The Plot To Assassinate Arpaio

It was a diabolical scheme. Problem is, most of it was hatched by the Sheriff's Office.

New Times' review of hundreds of pages of police reports, court documents and undercover transcripts reveals a troubling series of events that led to Saville's arrest just one day after he was released from the Arizona State Prison-Perryville, including:

• In setting up the assassination plot, MCSO relied almost exclusively on a prison snitch who has been diagnosed as mentally ill and dying of AIDS. The snitch, a white-collar criminal whose cooperation in other cases has helped him get reduced sentences, met at least four times with sheriff's detectives, who told him what to say to Saville.

• The crucial letter the snitch wrote to sound the alarm about Saville barely mentions Arpaio. Instead, the snitch wrote, Saville had told him he wanted to kill the judge and prosecutor who had sent him to prison.

Saville's bond is set at $1 million.
Paolo Vescia
Saville's bond is set at $1 million.
Chief Deputy David Hendershott packs heat at the bust.
Courtesy of KTVK-TV Channel 3
Chief Deputy David Hendershott packs heat at the bust.

• Once the snitch's letter was given to the Sheriff's Office, "upper management" became "very interested" in the case, state Department of Corrections records show.

• Hendershott told reporters that Saville's written "game plan" to kill the sheriff had been seized. Records reveal no such "game plan" to kill anyone.

• Sheriff's detectives grew frustrated when Saville rarely mentioned Arpaio during six days of taped conversations between the snitch and Saville. They encouraged the snitch to get Saville to talk about his supposed plan to kill Arpaio. At one point, the snitch told Saville: "You want to kill Joe."

• The snitch gave Saville the phone number of an undercover sheriff's officer and urged him to call before he was released from prison. The officer, posing as a Mafia hit man, offered Saville $4,000 to build a bomb.

• After Saville's release, the undercover officer gave him $200 to buy parts for the weapon, drove Saville around town to purchase the parts, rented a hotel room where the device could be partially assembled and drove Saville to the Roman Table -- though the "bomb" remained in the hotel room. Saville told Jacobs he was scared to back out of the deal because he thought the undercover officer might be a mobster who might kill him or his family if he did.

"I think that once all this stuff comes out, it's going to show this kid was set up," said Saville's public defender, Ulises Ferragut Jr. "He was not predisposed to kill the sheriff, and we'll be showing that."

The Arizona Attorney General's Office will prosecute Saville, who was indicted by a grand jury on July 23 for conspiracy to commit murder and weapons charges.

Arpaio appears to be obsessed with the possibility of martyrdom. In addition to his expensive armored car, Arpaio and his wife, Ava, have given many interviews discussing the subject of his personal safety. The MCSO Web site tells of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of someone who allegedly threatened Arpaio in May 1998.

In April, a bomb squad was called to the sheriff's home after a metal spider sculpture turned up in front of his house. No explosives were found in the sculpture.

The Snitch

Events that led to James Saville's arrest began with a June 23 letter from Perryville prison inmate Mike Burrows (not his real name) to a Sun City spiritual adviser.

"I have recently learned of a plot to kill a superior court judge and a prosecutor," Burrows wrote in the second paragraph. Burrows said the plot centered on Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul Katz and prosecutor Jim Blake.

Burrows claimed an unidentified fellow inmate had given him "explicit details on how he was going to do it." He wrote that the man was "quite knowledgeable" about bombs and would get out of prison soon.

Burrows wrote that he was worried that two of his friends who are prosecutors could be hurt if the inmate successfully mailed a bomb to the County Attorney's Office.

"Maybe I [sic] taking this to [sic] serious but if he does it and I knew about it or does someone else, I am just as responsible to God, to the state, to myself," Burrows wrote.

Burrows stated in the seventh paragraph of the letter that the inmate "talks about killing Sheriff Joe also."

The letter asked the religious adviser to "call the judge and prosecutor" and ask them what to do.

Burrows is no stranger at communicating with judges and prosecutors. He's spent a good part of the past two years writing to judges, begging to be released from prison before he dies of AIDS.

He's also fed information to the state in exchange for reductions in prison time. In at least one instance, he had felony drug charges dismissed in exchange for testimony in a murder trial; he provided evidence he obtained while in prison, records show.

Burrows, 34, has been in and out of prison most of his adult life. In the early 1980s, while living in another state, he was convicted of passing bad checks and imprisoned. He moved to Phoenix in the early 1990s and racked up numerous arrests that landed him in the county jail in 1996. By April 1997, he had seven felony convictions, including passing bad checks and forgery. He was sent to a state prison in late '97. His current sentence was handed down in February. He expects to be released from prison in November 2000.

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