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But Beddome's letter was dated July 19, 1994, nearly two months before Arpaio even filed the lawsuit. So when Arpaio told the media on September 16 that he did not intend to use public money on his lawsuit, he'd already checked with Beddome to make sure he could.
"Why would we go [to Beddome] two months before [we filed the case] when wehad the Deputies Association?" Arpaio says. "That's not the case. That came in after we ran out of money with the Deputies Association."
At this point in the interview, two of the sheriff's subordinates came to his rescue: Wendt and Overton claim they had communicated with Beddome without Arpaio's knowledge.
When New Times asked for the letter sent to Beddome inquiring about spending jail-enhancement funds on the lawsuit, Overton said the clerk who would have a copy of it was out sick. Beddome said he couldn't locate the original letter, but is looking for it.
Arpaio refuses to say how much the Deputies Association--which is funded in part by deputies' dues--paid Yen before the sheriff began dipping into the public fund. A spokesman for the association says those records will take some time to retrieve.
Even after being shown Beddome's July 19 letter, Arpaio insisted that it was only after his lawsuit was filed on September 16 and after Deputies Association money ran out that he first checked into spending jail-enhancement funds.
"That's when we discussed it with our attorney, who said it was legal," the sheriff says. But when pressed to confirm that Yen had assured the legality of spending public funds on the lawsuit, Arpaio backpedals.
"I don't know. I'm not sure he said it was legal," the sheriff says.
So where did the sheriff get a legal opinion on the matter?
"We got it from Beddome, right?" Arpaio asks his aides. "Beddome is the guy you talked to?"
Beddome says he did, in fact, get a "legal opinion" on using JEF money to fund Arpaio's lawsuit--from some attorney general's staffers he consulted in a bar during a Flagstaff retreat. He says they said it sounded fine to them, and for Beddome that was good enough.
Beddome says that as far as he knows, there is no written opinion by an attorney confirming the legality of Arpaio's use of public money to sue the county Board of Supervisors.
Arpaio says he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "This is not taxpayers' money, this is coming out of the prisoners," he says. "All this stuff is not taxpayers' money, so, you know, this is great when you can use prisoners' fines.
"When we think of taxpayers' funds, we're thinking more or less of the general fund; you know, county funds. So we can argue the point whether that's taxpayers' money or not. I look at taxpayers' money in the sense of when you pay taxes and it goes into general funds versus whether you receive money directly from fines and so on. So that's a matter of argument."
It's an argument the sheriff is likely to lose. In a 1992 auditor general's report, there's no ambiguity about the nature of the money: "As the Jail Enhancement Fund monies meet this definition of 'public money,' the Sheriff's Office is wholly accountable to the citizens of the State," it reads.
The auditor general is scheduled to examine Arpaio's use of the Jail Enhancement Fund later this year.