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.