Longform

Opiate for the Mrs.

Page 9 of 10

"That is not extortion. To claim that it is is bullshit."

John Dowd may have unleashed the media hounds on Cindy McCain, and he might never get an extortion charge filed against Gosinski. But local defense attorneys who have monitored the case say there is little doubt that he has secured a highly favorable deal for his client with federal prosecutors. First and foremost, the case has remained a federal one. That's unusual.

"Federal prosecutors routinely throw this stuff to state prosecutors," says one Phoenix attorney. "The DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office are not in the habit of popping penny-ante drug offenders."
Second, the federal pretrial diversion program requires complete confidentiality, which is required at this stage of the investigation in any case. Moreover, although it is not clear what laws the feds believe Cindy McCain has broken, it seems likely that her offenses would be treated as misdemeanors.

"At worst, she probably could have gotten ten to 16 months," says one defense attorney who researched federal sentencing guidelines. He adds that under federal guidelines, McCain looks like a good candidate for diversion.

Another defense attorney says that in cases like McCain's, it is not uncommon for prosecutors to attempt to seize the offender's property, which, among other things, would include an interest in Hensley & Company and the McCains' North Central Avenue residence.

That attorney also says that Cindy McCain and John Dowd have done a service to other drug offenders.

"We're certainly going to jump on this when we have a client in a similar position," he says. "When we have a client that's charged in this same kind of 'script' writing, if the behavior is milder than Cindy McCain's, we should be getting diversion."
State courts would have offered a much greater challenge for Dowd and his client.

"If she were charged in state court--and there is an offense that fits her case to a T--she's looking at Class 3 felonies," says one defense attorney. "If we assume conservatively that there were six separate counts, her liability in state court is astronomical. She could have been looking at ten to 20 years, with a presumptive sentence of 11.25 years and two-thirds served before she would be eligible for parole.

"If I had a client named José Lopez, I'm not so sure we wouldn't be looking at that."

Doug McEachern, a reporter for Tribune Newspapers, was one of the chosen few who was leaked the Cindy McCain saga. The resulting August 22 lead paragraph: "She was blonde and beautiful. A rich man's daughter who became a politically powerful man's wife. She had it all, including an insidious addiction to drugs that sapped the beauty from her life like a spider on a butterfly."

As most East Valley residents were fathoming McEachern's piece that Monday morning, New Times and the Arizona Republic were securing copies of Romley's investigative report. (The Republic, acting on a tip, made a public records request for the report that very morning; New Times' had been made 19 days earlier.)

Armed with the report, the Republic, which had been left out of the Cindy McCain exclusives, carried a front-page story on Tuesday morning that told of Tom Gosinski's lawsuit and the extortion investigation.

McEachern, a veteran political reporter, knew he had been had. "I'm not so sure it was a lie," McEachern says of the spin job. "It was hedging the truth."

McEachern dashed back to the subject like a lemming on a cliff. In an August 24 analysis, he attempted to explain why he'd only reported half the story the first time around. Again, he employed imagery: "News is not static. It flows like summer rain down a wash. The first bubbling rivulets coming down over the rocks may carry just a few nuggets of a big story. Later, as details become clear, the story eventually may build into a raging, foaming torrent."

If there was no torrent, a steady trickle fell on the McCain camp over the next week. The Republic, apparently piqued at being stiffed on the initial story, carried reports about Cindy McCain's drug habit on the front page every day during the week, and ran another piece on B1 on Saturday.

And all the while, key facts were out of whack. Steve Meissner of the Arizona Daily Star reported that Cindy McCain had completed "a diversion program established by the U.S. Attorney's Office."

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.
Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.
Jeremy Voas