Bird in Hand

U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton has a rare opportunity to investigate Sheriff Joke. Will he do it?

But I do know that Arpaio's close relationship with Driving Hawk raises a tsunami of serious questions for a grand jury.

Arpaio has known for years that Driving Hawk was facing potentially serious problems. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit in April of 2002, naming Driving Hawk as one of the defendants in the Ponzi scheme.

Having the SEC climb up your backside over alleged violations of securities laws isn't normally the best way to further a law-enforcement career. But it certainly didn't hurt Driving Hawk's.

Here's hoping loyalty only runs so far.
Here's hoping loyalty only runs so far.

In August of 2003, about 16 months after the SEC filed suit, Arpaio amazingly promoted Driving Hawk to the supervisor's position in internal affairs. Anybody who has watched a police drama on TV knows that this is the division that investigates bad cops.

With that promotion came a pay raise. What's more, as part of his new duties, Arpaio's confidant -- who, I repeat, was under investigation for violating U.S. securities laws -- was put in charge of MCSO financial audits!

It's enough to make me believe the persistent rumors that the 73-year-old sheriff is getting progressively more senile.

Unless there's an ulterior motive?

Charlton should at least ask Driving Hawk if anybody at the MCSO received any of the Ponzi scheme money. I'm saying, the fact that Arpaio continues to stand behind his flunky after Driving Hawk signed the plea agreement is very troubling. Once an employee admitted to a felony, any aboveboard sheriff in his right mind would demand that employee's resignation.

Not Arpaio. He placed Driving Hawk on paid administrative leave. That's right, we taxpayers are continuing to pay this admitted criminal's $65,000 annual MCSO salary.

I'm not alone in wondering if Driving Hawk's continued salary in the wake of his admission of guilt could be hush money.

This arrangement could continue for some time. Driving Hawk won't have his police-officer certification automatically revoked until after he enters a formal guilty plea. A date is yet to be set for him to do that. It wouldn't surprise me if the MCSO continues to pay Driving Hawk as a civil employee after he loses his badge.

Chris Gerberry, president of the Maricopa County Deputies Association, says Driving Hawk's role in the Ponzi scheme is just the "tip of the iceberg" of serious problems permeating the MCSO's command staff.

"This shows you the mindset of what's going on at the MCSO," Gerberry says. "The fact that Driving Hawk can be promoted and kept around shows that this place is totally awry."

U.S. Attorney Charlton has an opportunity to do what no other public official in Arizona has had the courage to do: Conduct a thorough criminal investigation of the MCSO and Arpaio. Charlton has a potential stool pigeon in his grasp.

Driving Hawk will be eager to avoid three years in federal prison. He's bound to spill.

Charlton will have a far easier time finding out what's going on inside the sheriff's department than I have. (Not only did the New Times suit fail in Superior Court, but a suit before the state court of appeals also was turned down.) Charlton's not only a federal prosecutor who's got the power to force the issue, he's got a bird in hand.


There's a major scandal brewing at the Arizona Department of Transportation that inside sources tell me is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary payments to contractors building highways.

The problem appears to have resulted from mismanagement of ADOT's Audit and Analysis Office, which is supposed to closely monitor highway contracts and internal operations, including the security of the Motor Vehicle Division's computer systems.

But a former auditor tells me that senior audit managers have suppressed reports by line auditors who discovered waste and fraud. The former auditor says contractors often underbid projects and, once contracts were awarded, submitted change orders that drove up the price of the projects. The change orders were rarely questioned by ADOT auditors.

In addition, highway contractors received hundreds of millions of dollars in indirect costs that included overhead and other expenses that ADOT failed to monitor. The indirect costs were sometimes as much as three times the actual construction costs, the former auditor says.

Another concern is that hackers can easily break into the MVD's computer database that contains detailed personal information on every driver in the state. The potential for identity theft is huge.

Despite the computer security worries, the previous auditor overseeing information technology didn't issue an audit for 10 years.

ADOT's problems worsened earlier this month after I received information that that the agency's chief auditor, Michael R. Spector, signed a consent decree in 1997 to settle a Security and Exchange Commission securities fraud investigation.

In a 1996 lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, the SEC alleged that a New Hampshire accountant named Michael R. Spector participated in a $2.1 million securities scam in which his company received at least $97,000.

At first, I wasn't positive that the Spector who signed the SEC consent decree was the same person working for ADOT.

But I knew that ADOT's Spector had worked in New Hampshire for 30 years as an accountant before moving to Arizona in 1996. ADOT hired Spector in April of 1999 as a $46,000-a-year auditor. He was quickly promoted to ADOT's chief auditor in November of 2000 and received a significant salary increase to $74,000.

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