THE CASE WAS always a lot less complicated than it appeared.

The problem was the obscurity of the subject matter - "hazardous waste," let's face it, is not terribly appealing - and the fact that for a long time it was difficult to sort out the victim from the villain.But underneath it all, Utah's very own hazardous waste scandal has always had all the ingredients: compelling characters, high stakes, and even higher corruption.

All it lacked was a chase scene.

And now, in the wake of last week's plea bargain, the feds apparently think they have identified the bad guy. And are in hot pursuit.

The Cliff Notes version of the origin of "Wastegate" is this: Iranian immigrant Khosrow "Khos" Semnani, owner of Envirocare, a private company that stores nuclear waste in the western Utah desert, is investigated by the FBI on suspicions that he paid licensing bribes to state regulator Larry F. Anderson.

The irony is that Semnani, in effect, blew the whistle on himself when, in a bizarre lawsuit exchange in 1996, he answered Anderson's claim that Semnani owed him $5 million in consulting fees by charging Anderson with extortion.

Semnani's contention - one the government finally bought into last week - was that Anderson, who is now retired and living across the border in Mesquite, Nev., did business the Mafioso way. Power had its price.

When Anderson demanded his under-the-table fees, Semnani was essentially no different from the store owner in Brooklyn who either pays the weekly protection fee to the mob, or experiences a quick going-out-of-business sale.

So Khos paid. And he kept paying - well, until the bully retired.

He had first arrived in Utah in 1968 with $47 in his pocket, looking like the lost Beatle. Hair down to his shoulders, faded jeans, and nothing in his hand when he spilled off the Greyhound but a phone number of an Iranian professor at BYU.

A friend of a friend said the professor would be good for a loan for a fellow expatriate. But the professor was on leave. Wouldn't be back for months.

So Khosrow Semnani went to his wits. He talked his way into a janitor-tuition exchange at Westminster College, where the other students warmed to him because he helped them with their math. He got his degree, and then, with legendary chemist Henry Eyring as his mentor, got a masters in engineering at the University of Utah.

He went to work for Kennecott - and that might have been that if Kennecott hadn't laid him off.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Khos Semnani went to the deepest, darkest part of the Utah desert - and opened a garbage dump.

He knew the math. He knew the chemicals. He knew the technology. And he knew in the burgeoning nuclear age the need for a good hazardous waste dump.

Khosrow Semnani and Envirocare haven't just made money, they've made scary money. They've taken a part of the desert so far out there it makes Tooele look metropolitan and turned it into a gold mine.

Khos has given some of it back. In Tooele he helped build a hospital. In Salt Lake he funded a Muslim mosque. In his native Iran he paid for a school. He flies to Los Angeles to sit with his aging grandmother. Those who know him say he has a good heart, that he is no Adnan Khashoggi, an opportunist ready to bail.

Now, as the heat lamp switches off Semnani, who has agreed to cooperate fully with the federal investigators, it switches on to Larry Anderson.

Just why is it that the onetime head of the Utah Division of Radiation Control was demanding millions in consulting fees from a business he was charged to regulate? And why wasn't he declaring those fees on his income taxes?

It always gets more interesting when the plot becomes clearer.