Muck My Day

Sheriff candidate fears dirty politics

In late 1998, former Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant Robert Wetherell, who had led Sheriff Joe Arpaio's internal affairs division, admitted directing a terror campaign against MCSO employees whom Arpaio and his chief deputy, David Hendershott, believed to be critics and "dime-droppers."

According to Wetherell's sworn testimony, Arpaio especially wanted to target Tom Bearup, in case Bearup ran against Arpaio for sheriff.

That day has come. This month's primary election has set up a three-way contest for sheriff between Arpaio (the Republican), Bearup (the Independent) and Bobby Ayala (the Democrat).

Tom Bearup
Paolo Vescia
Tom Bearup

And now, Bearup says, Arpaio is playing dirty pool by trying to use forced legal testimony to drum up campaign dirt on Bearup.

In Wetherell's testimony -- which the sheriff says is patently untrue -- the former lieutenant claimed that he had been at a meeting with the sheriff, Hendershott and their attorney, Ronald Lebowitz, when Arpaio said he wanted damaging information about Bearup "so that this information could be used against Tom Bearup if Tom Bearup ran against Sheriff Arpaio for sheriff."

In fact, Bearup did testify at a hearing for another former sheriff's employee. Wetherell said that Arpaio and Hendershott spent more than $500 of public money for a transcript of Bearup's testimony, even though Lebowitz told them that would not be a legitimate use of taxpayer money. The attorney, said Wetherell, told them the transcript was purely for their political purposes and not public business.

Now for the requisite sleaze and irony.

Two weeks ago -- five days before the September 12 primary -- Tom Bearup was served with a subpoena. Arpaio's attorneys wanted Bearup to present himself at the law offices of Bryan Cave LLP on September 14 -- two days into the general election cycle -- for a deposition as part of the wrongful termination suit Wetherell has filed against Arpaio.

"It's a political witch hunt," says Bearup's campaign manager, Phil Pollack.

To be fair, Bearup is on Wetherell's attorney's list of potential witnesses to be called in the case. The odd thing, though, is that Bearup is only the fourth of 75 people on that list to be deposed. And, according to Wetherell's attorney, Bearup is clearly one of the lesser players in the Wetherell case.

"Bearup is on the periphery," says Wetherell counsel Carolyn Crook. "My guess is that it's political."

Fearing an ambush, and citing the fact that he was being asked questions about his time as a county employee, Bearup asked the County Board of Supervisors to provide him with an attorney.

Bearup was initially deposed Monday evening. He declined to discuss the deposition, but Pollack says, "There's no doubt about their intentions. Hendershott was there and they spent nearly all the time asking Tom about his campaign."

But why would Arpaio bother to use a minor-league deposition to "dig up dirt" on Bearup?

Dirty politics is often an act of necessity. And by most indications, Arpaio doesn't need dirt to waltz into another four years as sheriff of Maricopa County.

"It's sad, but right now, with things as they are, I'd say that the chances are slim and none that Arpaio will lose," says Chris Gerberry, president of the Maricopa County Deputies Association and a vocal Arpaio critic.

Arpaio throttled challenger Jerry Robertson in last Tuesday's primary, grabbing 73 percent of the Republican vote. Robertson expected a groundswell of anti-Arpaio sentiment and the support of law enforcement associations throughout the state to propel him to victory, but it didn't happen.

In the general election, Arpaio faces Bearup and Bobby Ayala, another former deputy sheriff who is running as a Democrat.

Arpaio, who outspent Robertson 10 to 1, has nearly $20,000 worth of signage on many vacant corners throughout Maricopa County. "Arpaio has intergalactic name recognition," Bearup admits. "That's tough to overcome."

Campaign finance records show Arpaio had raised $113,000 to date, and spent $32,000. That leaves him with $81,000 for the general election.

But Bearup and Ayala each say they have a plan that will get them elected sheriff. And both have agreed that, despite the past acrimony between them (Ayala left Bearup's campaign to run against him), they will be focusing exclusively on the poor jail conditions, poor employee morale, financial shenanigans and Gestapo-esque intrigues of the Arpaio administration.

"We're going to stay focused," Ayala says. "That's our only hope."

Ayala, who presently has a war chest of $153, says he will be selling some rental property he owns to raise $20,000 for the campaign. Hopefully, he says, that money, a good chunk of his retirement nest egg, will be buttressed by money contributed at Democratic fund raisers.

"I can't sit around and wait for the money to come in," Ayala says. "It's extremely important that we get to work right now."

Steve Barnes, past president of the Deputies Law Enforcement Association, has joined the Ayala campaign and has agreed to serve as Ayala's chief deputy if he's elected.

Ayala and his campaign manager, Jim Cozzolino, are studying jail construction projects in similar-size counties elsewhere in the country in an attempt to illustrate what they say is gross overspending on the county's new jail.

Ayala says he's also working to get campaign information to the county's mail-in voters. And Ayala and his supporters have already begun canvassing neighborhoods. He even plans to ride around the county in the back of a flatbed truck barking his message to the public through a megaphone.

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