News

Keating and Bartel: High Rollers Face The Music

We live in interesting times. The high rollers fascinate us. Whether it's in business, crime, politics or sports, we become interested in the players only when their numbers head north above the $1 million mark.

That's when the spotlight clicks on. We feel compelled to learn how these people crossed the border.

Charles Keating is a perfect example. Without the aura of money, Keating becomes merely another self-obsessed salesman with an oversized ego and an army of sycophants.

Dr. William Bartel, the Paradise Valley dentist, is another. For years, Dr. Bartel worked in obscurity. He patiently performed all the exacting tasks that makes a dentist's life such a severe strain. His patients regarded him as an excellent dentist. But it was not until Dr. Bartel turned out to be a dope dealer with millions in the bank that he became a household name.

The mere addition of money makes these men figures to be reckoned with. They are no longer ordinary men. They are millionaires.

Dr. Bartel sat hunched over at the defense table in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Charles Hardy one day last week. The courtroom was crowded.

"Where is he?" spectators kept asking. "Which one is the dentist? Is he the big fella with the beard?" The big man with the beard was Michael D. Kimerer, the defense attorney. Kimerer is famous in his own way. He is one of a handful of lawyers you reach out for only when you fall into trouble deeper than you ever expected.

Kimerer always seems calm. He knows all the rules. He understands that civility is a sign of strength.

Dr. Bartel appears minuscule sitting next to Kimerer. There is not that much difference in their ages, but Kimerer looked as though he might be a parent bringing the dentist before the school principal.

Judge Hardy had the paperwork before him. What the government has against Dr. Bartel is that the police found 81 pounds of cocaine in his Paradise Valley home.

When they looked further into Dr. Bartel's activities, they found $3 million in negotiable bonds in his safe-deposit box.

The combination of the drugs and the bonds made Dr. Bartel a $5 million man.

The question arises. Why didn't Dr. Bartel take the money and flee the country when he had the chance?

Instead he was in court, standing before Judge Hardy with his chin resting on his chest. And he was there to plead guilty.

Nothing except the money makes Dr. Bartel different from the hundreds of petty criminals who pass through Superior Court each weekday morning.

He is slim and short in stature. He wore a blue blazer and cotton-washed pants. His hair stretched long enough down over his collar to be tied into a ponytail.

"Have you read these documents?" Judge Hardy asked.
Clearly, Judge Hardy was determined to take all precautions before accepting the guilty plea.

Dr. Bartel was committing himself to a possible prison sentence of at least ten years and a fine of up to $4 million.

Dr. Bartel was admitting that he had developed a side job in addition to dentistry.

He became an upscale connection for a border patrolman who stole the drugs from "real" criminals.

If he had taken up a side job like construction work or plumbing, none of us would be the slightest bit interested.

I don't think there is really much interesting about selling drugs, either. The only thing different is the profit.

Here was Dr. Bartel's chance to become a millionaire and he took it. He is not a vicious man . . . only greedy.

Charles Keating is so tall that when he entered the roomful of his creditors, he had to look down to see the tops of their heads.

Nothing that Keating is involved in comes out in small scale. When he was making money, he made more than anybody else. Now that the tide has turned he owes more money than anyone else.

The meeting for Keating creditors was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton downtown.

There were long tables lined up the length of the room. Lights on the tables made it possible for Keating's creditors to read the reports.

Keating and a few of his top aides sat at a raised table in the front of the room.

One of the reports showed that Keating had paid himself a salary of $1.9 million a year. He had performed so well that he paid himself a bonus of an additional $1 million.

A little bit more of Keating's financial empire crumbles each day now. But never fear. Keating will get by.

The people sitting in front of Keating on this day were the little people who had entrusted their life savings to this flamboyant faker.

One hoped that Keating might find the humility to tell them he was sorry. But there would be no such display of decency.

Keating stood up and spoke to his creditors in a stern voice. Clearly, he was a deadbeat who would not brook any nonsense. He was offering them a plan that might pay them back in a dozen years. A 72-year-old creditor turned to his wife when Keating said this. "I don't expect to live that long," he said simply.

One expected to hear angry denunciations from the crowd of creditors. But they seemed overwhelmed by the great man's presence. So there were no sharp words. The creditors all remained docile in the face of Keating's overbearing arrogance.

After all, who were they to question the great Charles Keating? He was a man who had crossed the million barrier long ago. Certainly, he must be superior to them all.

Nothing except the money makes Dr. Bartel different from the hundreds of petty criminals who pass through Superior Court each weekday morning.

The people sitting in front of Keating on this day were the little people who had entrusted their life savings to this flamboyant faker.

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.
Tom Fitzpatrick