In September of 1991, MAGNET joined Arizona Department of Public Safety's investigation of Omar Aldabbagh and Russ Abu-Hamdieh and their topless bars and nude nightclubs. The Mohave County Sheriff's Office had been watching Abu-Hamdieh's Solid Gold, a nude dance club just south of Bullhead City, ever since the club applied for a liquor license in December 1990.
During the course of that investigation--called "Operation Aladdin"--snitching would become routine for the twins. But eventually, it put them on the run. In Aladdin's aftermath began the series of events leading to the recall attempt on the sheriff. @rule:
@body:Encouraged by Sheryl's modeling experience, MAGNET figured it could get her inside Solid Gold. First the cops had her get a job baby-sitting for the children of someone close to owner Abu-Hamdieh. When Abu-Hamdieh saw her, he did just what the cops expected. "He came in and said, 'You beautiful. You dance,'" Sheryl remembers.
The cops told Sheryl she would be in on a major investigation of organized crime, racketeering, drug dealing, prostitution, white slavery--you name it. She says MAGNET's Sergeant Flanagan promised a 10 percent cut of the assets seized from the targets' million-dollar empire, plus living expenses. While officials with MAGNET and DPS say Flanagan would not have made such a deal, the twins say he also promised they'd get $5,000 to $10,000 to relocate. If the twins didn't suspect trouble, someone else did. Says Ernie Soper, an investigator with the National Park Service who worked for MAGNET: "I remember thinking, 'How can Flanagan promise 10 percent of everything?' They were only involved in a fraction of the whole thing."
The day after Sheryl baby-sat, she agreed to dance at Solid Gold.
When she signed up, MAGNET moved Milton and her to a trailer owned by a MAGNET worker. They later spent time in various hotels.
The first night she danced, Sheryl downed a lot of Jack Daniel's. She was nervous, but she didn't expect the crowd to consist of who it did: detectives from MAGNET as well as other area police officers. "These guys were up there putting dollar bills in their mouths and leaning back on the stage," Milton says.
The narcs had Sheryl taking notes every day, but she didn't see much illegal activity going on. The place was high-priced and usually empty. Milton managed to get a job as a bouncer at the club, and he began to buy drugs. Doing the buys wasn't any easier on their consciences than before. "We didn't want to do any drug buys," remembers Sheryl. "We just thought this would be kind of neat to get people in organized crime." And some of Milton's buys didn't even involve real dealers. They busted one of Sheryl's co-workers and her husband. "She had a 2-year-old baby. She was pregnant, living in a scummy old place," Sheryl says. "She was trying to make ends meet. And we busted them."
Snitching was hard work. She worked eight- to ten-hour shifts, six days a week--she even worked Christmas--at $2 an hour. Tips were scarce. She spent several hundred dollars on lingerie, makeup and shoes, items she says the cops never reimbursed her for. Says Sheryl, "We had one day off--it was Sunday, and we had that filled with drug buys." Sheryl quit several times, but she always came back. And the cops, the same ones who couldn't get the right hotel on their earlier bust, couldn't always get out of bed to monitor her buys. Sheryl remembers one deal she had set up for seven in the morning. But she couldn't rouse the MAGNET officer. "I'm supposed to be anxious. I gave him [the dealer] my money. I should want the shit right now." But she had to change plans, telling the dealer nonchalantly, "Oh, don't worry about it.'" But some things were beginning to look up. The twins finally got their Mitsubishi Eclipse back from Nevada, more than a year after they were arrested. And the cops moved them into a nice house on the Colorado River. Sheryl remembers, "We had a nice home. We had friends. We had our car back. I was working regularly. The tips were getting a little bit better. The cops weren't there as often." It wasn't so bad, after all. They had become professionals--and they were good at it. "They're the best I've ever worked with," says Jim Houseman, an investigator with the National Park Service police at Lake Powell, who worked with the twins last summer. "He [Milton] can talk the talk and do the walk. He's very confident."