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STREET FIGHT

The Pima Association of Governments is revving up the effort to persuade Pima County residents to pass a half-cent sales tax for road projects at the ballot box next spring.

PAG has hired an out-of-state outfit, Triad Inc. , of Columbus, Ohio, which specializes in persuading voters to support transportation plans. Now, word on the street--so to speak--has it that the Southern Arizona Leadership Council is also pushing to have Triad move seamlessly from flacking for PAG to running the campaign committee that's supposed to get the sales-tax proposal passed. And, we're told, for low, low price of just $1.2 million, the company "guarantees" a win.

Given the recurring failure of local sales-tax propositions--0-for-4 in the last two decades, not counting a jail sales-tax prop that went down--that's a big promise to keep. We're not sure if that's a double-your-money-back guarantee, but we think if the proposition loses after Triad gets its big contract, the firm should cough up the money to widen Houghton Road.


SUTTON CHOP

Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton has steadfastly maintained his innocence following his federal indictment last month for allegedly trying to shake down national garbage giant Waste Management for, among other things, a no-show job that would have paid his pal, Rick Westfall, up to $60,000 a month.

Sutton has had plenty of public support from his colleagues on the Marana Town Council, which voted last week to cover Sutton's legal fees--as long as he's acquitted of charges.

But in the back room, movers and shakers have been working to ease Sutton out. He resigned his seat over the weekend with the standard soundbite: "At this time, it is best for my family and this community for me to step away."

Part of Sutton's for-the-media defense is that he was simply helping a constituent. Westfall is portrayed by the defense as a whistleblower. Granted, only part of the feds' side of this story is in, but that's constituent service that tops even that of what we saw from the Keating Five, the senators--including a couple from Arizona--who went rushing to the defense of failed S&L kingpin Charles Keating back in the late '80s.

Everyone should hope that Sutton can continue to afford attorney Michael Piccarreta. He's got some history smacking around the FBI agent involved in this case.


MOLE FOR THE TURKEY, BUT NOT FOR THE CHICKEN

In the tragic soap opera that is the Pima County Attorney's Office under third-term Democrat Barbara LaWall, it became strikingly clear in civil service commission hearings that LaWall and her top hack, Chief Criminal Deputy David Berkman, do not evenly apply rules--written, imagined or made up on the fly.

LaWall, a frequent flyer who is too often out of the office touting her "model" programs to every prosecutor in the United States, avoided much of the spanking and other discipline of the four former prosecutors with ties to evidence or witnesses in the Oct. 5 murder of Dr. David Stidham. She did so because she was gone, bragging about her victim-witness program (never mind that she botched the job of informing Stidham's widow that her office had to hand the case over to Pinal County) or her bad-check program (never mind that LaWall not long ago shared the stage on a television cooking show with a man and woman who wrote an $8,000 check on a closed account).

She was gone when the Stidham case swamped the county attorney's office during the week of Oct. 18, 2004, three days after Stidham's former associate, Dr. Bradley Alan Schwartz, was arrested and charged with hiring the alleged hit man, Ronald Bruce Bigger.

When LaWall returned, she said, she was shocked and outraged to learn of interoffice relationships, "messy personal lives" and the conflicts that had arisen because of the close connections four or more of her prosecutors had with a star witness in the case, Lourdes Salomon Lopez, Schwartz's ex-lover and a former member of the LaWall team.

LaWall told the Merit Commission that the prosecutors should have known the strict rules that forbade them to have contact with Lopez after she was busted, along with Schwartz, on federal drug charges in September 2002. LaWall had shown L-Lo the door, allowing her to resign, weeks before the federal indictment. Ever the mother, LaWall advised L-Lo at the end of that session to get the hell away from Schwartz.

And as L-Lo went through her felony plea agreement, LaWall attended a chic dinner with some of her prosecutors, including Nicki DiCampli, one of the prosecutors LaWall once heralded but now trashes.

In compelling testimony before the Merit Commission last week, DiCampli said she sat next to LaWall during the ride to the home of an exclusive benefactor who was hosting the dinner for crime fighters. DiCampli said LaWall asked if she still had contact with L-Lo and, in apparent sincerity, asked how she was. LaWall, according to DiCampli, expressed concern for L-Lo and a desire for her to be well and to turn her life around.

To that end, DiCampli said, LaWall gave her the name of a lawyer who had been busted for dope and saw his life spin out of control, but recovered with great success. LaWall told DiCampli, who considered L-Lo "family," to forward the name and contact info to L-Lo.

LaWall has tried to retroactively discipline DiCampli, who resigned in March and now practices in Pascua Yaqui tribal courts, and others in the clique--Brad Roach, Paul Skitzki and Janet Altschuler--for having contact with L-Lo when she was a felon.

Other compelling testimony came last week from Kim Hunley, another former prosecutor. Berkman, the third-stringer who ascended after LaWall's Oklahoma recruit didn't pan out and after Rick Unkelsbay decided to focus on putting bad guys in prison, tried to punish Hunley after she resigned. She couldn't take Berkman's abusive interrogations. Hunley was being smacked down for doing what Berkman and LaWall demanded she do: She briefed her boss, she notified, or tried to notify, authorities about what she knew of Schwartz's supposed repeated threats against Stidham. Hunley called 88-Crime and sheriff's detectives only to be told: "If that's all you have, we already know that. Thanks."

Hunley was lopped in, via a County Attorney Office leak to KGUN Channel 9, with those being "fired," when she was not actually fired. When she called Berkman to fix that by calling KGUN, Berkman said he could not. He did grant her permission to call the station to say she hadn't been fired. Big of ya, Dave.

Skitzki also called 88-Crime with information on what L-Lo told him about Schwartz's evil pillow talk. Skitzki did not call detectives.

Skitzki is the only one who got canned. He testified last week that his life got turned upside down when LaWall linked him as an accomplice to murder, saying he had information from L-Lo before Stidham was killed. Skitzki adamantly denies that L-Lo told him anything of the sort before the murder. It is that dispute that is the heart of the conflict of interest for LaWall's shop and the reason that Pinal prosecutors Richard Platt and Sylvia Lafferty will have the duty. And the glory.


HALFMANN, HALF TRUTHS

TUSD has appropriately returned Tucson High's talented and dedicated photography teacher Jerry Halfmann to the classroom after a senseless paid leave that translates into an assault on his professional integrity and the grand artistic talents of his students. The witch hunt, reminiscent of one-time U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, began when a photo of part of a bare back of a student model was deemed--long after it was shown--to have offended someone in Tucson High administration. Halfmann was marched out like a criminal in a sure sign that Principal Abel Morado is totally clueless in running TUSD's flagship school and fine-arts magnet.

Bureaucrats at TUSD wanted to hear cheers last week for making Halfmann whole. They deserve none. This was a terrible and costly mistake that is a microcosm for their expensive and wasteful mismanagement.

More by Chris Limberis

  • The Skinny

    • Sep 22, 2005
  • Legal Briefs

    Unexpected Discovery and Disclosure in the Stidham Murder
    • Sep 22, 2005
  • Legal Reversal

    County Attorney Barbara LaWall backpedals after the widow of Dr. Brian Stidham files a lawsuit
    • Sep 15, 2005
  • More »

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