Posse Galore

Staking out Maricopa County's wildest political race -- to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Bobby Ayala has a tendency to get lost behind campaign honchos Dan Wooten and Jim Cozzolino.

Ayala is quiet and slow with responses, preferring to chew on his thoughts for a while before speaking. He reads from notes when talking about issues. He seems to be struggling with voice modulation and gesturing, the tricks of public speaking.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.
courtesy of KTVK-TV
Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaks to the media in front of his home last July about an alleged attempt on his life.

Both Wooten and Cozzolino, though, are wily, loquacious and charismatic. If Ayala wins, it will be because of their energy and political savvy.

That's if they're still in his campaign. Late last week, according to Cozzolino, both he and Wooten were considering leaving Ayala's campaign because of the possibility of financial impropriety.

Bearup has turned over to New Times documents showing Ayala received more than $6,500 from a female drug informant who, Bearup says, came to Bearup claiming to be Ayala's spurned lover. Ayala denies he was romantically involved with the woman and says the money was a loan he was to pass on to a mutual friend.

"I admit it didn't look good," Cozzolino says.

Some of Arpaio's detractors now are accusing Cozzolino of being an Arpaio plant sent to destroy Bearup's and Ayala's campaigns, a claim Cozzolino vehemently denies. Cozzolino admitted that he occasionally trades e-mails with Arpaio spokesperson Lisa Allen, but that the e-mails are not friendly.

"I tell her her boss is an idiot, she tells me he's not," he says. "Look, Arpaio is a bigger scumbag than Bearup."

Also, some in the law enforcement community argue that Ayala doesn't have the high-level management experience needed to run such a massive department. Ayala counters that he has plenty of management experience because he led investigative teams in several difficult and far-reaching investigations.

When allowed to talk issues, Ayala is an earnest guy with a passion for human rights and the plight of street-level deputies and detention officers. And with a few Toastmaster luncheons under his belt, Ayala could have great sway with the county's burgeoning minority community, which tends to have a more realistic view of Arpaio.

Ayala, a native of south Phoenix, was hired as a deputy sheriff in 1970. During his 30 years with the department, he served as a patrol officer, homicide investigator, district detective and undercover narcotics investigator. Ayala was a key investigator in several high-profile cases such as the 1988 homicide of Deputy Vernon Marconnet.

He was twice nominated for the department's "Deputy of the Year" award and was twice recognized as "Deputy of the Quarter."

He speaks Spanish fluently.

If elected sheriff, Ayala says he would downsize the command staff, reduce the number of civilian vehicles, get rid of Hendershott and install high-tech communications devices in every cruiser. He, too, would order an extensive audit of the department's books, review jail policies and funding toward the goal of better protecting detention officers and the civil rights of prisoners. He says he'd also boost manpower and resources to attack Maricopa County's burgeoning methamphetamine industry. Ayala says that by misallocating resources, Arpaio has allowed the county to become a major meth center.

His slogan: Arpaio is "Missing in Action," a stab at Arpaio putting publicity stunts before solid law enforcement and safe, efficient detention.

Ayala is canvassing Phoenix's Latino communities. He says he is hearing a growing frustration with Arpaio's mistreatment of staff and pretrial detainees. He hopes he can parlay this widespread discontent into November votes.

"We really believe people are sick of his games," Ayala says. "We just have to get those people out to vote."

That and get Bearup out of the race.

"No doubt he creates problems for us," Wooten says. "He's splitting the vote."

Wooten says he went to Tom Bearup because he was appalled at the way Joe Arpaio trampled civil rights and ignored the legal parameters of the office. He says he then became disillusioned with Bearup and came to believe Ayala was the best alternative to Arpaio, although he's not so sure of that anymore.

Their departure, some say, may be the best thing that could happen for Ayala's campaign. Both Wooten's and Cozzolino's campaign tactics, as well as their dubious pasts, cast a pall over Ayala.

Wooten doesn't pay federal income taxes because he believes they are unconstitutional and are not allowed under the federal tax codes. To his credit, he offers up a very convincing argument. Ayala says he has no problems with Wooten's political views.

Wooten says he served as a liaison between the FBI and militia and other fringe groups during the siege at Ruby Ridge. He says he was not an FBI informant as some have claimed. He says he was there to ensure that the federal government didn't trample on the rights of its citizens.

Wooten sees this race as his opportunity to make a name for himself as a campaign manager.

"Hey, if I get the most known sheriff in America, my stakes go up," he says.

Jim Cozzolino came back from Vietnam "angry," which, he says, explains all the burglary and forgery charges that dot his record through the 1970s. Cozzolino was convicted of two burglaries and two forgeries that were reduced to misdemeanors and dismissed when he sought law enforcement certification. He was a stupid, angry kid who made some mistakes, he says. But that's not him anymore.

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