After nearly two weeks of continuous controversy a long-running and nationally publicized series of newspaper articles on alleged Arizona corruption has produced a mixed bag of results here so far.
Because of the efforts of a 36-member team, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., law-enforcement authorities on both the federal and state level have launched investigations of their own into Arizona corruption.The 23-part series - now almost two-thirds printed - intended to carry on the work of murdered investigative reporter Don Bolles has also spurred calls here for legislative reform.
However, some of those same law enforcement authorities and reformers expressed doubts in interviews this week that the investigative series is likely to produce any long-term effect on Arizona's political or business practices.
"I'm afraid we will need more than newspaper articles to clean house and change the way things are done around here," and Sue Dye, a Tucson Democrat and state senate majority whip. "I give it (the series) about a 25 per cent chance of accomplishing something - maybe 30 per cent."
Last month, according to officials here, partly as a result of the fear of what the corruption series might uncover, the Arizona Legislature voted to spend $600,000 to set up a Joint Task Force on Organized Crime to look into, among other things, some of the allegations the IRE has made.
In addition, Michael Hawkins, the new U.S. attorney here, said FBI agents have been looking into several allegations made by IRE in its series so far.
But William Smitherman, who left the U.S. attorney post here last month and was appointed to head the state joint task force, said the focus of the IRE investigative series so far has not been on the state's most pressing criminal problems.
The series has reeled off a succession of allegations involving mob connections with Arizona's political establishment, land fraud scandals and other allegedly shady practices involving some of the state's best-known political and business names.
"If they want to print about relationships that they say exist, that's nice," said Smitherman. "But," he added, "there seems to be an awful lot of guilt by association in it."
Both state and federal officials said, however, that land fraud and the Mafia are not the most serious problems for the state at present. They said sophisticated white-collar fraud schemes, far more intricate than any scandals that have appeared in the series to date, and increasing narcotics traffic from Mexico are a higher priority for law enforcement here.
The state attorney general's office, for example, is investigating one recent alleged swindle involving insurance firms in nearly a dozen states and the big Teamsters Union Central States pension fund in Chicago. The alleged scheme to defraud the pension fund throught complex insurance swindle took place here because of Arizona's unusually lax insurance laws, according to state Attorney General Bruc Babbitt.
The IRE series is expected to deal in some depth with narcotics in coming articles and to a lesser extent with some of the more sophisticated frauds here, according to those familiar with the series.
Law enforcement officials and others here have also noted that many of the alleged Mafia relationships and land scandals have been previously reported in books and articles, including some by Bolles. Despite that, however, several officials praised the series for revealing the breadth of the alleged interlocks between state officials, politicians, businessmen and organized crime members.
While they are not being published in Phoenix two papers, the articles have drawn considerable interest here. Each morning since the series began downtown newsstands have been crowded with persons anxious to buy The Arizona Daily Star, which is published in Tuscon and is running the series.
The Star has increased the number of copies it sends daily to Phoenix from 500 to 5,000 since the series began. The paper has also received nearly 400 mail subscriptions since the series started, according to Star editor William Woestendiek.
The Phoenix papers, The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, have turned into the secondary villains of the series for refusing to publish the articles. The papers, which have shown an editorial preference for the state's Republican leadership in the past, have not run articles relating to Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-Ariz.), his brother, businessman Robert Goldwater, or former Republican state chairman Harry Rosenzweig.
Arizona Republic editors have said that they are not running the series because its allegations could not be verified. But Woestendiek noted that the Gazette did run a fairly lengthy wire service account of an article in the series which dealt with Arizona's Democratic Gov. Raul Castro.