The Grafters

Just when I was beginning to tire of CNN's coverage of "attrited" warehouses in Iraq, Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega unwrapped his million-dollar sting of state legislators.

Is this hilarious? I feel like I ought to send out postcards across the country that announce, "Hey, I'm from Arizona, where people are pig-snout stupid."

I paid cash money to see gangster movies like Goodfellas and Miller's Crossing, but the characters in those pictures were Little Sisters of the Poor compared to the craven vote-peddlers who haunt our statehouse.

I love the police videotapes.
Why waste four hours on Godfather III when you can watch our state legislators drop their pants in front of Chief Ortega's ersatz, organized-crime pimp, J. Anthony Vincent?

With a million dollars in cash backing, Vincent posed as a connected guy who wanted a little legislation. He wanted gambling legalized in Arizona so casinos could be built here.

So far nineteen legislators, lobbyists and influence-hustlers have been indicted.

For outright Leona Helmsley cojones, you have to give a Best of Phoenix award to Senator Carolyn Walker.

Arizona's answer to Al Sharpton, Walker was caught last year sucking up inappropriate corporate contributions. Walker said then that her critics were racists.

Now Walker is on videotape (took $25,880), plumped upon a chair as she demands the gift-shop concession in the casino as part of her payoff. She expresses her need to "die rich," says she is positioning herself to do just that and to live the good life in the meantime.

Finally, Walker negotiates the sort of vote deal worthy of any of her sleazy Irish counterparts in Chicago.

Walker discusses with Vincent a "loan" of up to $750,000 so she can open a record company.

Carolyn, baby, you're beautiful. Here's a little suggestion. For your first artist, sign rap star L.L. Cool J. He had that monster hit last year, "Big Old Butt."

With pinky rings flashing, gold chains sparkling and suitcases of cash inviting, Vincent's pose as a Vegas wise guy was so convincing that lawmakers and lobbyists alike began talking like capos from Palermo to ingratiate themselves.

Lobbyist Ronald Tapp (took $39,080) wants fellow fixer Gary Bartlett (took $7,500) rubbed out because Bartlett talked too much. This posturing is such grand, Italian opera. When was the last time someone whacked a lobbyist?

All-state greaseball Representative Bobby Raymond, hair slicked and razor cut, is quick to master the mobster patois, though like a high school hard guy he isn't quite ruthless enough for the big time: "I guess I'll do anything except stick an ice pick up someone's nose."

Gee, Bobby, there goes your olive-oil concession.

Still, Raymond insists that when it comes to being a mindless whore, he is every bit the tramp Walker is.

"I don't give a fuck about issues . . . there is not an issue in this world I give a shit about. I do deals," says Raymond.

Raymond (took $12,105) adds that his favorite expression is, "What's in it for me?"

What's in it for Bobby is five to ten with time off for good behavior, if he's lucky.

And then there's Jesus "Chuy" Higuera.

He's a rare one.

Chuy (took $4,040) wants more than the cash he is given. In return for his vote, he wants the shrimp concession at Vincent's new casino.

Routinely identified at the Arizona State Capitol as a man blessed with the brains God gave an agave, Chuy must have caused the Las Vegas-based Vincent to wonder: Who is this dwarf? What shrimp concession? Does he think there's a shrimp concession at Caesar's Palace?

Vincent, of course, would have no way of knowing that Chuy's style is much closer to the blue-collar gambling charms of Laughlin, Nevada, than Las Vegas. In fact, at the Colorado Belle casino in Laughlin, they indeed had shrimp carts a year ago. And everyone from Arizona, at one time or another, has visited Puerto Penasco, just south of the border. Chuy, no doubt, has smuggled back a couple of Styrofoam ice chests of shrimp in his car trunk like the rest of the turistas. The "Big Blues" run $5 a pound in Mexico and as much as $14 a pound in your local supermarket.

So here's J. Anthony Vincent spinning out multimillion dollar tales of gambling, and Captain Camarones thinks his shrimp boat has come in. Higuera had fantasies of all the little Chuys in his clan out on the casino floor with their colorful pushcarts hawking, "Getta you shrimp, Getta you ice cold shrimp."

That's the ticket, Chuy. You're a regular Michael Milken, you are.

Walker, Raymond, and Higuera are not the only droolers begging for bibs of greenbacks on videotape--they are merely the most stupid and offensive.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey