After prison, Stedino moved to Reno. It was in Reno that he deepened his knowledge of stings in the way that allowed him later to land a job with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. (He is really quite an expert on stings.) Approached to launder a huge quantity of drug money, he suspected a sting and went to the FBI. He says that, in exchange for helping the feds nail the launderers (and recover the laundry), he was entitled to a slice of the loot by law-a cool $250,000 that he had not yet received when deposed last year by attorney Murray Miller.
Except for his work with federal agents in that city, Reno was a disappointment to Stedino, however: In three years, he never found a legitimate job there. (He told Miller that he had by this time given up his life of crime.) He decided to do some job-hunting in Phoenix.
He did not exactly come to the Valley and begin applying to management-trainee programs. Instead he was given, through his FBI contacts, the name of a retired Phoenix police officer who could help him scope out the local job market for informants. The officer put Stedino in touch with Jim Keppel at the County Attorney's Office, now the chief prosecutor for AzScam.
After interviewing Stedino, the County Attorney's Office hired him to investigate bookmaking and illegal gaming in socialized gaming bars. (Keppel and his cronies suspected that bookmakers were taking illegal bets in these bars and that owners were getting a cut of the profits from gaming revenues.) In September of 1989, according to Stedino, he began gambling up to 14 hours a day in the name of law enforcement, hoping to infiltrate and expose illegal activities.
It was steady and profitable work; Stedino was paid $3,000 a month in salary plus a generous gambling budget that he didn't have to account for with receipts. Even so, it didn't agree with him. He wanted to quit gambling and still be able to keep his job. (It was ridiculous for me to spend my time behind a table," he has said.) He came up with a cover story" that would excuse his presence in bars and also make it logical that he wouldn't gamble there: He began saying that he and some associates were looking to have casino gambling legalized in Arizona, and he didn't want to risk arrest if the place were raided by police. He wanted to keep his record clean in the name of his future lobbying efforts. I did this solely for the purpose of not being tied up at a table and blowing county money or winning money for the county, either," he has said.
The social gambling operation wasn't working for StedinoÏhe didn't like the work, and it wasn't panning out hugely: The County Attorney's Office would eventually indict a couple handfuls of offenders as a result of its agent's efforts, but the arrests were small potatoes. Enter Gary Bartlett.
If Stedino had possessed a window into Bartlett's past, he would have known this about him: Bartlett's life has been dogged by controversy. Bartlett says he is a boy from the Arkansas hills, descended from poor farmers whose lives played like Li'l Abner's-but if it's true, his earliest years were the last brush with obscurity he'll confess to.
He likes to brag that he worked as a bodyguard for Elvis Presley in Memphis, and when Susie Bartlett met him, also in Memphis, he was furiously dealing municipal bonds. He claims that he made a million before he was 25 (If he had it, I never saw it," says Susie), and he apparently did at least do very well. He was a high roller, and he probably still would like to be," Susie says.
He and the family came to Arizona in the Seventies, and he brokered securities through his own firm. He also worked as a private investigator. (He was briefly a police officer while in Arkansas.) He says his specialty was investigating government corruption, but he is vague about specific cases wherein he saved Americans from their leaders.
He goes into far more detail about his race for state treasurer in 1978, wherein he won the Democratic primary. Clearly this feat was one of the greatest recognitions of his life: He says repeatedly that he was a powerful influence in the Democratic party statewide" at that time, and that his influence has endured. Knowledgeable Democratic party politicos say he has always been only a fringe player, however.
Bartlett lost in '78, at least in part, because of scandal: Charges of making unregistered sales, issuing false statements and misrepresenting securities in his work as a broker surfaced in the newspapers. The accusations had first been made in '72 by the Wyoming secretary of state, who had refused to register Bartlett as a broker-dealer. In the wake of the bad publicity, Governor Bruce Babbitt refused to endorse Bartlett.
Although he made a couple of runs at justice of the peace, Bartlett never ran for major office again, despite all that his success in the primary seems to have meant to him. Susie Bartlett remembers that her husband had realized his record couldn't stand up to scrutiny. They were starting to uncover things," she says. It was embarrassing for the family, and I think he began to realize that he would not be able to do politics successfully."
This doesn't mean he shied away from public service, however. In the mid-Eighties, he was asked to investigate an allegation that the police chief of Guadalupe had falsified his resume: Bartlett parlayed the opportunity first into warm relationships with some members of the Guadalupe Town Council, and then into an appointment as town magistrate at the hands of his newest fans.
This was a part-time position paying $24,000 a year that, according to observers, Bartlett strove to greatly enlarge. Apparently he saw himself as the tireless rouster of crime and graft in Guadalupe, a small enclave of Hispanics and Yaqui Indians that lies between Phoenix and Tempe that is considered to be the poorest incorporated community in Maricopa County.
Bartlett says, The police chief was allegedly raping teenage girls, dealing in coke and other hard drugs. The police lieutenants were running houses of prostitution. I am the one that discovered all that."
Others say that these allegations were never proven. The record speaks for itself: None of the allegations got to first base, as far as I know," says Guadalupe town attorney Ted Jarvi. And Bartlett certainly knew how to find the courthouse and other agencies, and he could have filed them." (Asked to provide documentation of Guadalupe's bed of corruption, Bartlett promises to dig up an old report he made to the town council. Instead, he delivers to New Times' offices copies of his old contract for town magistrate and a few photocopies of newspaper clippings that do not appear to relate to Guadalupe at all.)
Jarvi isn't quite correct that nothing was proven, however. Bartlett successfully demonstrated that police chief John Guerra had lied about his qualifications, and proved another instance when police planted drugs on a suspect. Two police officers, one of them Guerra, were indicted on the latter charge and were removed from their posts.
The other thing that happened is that Bartlett alienated a great many members of the town council by trying to throw his weight around: The relationship turned into a power struggle of petty charges and countercharges that kept Guadalupe and Bartlett in the news. Members of the town council accused Bartlett of thinking he was a white god," and he was ultimately suspended. Even today, six years after Bartlett's contract finally ran out (he was still on suspension at the time), Guadalupe politicos accuse him angrily of absconding with about $250 in town travel money that he should have refunded. The claim even resulted at the time in an indictment of Bartlett for theft that was soon dropped by the County Attorney's Office for lack of evidence.
To most Arizonans, it was a minor struggle of small-town willfulness and scandal, but Bartlett may have regarded it as his finest hour. Guadalupe is a cancer on the mouth of humanity," he says. ÔEven after all they have done to me in Guadalupe, I'm still glad I was there. I think I showed them for a period of time what it should be like." And anyway, he had been vilified by only a few, he says; the majority of those in Guadalupe loved him: They sincerely appreciated the attention and the interest. There was respect. When I would go up to their houses, they would kiss my hand."
After his Guadalupe period ended, Bartlett continued with his private investigations and process-serving. He says that he dreamed of getting into lobbying because of his wide network of contacts. This was the employment history of the man Joseph Stedino met in a Phoenix bar, a history that could have been easily unearthed with a few telephone calls, if Stedino or anybody in the County Attorney's Office had bothered.
Lo and behold, here comes a guy through the front door with a broad on each arm and a bag in his hand like my Samsonite that I carry, and everybody yelled, `Judge,'" Stedino has remembered. That first night Bartlett told Stedino what he will tell anybody else, given the chance: I'm tight with Rosie [Mofford]. She got me my judicial appointment. I've got friends at the legislature. I can get a lot done. Keep in touch with me."
Stedino has testified that on their second or third meeting, Bartlett bragged about legislators whose votes on legalized gambling could be bought, and that at some point he specified that Representative Don Kenney could be had" for $1,000. (It is the only specific name of a bribable legislator that Stedino has ever claimed to have heard from Bartlett, and a personal friend of Bartlett's who is now living in San Diego, a printer named Russ Kurtz, claims that it was he who posed it to Stedino and not Bartlett. My comment to him was that I thought Don Kenney was in it for himself, and if anybody could be had, it was Kenney," says Kurtz. Kurtz adds that he has no particular political connections and that he based his evaluation of Kenney on a conversation he and Kenney had once shared at a fund raiser.)
Stedino took these boasts to the County Attorney's Office and was told to discover whether Bartlett could truly deliver. It was arranged that Bartlett would take Stedino to the Arizona State Capitol and introduce him to his influential friends there.
The outing that followed could have been considered a networking success only by someone who was profoundly ignorant of politics, or who was so desperate to take the sting" in a new direction that he was willing to see confirmation anywhere. Out of six or eight politicians whom he tried to see, including Rose Mofford, Bartlett gained access only to Jim Shumway, then- secretary of state who was more of a clerk than a political force, and Senator Alan Stephens. Bartlett and Stedino also ran into Representative Bobby Raymond (later convicted in the sting) in the hall. None of these meetings indicated willingness on anyone's part to accept a bribe.
But Stedino was not discouraged by the frail demonstration of power. Back in the car, within reach of the police force's hidden microphone, he raved to Bartlett about the judge's" influence. I watched you in action. You're fuckin' amazing," he said. I can't believe how these people just come right up to you. You hit that one guy in the stomach. You patted the other one on the ass. Alan Stephens, you hit him in the gut and said, `How you doin?' ... And I liked it when he said to you, `You still on the bench?' I mean, he, he knew who you were. That's what impressed me. You didn't have to ID yourself."
Based on this meeting, Stedino later wrote in a memorandum to the police department: I believe this man has a lot of political connections and that he does know a lot of people in high places and he knows who is dirty and who is clean. I also believe he can reach those who are dirty. ... If this man is telling 10 percent truths, he is talking about major political corruption. ... I believe this man will open doors in AZ politics that will fire the shot heard round the world if we go with him.
I suggest if we go with a plan such as this, we get a place that is nice and convincing and wire it up so I can have Gary bring these people to me and we can document all the meetings."
And that was that. The County Attorney's Office did want Stedino to obtain a resume and letters of reference from Bartlett; it is likely that Bartlett provided the same letters that are attached to his resume today, letters from justices of the peace serving in remote Arizona outposts who have socialized with Bartlett at judicial conferences and found him to be a congenial companion. But it was on the strength of his vague ravings about nameless, but corrupt, legislators, and that fateful visit to the legislature, that the police and prosecutors became willing to mount a million-dollar sting operation with Bartlett and Stedino at its head.
Well, maybe there was one other reason. In an interview with a local reporter, Stedino has admitted that then-Phoenix police chief Ruben Ortega specifically asked him to try to lure Pat Cantelme, president of the firefighters' union, into the sting. And Bartlett himself says now, Over 90 percent of the conversations I had with Stedino were to get introductions to Pat Cantelme and Duane Pell."
part 3 of 4
THERE GOES THE "JUDGE" DID AZSCAM RUIN T... v4-29-92