Defense givs opening statement in AzScam trial

azscam7

April 23, 1992

By WILLIAM F. RAWSON
Associated Press

PHOENIX — The star witness against a former state senator will make money if his testimony in the lawmaker’s corruption trial is convincing, a defense attorney said in opening arguments Thursday.

The witness, Joseph Stedino, posed as a crooked lobbyist for gambling interests in a 1991 sting that led to the indictments of former Sen. Carolyn Walker and seven other sitting legislators.

Under a contract with the county attorney, Sedino gets a percentage of all money and property seized as a result of his undercover activities, defense attorney Murray Miller said.

Ms. Walker, a Democrat, and co-defendant Ronald Tapp, a bail bondsman, are the first to go to trial in the “AzScam” case, in which legislators and others were videotaped taking cash from Stedino.

In the prosecution’s opening statement Tuesday, Deputy County Attorney James Keppel said Ms. Walker and Tapp willingly took bribes. He said Tapp accepted a $1,000-a-week retainer to act as Stedino’s go-between with legislators.

Keppel said videotapes of defendants taking thousands of dollars from Sedino will make up 90 percent of the prosecution’s case.

Ms. Walker, accused of taking more than $25,000, is the only legislator who didn’t enter into a plea agreement and resign from the legislature. She was removed from office by a vote of the Senate.

Charges against her and Tapp include bribery, money laundering, fraud and conspiracy.

Miller doesn’t deny that Ms. Walker took the money, but says it didn’t constitute a bribe because it didn’t influnce her vote. He said she had been known as a strong advocate of legalized gambling since 1986.

Miller also noted Thursday that Stedino has a book on AzScam due out this summer.

“He knows that if he doesn’t do an acting job and convince you that he gave a bribe or bribes to Carolyn Walker … his book goes like this,” Miller told jurors, signaling a thumbs down.

On Wednesday, the second day of opening arguments, Tapp’s attorney, Larry Debus, said his client was a victim of entrapment.

Debus said Stedino is a drug-addicted ex-convict whose “first big score” was talking the police and county attorney into a contract that has earned him more than $175,000 since 1989.

The AzScam probe, which began as an investigation of illegal gambling, was expanded after a private detective Stedino met in a bar said he knew of legislators who would take bribes, Debus said. Stedino was working as a police informant in the gambling case.

“They set this up to create crime where it didn’t exist,” he said. “They set this up to make criminals of people who were not criminals.”