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WHEN HEADS ROLLED AT DPSNEW TIMES GETS INSIDE THE GOVERNOR'S ATTEMPTED COUP

AT ABOUT 10:30 A.M. on October 10, Governor Fife Symington's press secretary, Doug Cole, appeared in the Senate press room and began handing reporters a brief statement. The release contained some shocking news: At 10 p.m. the previous evening, Department of Public Safety Director Rick Ayars and his hand-picked deputy, Randy Sterna, had been removed from their positions as the state's top cops and placed on administrative leave.

Cole also said it was "highly unlikely" that Ayars and Sterna would ever return to their posts at DPS. Though Cole said the suspensions were the result of "months of investigation" and that "very serious" criminal actions might be involved, he refused to divulge the specifics of the allegations against the DPS chiefs, saying only that they would be given "detailed reasons" for their suspensions in meetings in the Governor's Office that afternoon.

Symington never gave Ayars and Sterna any detailed reasons for their removal.

But a week later, Ayars and Sterna were returned to their posts, and Gary Phelps, a Symington aide who had spent 24 years at DPS and vied with Ayars for the director's job, resigned. Phelps was seen by many as a loose cannon who pushed the Governor to remove Ayars largely to satisfy a personal vendetta or to further his own ambition.

Phelps was suspicious of Ayars, and he had his reasons, however misplaced.
The two men had known each other for at least 15 years, and for most of that time Ayars had worked directly under Phelps' supervision. Phelps had not only wanted to be director of DPS, but he also thought that Ayars had secretly lobbied for the job after pledging Phelps his support. Phelps also felt that Ayars had shown disrespect for Symington by moving to fill positions at DPS without sufficient deference to the Governor's wishes. Phelps, when he worked as Ayars' deputy at DPS, had opposed the tactics employed by the department in a Tucson drug investigation that later gave rise to the removal of Ayars and Sterna. Simply put, Phelps didn't think Ayars was a "team player," and he didn't trust him.

He didn't think Symington should trust Ayars, either.
But others say Phelps was too cautious and politically astute to have tried to depose Ayars--unless he was acting on orders from his superiors. Telephone calls by New Times to Symington, his chief of staff and his press secretary went unreturned. Gary Phelps isn't talking, but his wife, who worked as a volunteer in Symington's campaign, says there's more to the story than Phelps' grudge against Ayars.

"I can tell you my husband never would have done something like that on his own," says Ernalee Phelps. "I worked for Fife for two years without pay because I believed in him. I feel like he's let us down."

Whatever Phelps' motive, it is clear that before the Governor placed Ayars and Sterna on administrative leave, his chief--if not only--adviser on the matter was a man who made no secret of his animosity toward the DPS director. Likewise, informed sources make it equally clear that after the Governor returned Ayars and Sterna to their posts, Symington gave Phelps an ultimatum: resign or be fired. In fact, Symington has admitted it was "kind of written on the wall" that Phelps should resign when the "criminal allegations" raised by the Governor's Office evaporated.

Symington publicly expressed his confidence in Ayars and later sent him a personal letter of apology. The two men have since met privately at least twice--something that never happened while Phelps was the Governor's liaison with DPS.

Rita Pearson, a Symington aide and attorney who conducted an administrative review of the suspensions, said Ayars and Sterna were removed because the Governor feared they might suppress or tamper with an internal report that detailed a two-year-old DPS drug investigation in the Tucson area in which funds were mishandled and tons of marijuana lost.

In what they claim was an attempt to preserve evidence and prevent a whitewash, Symington's people seized the only two copies of the report officially known to exist and asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to initiate a criminal investigation of the top DPS officer. The rift between the Governor's Office and DPS was suddenly and irrevocably public.

That audit, which was delivered to Sterna's desk the day the two DPS officers were suspended, does reflect badly on DPS. But its emphasis is on case-management procedures and how they might be revised, rather than on the actions of individuals. A review of the report by New Times reveals that the audit contains no allegations of criminal wrongdoing on the part of anyone at DPS--and Ayars says it was conducted only because he ordered it.

Pearson also asserted that the Governor did not want to taint the reputations of Ayars and Sterna--that a secondary reason for their removal was to divorce them from the process so they could be cleared of wrongdoing by an independent probe. Jack LaSota, the former attorney general who represented Sterna during his suspension, says the relationship between the Governor's Office and DPS was better after the enforced vacations than before--the bone has knitted stronger after the break.

But despite the patina of reconciliation coating the official version, the Ayars affair was another embarrassing misstep by the blunder-prone and inexperienced Symington administration. The two top DPS officers were suspended for mysterious reasons--for more than a week, no explanation was forthcoming, and then, when the Governor's Office did hold a press conference to explain the actions, the explanation was so convoluted that it invited disbelief. Phelps' departure left the impression that he had acted rashly, an image no one on the Governor's staff was eager to correct. Pearson said the Governor's actions were based on Phelps' investigation and that she didn't know what Phelps had told Symington. Chief of staff Bunny Baderstscher also seemed to be out of the loop.

On October 15, she told a breakfast meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce that Sterna was "a victim of circumstance" and was moved aside for procedural reasons. That afternoon, Chris Herstam, who was then in charge of Symington's communications office, said Baderstscher was "stating an opinion of her own, and not that of the Governor."

"She is not privy to any of the information regarding the ongoing investigations," Herstam was quoted as saying.

But Phelps was not the only Symington aide whose relationship with Symington changed in the wake of the suspensions.

On October 18, the Governor shook up his staff, replacing chief of staff Baderstscher with politically astute former legislator Herstam. Baderstscher became Symington's "strategic policy adviser," with the responsibility of "formulating strategic plans and alternative policies." Symington aide George Leckie's title was changed from "deputy chief of staff" to "chief operating officer," though he retained oversight of "business, financial and administrative matters."

There's one thing, though, that distinguishes Phelps from the others.
He's the only one without a job.

ONLY GARY PHELPS and Fife Symington know what they said to one another just before the nighttime suspensions of Ayars and Sterna. Afterward, the explanations given for the removals smacked of political damage control.

Symington said DPS' handling of the Tucson marijuana investigation was troubling; he said the operation reminded him of the "Keystone Kops." One high-ranking DPS officer put it more bluntly: The Tucson deal was "a holy fuck-up."

The Tucson bureau, the officer said, has always been the bastard child of DPS, the last to get the word on any major departmental news, cut off from the DPS chiefs in Phoenix by attitude as well as geography. Somehow, Tucson seems to attract a different kind of DPS officer, more independent and less inclined to go strictly by the book.

In 1988, DPS Captain Gary Hughes was assigned to run criminal investigations in Tucson. Hughes is a bright, aggressive police officer who wanted to bust drug dealers. It was Hughes who initially approved, over the objections of some subordinate officers, the infiltration of a drug-smuggling ring by some officers under his command.

The so-called "Chavez report"--an analysis performed by DPS auditor Conrad Chavez that Symington was afraid might disappear if Ayars had not been suspended--reveals that:

* During the course of the investigation in 1989-90, DPS officers and a paid confidential informant (a drug trafficker released from jail in exchange for his help with the operation) were either aware of or directly participated in "the transportation of approximately 20,430 pounds of marijuana," of which only 5,701 pounds were ultimately seized. The remainder was illegally distributed in the Tucson area.

* Officers involved in the operation also failed to account completely for the money received in the course of the operation, though no cash is thought to be missing. (Ayars said there was a difference between the estimated street value of the marijuana and the revenue actually received by suspects.) The report also strenuously criticizes the cavalier manner in which receipts were handled. At one point, an officer kept more than $110,000 at his house for several days.

* Five vehicles were purchased by the DPS for its informant to transport marijuana. All of the vehicles were apparently lost, and two trucks were likely abandoned in Mexico. Two of the vehicles were bought with money provided by the target of the investigation, one with federal antiracketeering funds and two others "may have been purchased with funds from an unknown source."

No one denies the operation was slipshod, but the audit criticizes the lack of standardized procedures within DPS more than any individuals involved in the operation.

And there are questions as to how close Ayars was to the operation.
In March 1989, when a confidential informant first agreed to help the police infiltrate the marijuana smuggling ring, Ayars was the head of the Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIB). As such, he participated in some preliminary discussions about how the undercover operation might be set up.

But the first informant backed out, stalling the operation. When another informant came forward in October 1989, Ayars had already been named interim director of DPS by then-Governor Rose Mofford. Two levels of DPS bureaucracy insulated Ayars from the goings-on in Tucson--the chief of criminal investigations and the DPS deputy director, positions held respectively by David St. John and Phelps. Given the structure of DPS at the time, Phelps could be seen as more responsible than Ayars for the problems with the Tucson case, but neither was directly involved.

"You've got to trust your command officers," a former high-ranking DPS officer says. "You can't run an operation from your office. If they mess up, they mess up, but you've got to give them their head."

Sources in DPS say Phelps was among a small group of officers which noted its disapproval of the Tucson operation at the time it was under way, adding that Phelps' "hands-on" involvement with the case was restricted to a weekly meeting with St. John in which the CIB head briefed him on all ongoing investigations.

Though the DPS audit indicated sloppy case-management practices, it turned up no evidence of criminal activity on the part of Ayars, Sterna or anyone else at DPS.

It was a highly self-critical report, and it had been ordered by Ayars. To effectively suppress the report would have required the collaboration of several others within DPS, from the three-man inspection team to the captain in charge of the department's Inspections and Control Unit to the secretaries who tapped into their word processors. And, as one former high-ranking DPS officer says, while it might be a useful bureaucratic fiction to pretend the Governor's staff seized the only two copies of the report, other copies surely existed on computer disk and in the private files of those who handled the report before Sterna. Though the Governor said the suspensions were necessary to prevent the report's suppression, its contents were no secret.

Neither was the bad feeling between Phelps and his former boss Rick Ayars.
So chilly was the relationship between the two men that there had been rumors Symington might ask Ayars to resign or take other measures to remove the head of DPS. Phelps had described the ill-starred Tucson undercover drug operation as Ayars' "Achilles' heel" and as a "skeleton in his closet" to several people in law enforcement circles. The pervasive feeling among cops was that Phelps "would get Ayars if he could."

SINCE THE LATE 1960s, DPS directors have enjoyed five-year terms that don't coincide with the governors' four-year terms. And while the director of DPS is appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature, the DPS director does not serve at the pleasure of the governor. Under Arizona law, the director can be removed only for cause, "including but not limited to malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance in office."

Phelps was well aware of the statutory protection afforded the DPS director. He had been the deputy director--the department's number-two man--under Ralph Milstead. When, in the summer of 1989, Milstead left the agency to become then-Governor Mofford's executive assistant in charge of law enforcement, Phelps saw himself as the heir apparent. Sources in DPS say he was confident he would be appointed to the post. They say he discussed the job with Ayars and other possible candidates, and asked for their support. Apparently, neither Ayars nor any other DPS officer indicated that he would actively seek the position.

Milstead says that when he left DPS he recommended to Governor Mofford that the DPS directorship be filled from within. "I thought the department had earned that," Milstead says. "And I gave her two names of people I thought could do the job: my deputy director, Gary Phelps, and my chief of criminal investigations, Rick Ayars."

When Mofford told him she had decided on Ayars for the top slot, Milstead thought, "`Gee, maybe I didn't do a very good selling job on Gary Phelps.'" When he asked the Governor if she wanted to discuss Phelps further, he says she told him Ayars was her choice.

Mofford has said that Phelps personally approached her and asked for the job but she rejected him because he lacked widespread support within the law enforcement community. One DPS source says he heard that of the police officers informally polled by Mofford, only two indicated Phelps would be their first choice to head DPS. On the other hand, Rick Ayars, who had been with DPS for 22 years, was generally well-liked and respected.

Ayars is not a charismatic figure, but a steady administrator given to wearing short-sleeve shirts with his jacket and tie. Others in law enforcement characterize Ayars as a straightforward, by-the-book administrator who can sometimes come across as abrupt and "sanctimonious." While generally respected, several DPS sources indicated there is a small faction of officers--primarily assigned to highway patrol and criminal investigations--that resents what it perceives as Ayars' air of moral superiority.

Ayars also had an ace up his sleeve with the stand-in governor: Mofford, whose brother was a state highway patrolman in the days before that agency was brought under the auspices of DPS, had extensive contacts in law enforcement and remembered Ayars' father from when he had been sheriff of Yavapai County.

"When Phelps heard that Ayars was Mofford's choice, he just lost it," one DPS source says. "He went to Ayars and told him he couldn't take the job, that he wasn't qualified, that it was his job, he was entitled to it. He told Ayars if he took the job he [Ayars] would be disloyal."

Ayars, however, accepted Mofford's appointment as interim head of DPS in August 1989, served the remainder of Milstead's term and was confirmed as the new director in January 1990. While Phelps was disappointed that Mofford failed to choose him, some say he was more upset because he believed that Ayars lobbied Mofford for the job after telling Phelps he would not seek the position.

Ayars denies he ever asked for the job.
"I never had any conversations with the Governor about the DPS job," Ayars says. "In fact, I think it was rather a severe shock to the executive staff when I was chosen. I had no idea I was being considered."

While Ayars could have removed Phelps as his deputy--departmental rules would have allowed the new director to reassign all department heads and senior staff without any repercussions--Ayars elected to keep his former superior on as his deputy.

"Gary Phelps had broad experience," Ayars says. "He had been the deputy director under Ralph Milstead, and he was my choice. And in discussing it with Governor Mofford, she made it clear he was her choice [for deputy head]. When he indicated he wanted to remain, we came to agreement."

It was not, however, a good working relationship. Ayars describes it as "strained."

"Apparently, Gary had trouble working for a boss who had been a subordinate," a high-level DPS officer says. "It just went against his grain."

By the summer of 1990, the friction was palpable and Ayars wanted to remove Phelps. Again going through channels, he went to the Governor's Office to ask for advice. Mofford talked him out of it.

So Phelps stayed on as deputy director through 1990, through the gubernatorial races and into the new year. Since the gubernatorial run-off would not allow the next governor the usual three-month transition period before taking office, the Mofford administration created transition teams to brief both Fife Symington and Terry Goddard. About a week before the election, the Goddard transition team met with the ranking officers at DPS.

Andy Hurwitz, an attorney who served as chairman of the Goddard transition team, says he was mildly surprised that Phelps was at the meeting, because there were newspaper reports that Phelps would be leaving.

"There had been reports that Gary, who I knew, was going to go up to the Ninth Floor if Symington won the election," Hurwitz says. "So I kind of ribbed him about it: I said, `Gary, what are you doing here? The paper says you're going to take a job with Fife.' And he said, `Well, Andy, you know that's not true, you can't believe everything that's in the paper. I have no intention of leaving DPS.'"

There were plenty of reasons to think Phelps might leave DPS. Not only was there friction with Ayars, but Phelps had a longtime interest in politics, dating back to the days when he had provided security for Governor Jack Williams. More recently, he and his wife had become personal friends with the Symingtons--Ernalee worked as a volunteer in the gubernatorial campaign.

Phelps had also just passed a retirement plateau--with 24 years of service to DPS, he could retire and still draw 62 percent of his $85,000-per-year salary. And the job with Symington paid him an additional $80,000 per year. Since he had been passed over for the top job at DPS--and Ayars' contract would not expire until 1995--it was reasonable to think he might be in line for a job in the Symington administration.

On Election Day, Phelps' letter of resignation hit Ayars' desk. Phelps told the director he was leaving to become an executive assistant to Symington, filling the same law enforcement liaison role that Milstead had with Mofford. When Ayars reminded him that the election was not yet over, Phelps expressed confidence that Symington would be the next governor. According to Ayars, the two men shook hands and Phelps left on good terms.

A high-level DPS officer says Symington asked Phelps to resign before the votes were counted as "a show of confidence," and that under departmental rules, Phelps could have rescinded his retirement at any time provided he had not accepted any retirement checks. Almost immediately after Phelps resigned, Ayars moved to appoint a new deputy director. Sources inside DPS said Phelps had suggested that David St. John, the head of the Criminal Investigations Bureau, be elevated to the position. Ayars, however, selected Sterna--head of administration--as his top deputy and immediately sent the paperwork to lame-duck Governor Mofford for approval.

When Phelps discovered that Ayars had moved so quickly to replace him, he went to Ayars and told him he should wait until Symington assumed office before picking a new number two. Ayars, however, thought the decision was his to make. Sterna became deputy director of DPS in March.

Sterna and Phelps were friends. Still, Phelps was "livid" over the timing of the appointment--he thought Symington should be given the opportunity to approve a new deputy director. A new era had begun. After he left DPS, Phelps began to criticize Ayars openly.

IN HIS YEARS with DPS, Phelps earned a reputation as a careful and deliberate investigator, politically astute, loyal to his allies and capable of getting even.

"Gary Phelps is a very secretive, play-'em-close-to-the-vest type of individual," a former high-ranking DPS officer says. "He believes that knowledge is power, and any knowledge that he has that you don't have gives him that much more power over you. . . . He thought the next logical step was director. When he didn't get it, he was understandably disappointed."

Former director Milstead, who says he still considers both Ayars and Phelps friends, calls Phelps "extremely intelligent," "patient" and "cautious." As he rose through the ranks, Phelps was always careful to make and maintain contacts through every level of the department. Several DPS officers have described a loose network of people at all levels with whom Phelps talked on a regular basis. Some believe Phelps maintained his own intelligence network; others think he was just a very conscientious deputy director who wanted direct feedback from the grunts. In any case, after Phelps moved to the Governor's Office, he took his Rolodex with him, and continued to check in with his "people."

In August of this year, David St. John, Phelps' choice for the deputy director's post, was tabbed by Symington to head up Operation SLIM, a project aimed at eliminating waste in state government. When Ayars moved to replace St. John as head of the department's Criminal Investigations Bureau, Phelps told him to leave the post open, that St. John's assignment was only temporary. Ayars balked and Phelps became angry with him, reportedly threatening to have Symington remove him from his post as DPS director.

This could not have been an easy position for Rick Ayars. The person directly above him in the chain of command, that sacred avenue from which law enforcement professionals are asked never to stray, was a man who had coveted his job. To get to the Governor, Ayars now had to go through Phelps.

And Phelps, who wasn't exactly his boss but was at least his boss's mouthpiece, was telling Ayars to leave a crucial position unfilled for an unspecified length of time. Ayars needed a criminal investigations chief, but he reluctantly went along with the Ninth Floor, holding the post open for St. John until October 7, when he transferred Lieutenant Colonel Gary Ross from DPS' Criminal Justice Support (CJS) division to fill the CIB vacancy. Ayars continues to hold the CJS position open for St. John. Earlier, Phelps had begun to conduct his investigation into the irregularities in the Tucson undercover drug operation.

At a June 26 meeting with cabinet officers, Symington asked Ayars about some of the problems with the Tucson case, according to Rita Pearson. She said there was some concern when the DPS director seemed to avoid the question, giving the Governor less than a complete answer.

Ayars disputes Pearson's version of events. He says he raised the issue with the Governor because he was concerned about reports in the Tucson newspapers that indicated the defense attorneys had alleged misconduct by DPS. Pearson also said there was some concern when Ayars ordered his own internal audit of the case and asked that it be completed within 30 rather than the customary 60 days. The haste with which Ayars called for the investigation seemed suspicious.

In late August, DPS sources say, rumors were so thick that Randy Sterna went to Phelps to ask if there was any truth to the gossip that Ayars would be fired because of alleged mismanagement of the Tucson investigation. Sterna says Phelps told him not to worry about the Tucson case, that the rumors were just that--rumors.

But the rumors of the impending coup at DPS did not abate. On October 9, just 10 hours before Ayars and Sterna were suspended, Lee Rappleyea, a chief investigator with the Attorney General's Office, voiced his concern over rumors Ayars was about to be dumped at a luncheon meeting at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge in Glendale.

"`If you want to save your chief, you'd better rally the troops,'" officers who were there remember him saying. They say Rappleyea suggested that Ayars might be gone within the week.

Ironically, Rappleyea's attempt to save Ayars might have triggered the suspensions. Rita Pearson claimed Rappleyea "leaked" word of Phelps' investigation of DPS, forcing the Governor to move quickly to ensure that Ayars and Sterna could not impede the investigation.

What Rappleyea apparently didn't know was that Symington's office had been in contact with Linda A. Thompson, a lawyer employed by the Attorney General's civil division. Phelps had asked Thompson to advise the Governor's Office on how Ayars could be properly dismissed if there was evidence of wrongdoing or incompetence on his part during DPS' undercover operation in Tucson.

Steve Tseffos, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, says Linda Thompson didn't know Rappleyea. Rappleyea apparently had no knowledge that the Governor's Office had been in contact with Thompson. It was simply coincidence that the same day Rappleyea took his stand on behalf of Ayars, a draft copy of an internal DPS audit of the Tucson investigation landed on the desk of deputy director Sterna.

Phelps called Ayars at home at about 10 p.m. Phelps told Ayars he was being placed on administrative leave with pay and gave the director a few instructions: He was not to go into the office the next morning. He was not to talk to either Sterna or DPS Captain Gary Hughes. He was not to remove any state documents from his office. He was to call Phelps at 9 a.m. the next day.

A few minutes later, Sterna received a similar telephone call from Phelps.
Both men secured legal counsel. Both dutifully called Phelps the next morning, and each was told to come to a separate meeting with Phelps and Pearson that afternoon. Ayars and his attorney, Paul Eckstein, were instructed to come at 2 p.m., while Sterna and his lawyer, Jack LaSota, were asked to arrive at 3 p.m.

Two copies of the draft report of the Tucson criminal investigation--the only two copies known to exist at the time--were confiscated by the Governor's staff. Sterna had only received the report the day before and had skimmed through it. Ayars had read a summary of the draft prepared by Sterna but had not yet seen the report itself.

At about 1:30 p.m., Ayars, Eckstein and Lee Stein, an attorney associated with Eckstein, arrived for their meeting with Phelps. At about the same time, a press conference to discuss the suspensions was getting under way. The three men mistakenly walked into a room where Symington was about to hold a press conference on the officers' suspensions. For a brief, awkward moment the trio stood there, and then Ayars and Eckstein retreated, leaving Stein to listen as Symington moderated the statements disseminated earlier that morning. The Governor said the probe "resulted from various concerns expressed over a period of time" and that some of the alleged misconduct predated his administration.

Ironically, Ayars and his lawyers learned more from the Governor's press conference than from their meeting with Phelps.

That morning, Symington referred the "charges" against the DPS chiefs to the U.S. Attorney's Office for investigation and possible prosecution. Symington said the decision to involve an outside agency was made after he conferred with Attorney General Grant Woods and determined that since the Attorney General's Office advises both the Governor and DPS it would be inappropriate to involve it in the DPS probe.

But there was a hint that perhaps Symington was not as sure of the criminal culpability of Ayars and Sterna as press secretary Cole had been a few hours earlier--before the DPS internal audit had been reviewed by the Governor's staff.

"No decision will be made on the future employment of Ayars and Sterna pending the outcome of the investigation," Symington said.

Both LaSota and Eckstein say their clients were simply handed a brief letter, informing them they had been placed on administrative leave.

LaSota and Sterna claim there were no criminal allegations against the deputy director and no indication that Sterna had done anything improper.

Eckstein says he pressed the Governor's aides for information about the charges and that--for the entire week his client was suspended--no one in the Governor's Office ever told him or Ayars what the allegations were or what the source of those charges were. Revenge, posited Eckstein, was Phelps' motive.

After Eckstein suggested Phelps might have been motivated by revenge, Rita Pearson--who had previously advised Symington on environmental affairs--took over the administrative end of the investigation. She met with U.S. Attorney Linda Akers to request an investigation into "alleged criminal activity" within the department.

For a little more than a week, from 10 p.m. on October 9 until midmorning on October 16, DPS' top officers were kept in limbo. A few days after Ayars and Sterna were suspended, Gary Phelps addressed an assembly of officers at DPS headquarters. He told them they were part of the "best-run department in state government."

Then, as abruptly as they were removed, Ayars and Sterna were reinstated. Wallace Kleindienst, assistant U.S. attorney for Arizona, said neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor the FBI could turn up evidence that federal law had been violated. Symington's office released a terse statement admitting the criminal allegations were unfounded and clearing the two top officers of administrative improprieties.

Symington defended his actions in the release: "It is unfortunate that Colonel Ayars and Lieutenant Colonel Sterna and their families experienced anguish during the last week. But when criminal allegations arrived on my desk, I felt it was imperative that an immediate investigation occur.

"Under the circumstances, I believe this brief administrative leave was appropriate and in the best interests of the state."

Reinstated, Ayars and Sterna were quick to forgive.
Ayars and Sterna survived, and Phelps was cut loose. Even so, the Governor hinted the door might be open for Phelps to return to a position in state government--Symington said he felt "sorry" for Phelps and would like to see him back in public service.

GARY PHELPS IS still looking for a job.
It will be hard for him to find other work in law enforcement, for it is unlikely that any police chief or sheriff in the state will be able to put aside the perception of him as the guy who tried to take out Rick Ayars. Phelps is now a pariah at DPS, the department in which he spent half his life.

Sources close to Phelps say he declined to talk about the Ayars affair because he hopes Symington will find another role for him in his administration--there is a rumor that he may be appointed to the next opening on the Pardons and Paroles board, but it may be difficult for him to win approval from the Senate. For now, he is playing the stoic soldier, refusing to undermine his superiors even after his superiors have decided he is expendable. Ernalee Phelps is not quite so reticent.

"We're waiting to see if Fife Symington is a man of his word," she says.
"My husband is not someone who does things in a hurry. He is an extremely brilliant man, with his patience and his knowledge . . . if people knew what happened, it's all so simple. He could tell you and you'd just go, `Oh, now it all makes sense.' But he'll have to do it on his time, when he's ready."

"I worked for Fife for two years without pay. I feel like he's let us down," says Ernalee Phelps.

Phelps' departure left the impression that he had acted rashly, an image no one on the Governor's staff was eager to correct.

It was a highly self-critical report, and it had been ordered by Ayars.

Ayars is not a charismatic figure, but a steady administrator given to wearing short-sleeve shirts with his jacket and tie.

Symington asked Phelps to resign before the votes were counted as "a show of confidence."

"Phelps believes that knowledge is power, and any knowledge that he has that you don't have gives him that much more power over you."

Ironically, Ayars and his lawyers learned more from the Governor's press conference than from their meeting with Phelps.

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Philip Martin