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By Weston Phippen
Veteran prosecutor Randy Wakefield greeted a supervisor in his office on the morning of June 4.
It wasn't unusual for Jim Blake, the Maricopa County Attorney's criminal division chief, to exchange a few friendly words with Wakefield. The pair had worked in the same shop for more than a decade.
But this conversation, in which Blake would say that Wakefield's son had been implicated in a grand-jury investigation, would have dire repercussions. It led to Wakefield's suspension, to his abrupt retirement and, on July 2, to a criminal charge against him.
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City prosecutors accused Wakefield in Northeast Phoenix Justice Court of "knowingly [disclosing] to another the nature or substance" of secret grand-jury proceedings, a misdemeanor.
Specifically, he is accused of telling his daughter-in-law that his son, Craig Wakefield, was being investigated by a grand jury in an aggravated-assault case. If convicted, Randy Wakefield faces a possible jail term. He has pleaded not guilty.
A spokesman from the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys' Advisory Council says Wakefield likely is the first prosecutor in state history to be so accused.
Unpublicized until now, the recent events have stunned and angered Wakefield, a straight-talking cowboy type who earned an impeccable reputation during 20 years as an Arizona highway patrolman, then 15 years as a prosecutor.
"Jim [Blake] put me in a really tough jam between my family and my job," he says. "I tried to do the right thing, to be straight. But I don't think I've done anything wrong."
To bolster his argument, Wakefield provided New Times with the county attorney's internal report about his alleged indiscretion--including transcripts of interviews investigators conducted with him, his daughter-in-law and Jim Blake. He also provided copies of his personnel file, and of sheriff's reports in the June 1996 assault case that involved his son.
Those records and other data collected by New Times show the case against Randy Wakefield is no slam dunk. Instead, it is rife with troubling questions about what happened to him and why.
Though he says he doesn't think Jim Blake set him up, the 62-year-old Wakefield seems convinced his ex-employers had it in for him.
"I had an inkling I was a target for a while," he says. "I'm no spring chicken, and there's been a tendency to get rid of the old-timers. It's the bigger salaries, and the fact that [Maricopa County Attorney] Rick Romley didn't hire us. He'd rather have youngsters grateful for a job . . ."
Long admired for his candidness, Wakefield is fighting to keep his record clean.
"They're evil little gnomes," he says of Romley and chief deputy Paul Ahler. "Evil is a fitting word. They just care about themselves and how they're going to get more powerful."
No one from the County Attorney's Office would discuss the Wakefield matter.
Hours before Jim Blake spoke with Randy Wakefield on June 4, he'd asked a suspect at a grand jury to identify his cohort in a racially charged clash in New River.
Under a grant of limited immunity, the suspect--Richard Nero--had revealed the name Craig Wakefield, describing him as a construction worker in his mid-30s.
Blake gave his version of what happened next during a recent internal investigation.
"I went up and saw Randy and asked him if he knew a Craig Wakefield," Blake said in a tape-recorded account. "He said he did know him and that was his son, and asked, 'What has he done now?' . . . I told him an outline of the case."
An office investigator asked Blake, "During this conversation, did you indicate that this was a matter currently before an investigative grand jury?"
". . . I'm sure I would have said something to the effect, 'I was just before the grand jury, and this person gave us this name,' that type of thing."
"Okay. Did he make any comment when being informed that, one, it was a matter before the grand jury and, two, it was being turned over to the sheriff's investigator?"
"He told me not to worry, that he would not inform his son."
It was Jim Blake who uttered the words "grand jury" to Wakefield. It also was Blake who placed Wakefield in the vise grip of having to choose between family and job.
Blake could have used other means to determine whether Craig and Randy Wakefield were related. Then, he could have invoked his office's conflict of interest in pursuing a case against Craig Wakefield without having involved Randy Wakefield.
Even if Randy Wakefield was Blake's only source about the relationship, Blake didn't have to tell him about the ongoing grand-jury investigation.
"He could have just asked me, 'Is Craig your son?' period," Wakefield says. "I would have said yes, and he could have said, 'Thanks, but I can't tell you what's up.' I wouldn't have had a clue of what was going on. Sure, I would have called Craig up and asked him what he did, but I wouldn't have known about a grand jury or any of the details."
It's not clear why the County Attorney's Office also hasn't pursued charges against Blake for breaking the grand-jury secrecy laws.
Randy Wakefield admits he told his daughter-in-law--Jennifer Wakefield--about the assault investigation, but both say he never mentioned a grand jury. He says his reasons for telling her were twofold: