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January 6, 2006 - East Valley Tribune (AZ)

Public Corruption - Will Mordida Put Bite On Arizona?

Scale Of Bribes With Which Drug Cartels Can Tempt Officials Is Cause For Concern

By Bill Richardson, Retired Mesa master police officer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

La mordida (the bite, or squeeze) - bribery reaching into the highest levels of government.

It's what has allowed the Mexican drug cartels to grow into multi-billion-dollar a year businesses that control much of the hemisphere south of the US. border. It's a way of life in Mexico.

The recent arrests in Arizona of fifty U.S. officials by the FBI on corruption charges are cause for very serious concern. An explosive wave of organized crime and corruption is coming to America, and as usual our elected leaders seem to be "stuck on stupid." "Build the fence, don't build the fence."

Maybe 25 years ago a fence would have kept the illegals out. By the time the U.S. government could even get enough American citizens to work on such a massive project most of Mexico will have already been living here, happily and illegally.

And what about all of the political posturing by Gov. Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Terry Goddard, Valley mayors, city councils and law enforcement officials over controlling cold medicinein a purported effort to control methamphetamine production? Maybe a good move decades ago, but more than 90 percent of the meth in the U.S. is now manufactured in Mexican "super labs" with shiploads of chemicals from China. Mexico can surely produce all of the meth the U.S. demands.

Arizona politicians are always a day late and dollar short, unless it comes to their political war chests. For most politicians, who wouldn't know an illegal from a legal, or meth from heroin, it's all about the "M" word. They constantly yell "Meth" and "Mexicans" to get Media attention and Money.

Will mordida become one of Arizona's favorite "M" words? The ongoing FBI investigation into corruption is directly related to the drug trafficking and organized crime that are also a big part of Arizona's booming economy.

The 50 the FBI has arrested so far have been lowlevel crooks who transported small loads of narcotics and sold drivers licenses. These little fish were easy prey. One old-time cop said catching these mopes is easier than fishing with hand grenades at a trout farm.

In the early '80s, the FBI's Operation Greylord used similar tactics in a narcotics based investigation of official corruption in Chicago. Greylord targeted and caught the big boys in the public corruption food chain who had sweeping powers to compromise the integrity of much of the system. That's a far cry from the flunkies who have been arrested so far in the ongoing corruption investigation.

Hopefully the FBI is looking a little higher up in government, as they did in Chicago. The Mexican drug cartels are making billions of dollars every year and have a very successful record of corrupting people at the highest levels of government and business throughout Latin America.

Judging on state and federal history, some of our own politicians, high-ranking law enforcement officials, judges, lawyers and their political operatives have taken their fair share of mordida. It's been 15 years since the Phoenix police and Maricopa County Attorney's Office conducted the AzScam investigation into corrupt officials who took payoffs to help organized crime.

The AzScam investigation targeted and captured many at the highest levels of Arizona government. It wasn't that hard to get some of the state's most trusted leaders to take what they thought was the mob's blood money. Some AzScam crooks went to jail; others snitched and some walked away scot-free. It was the last investigation that targeted Arizona's power brokers who were suspected of selling out.

Those who want to compromise our system of laws today could offer mordida in the hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars, not the few thousand or a couple hundred that changed hands during AzScam.

The threat of public corruption by Mexican drug cartels won't stop at the border no matter how tall the fence is or how many border patrolmen there are. The only stop the cartels will make is to drop off the cash to ensure nothing interferes with their business and growing profits. While politicians and law enforcement officials try to give the appearance of action and leadership on emotional issues, you have to wonder if official corruption and la mordida are slowly becoming a way of life in Arizona.

The FBI won't be able to stop it alone. One mobbusting FBI agent said vice has been around forever. It'll never go away.

The real evil is the money it can generate to enable the corruption of public officials.

Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley.

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