes that I am somewhat responsible for Mr. Mulryne's death. . . . For him to come to my office under the guise of gathering information on the Ak-Chin Tribe's dispute-resolution process and then accuse an innocent lady of criminal wrongdoing and me of causing a suicide should not be tolerated."
Olson's boss responded to Buri on February 3, saying that Olson "has always conducted himself in a very professional manner."
Apparently, Olson--who interviewed Mulryne himself a few days before the suicide--has turned over a new leaf. His emotional accusations were anything but "professional," and they call his damning "findings" in this case into question.
Maricopa County schools chief Sandra Dowling's fun may soon be over. Verifying recent buzz, the Flash has confirmed that the state Attorney General's Office is investigating operations at the Maricopa County Schools Superintendent's Office, likely focusing on possible violation of campaign laws--but also eyeing allegations of nepotism, misuse of funds and punishment of whistle-blowers.
Teacher Connie Comprone, who's been blowing fast and furious for the past year, met Tuesday with AG staffer George Finch.
The AG Office isn't talking. Can it confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation? "No, we never can," says AG spokeswoman Kari Dozier, "but I'm sure you've got plenty of stuff to the contrary."
The authors of House Bill 2201 hope to increase pension benefits to the widows and widowers of firefighters and police officers. During a February 24 Republican caucus meeting to discuss the bill, Representative David Eberhart of Peoria voiced his support for the men and women who risk their lives daily.
"If you are public safety, you just show up for your first day on the job and sign up for your pension," a witness quotes him as saying. "You never work a day in your life, retire, get a 100 percent pension, leave it all to your wife and die. These people just keep coming back for more and more every year."
The representative had better hope his home doesn't catch fire anytime soon.
And We Care Because ...
Local boy David Spade played the Tempe Improv last weekend, taping for an HBO special. The Flash rubbed ink-stained elbows with the beautiful people in the VIP balcony--among them, Spade's pals from his NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me: actress Wendie Malick, and George Segal and his wife.
Claiming he hadn't been back to the Valley since he came for "the Melanoma Festival," Spade recalled his provincial glee at an Eagles concert when the band worked Valley landmarks into the lyrics of "Hotel California" ("On a dark Arizona evening/Scottsdale wind in my hair/Warm smell of Sun Devil Stadium . . ."). Then he told about his childhood in Casa Grande, when his mother would take him and his brother to play amid the mounds of seed husks at an abandoned cotton gin, after two kids had been killed there. Spade claimed his mom allayed their concerns with, "Everybody has their time. You can't outrun the Grim Reaper."
If you hear a particularly loud, bellowing laugh during the show, it's Segal, who's plainly the best audience Spade has ever had.
The Mane Mayor
Spotted slummin' at the 5 & Diner on 16th Street late Saturday: Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana, who was wearing a garish outfit featuring cactus and lariats and, across the back in rope script, the proclamation "Boss Lady." The inscription is spread out above a huge come-hither representation of a chestnut horse.
The self-professed "politically incorrect" mayor tells the Flash she donned the horsey togs while she waited tables at a fund raiser.
The outfit, she says, was given to her.
"It was a gift. You don't think I'd ever buy anything like that, do you?" she asks.
She refused to say who gave her the rodeo duds. "It wasn't political. It was a Christmas present," Campana asserts good-naturedly. "I don't have to tell you who gave them to me."
Well, mayor, most municipalities have rules that require elected officials to disclose the source of gifts exceeding a certain value. Just to be on the safe side, why not run the equine ensemble past the city attorney? You'd hate to get crossways with the donations ordinance over gag garb.