Boob's Tube

Here's how publicity hound Joe Arpaio used a TV station to try to destroy rival Dan Saban with a bogus rape claim

He didn't discuss it much, but those close to Saban knew some details of his tumultuous personal life.

Born in Globe, Saban's parents had abandoned him as a 7-year-old, a sad event he admittedly never had gotten over. A Mesa couple named Henry and Ruby Noetzel soon adopted the young boy as their own.

The sanitized version of Saban's story, on his Web site (, is that he graduated from Mesa High School in 1974, then hired on with Maricopa County in 1976 as a 19-year-old corrections officer. Three years after that, he was sworn in as a sheriff's deputy.

Dan May
Rob Koebel's career at Channel 15 was short-lived after this April 30, 2004, "scoop."
Rob Koebel's career at Channel 15 was short-lived after this April 30, 2004, "scoop."

The unwritten part of his life résumé is that, before marrying his current wife, Donna, in the early 1990s, the career cop had wed and divorced four women.

Voters traditionally don't appreciate their lawmen and politicians having too much of a history. But Maricopa County has its own special history of multi-marrying sheriffs: Longtime Sheriff Jerry Hill, who served from 1977 to '84, famously was married nine times. That didn't deter voters from electing Hill to two terms. (Hill married a 10th time after leaving office.)

Saban's reputation inside law enforcement as a straightforward, community-minded sort (with a healthy ego of his own) is what propelled him toward a run for sheriff.

But when he announced his intention to run against Arpaio in the 2004 Republican primary, it merited a mere blip in the local media.

No one gave him a chance against the mighty Joe, whose war chest, unrivaled public visibility, and incumbency made him an overwhelming favorite against any challenger.

Saban obviously knew of the skeletons in his closet. But far scarier than his relationship problems with women was the loose cannon that was his adoptive mother, Ruby Norman.

Saban was aware of the havoc she long had caused inside her family. And he also knew that Norman would stop at nothing to get revenge against anyone, including her own children, with whom she had a beef.

A few years earlier, for example, she had claimed to the Arizona Department of Corrections that her birth son, Travis Scott, was smuggling drugs into a state prison, where he is a corrections officer.

Norman did so after Scott won an order of protection against her because of fears he expressed for the safety of his wife and daughters.

Prison officials dismissed her smuggling claim as unfounded.

Norman's other adopted son, John Noetzel, a police officer in Austin, Texas, wrote in a 2004 affidavit, "I consider my mother to be a habitual liar," and claimed she often had physically (not sexually) abused him during his youth.

One of Norman's ex-husbands, Clyde Scott, said in his own affidavit, "Ruby is a chronic liar who created chaos among family members by making false claims and accusations, often about sexually related matters."

But as vengeful and unpredictable as his adoptive mother could be, Saban later testified in his deposition that he hadn't expected anything about what had happened sexually between them so long ago to surface after he announced for sheriff.

After all, he reasoned, Norman had forced him to have sexual intercourse with her when he was just a few years past puberty. He would testify that he long had thought of himself as a victim, certainly not as a perpetrator.

But surface it would, thanks to Ruby Norman, Joe Arpaio's publicity machine and a television station hungry to boost its dismal ratings.

On February 24, 2004, East Valley Tribune reporter Byron Wells sent an e-mail to Dan Saban.

"Has your campaign heard any rumors circulating about Mr. Saban or seen any indications of dirty tricks emerging?" the reporter asked.

Saban soon replied, "No tricks or rumors that we know of. Are you hearing of some?"

Wells soon forwarded to Saban an e-mail he'd recently gotten from Ruby Norman. She'd alleged that the retiring Mesa commander had raped her one night long ago, after she'd taken sleeping pills and was in a drugged state.

She claimed Saban had been 17 at the time, and described herself as "only a few years older than Dan." (Norman is 11 years older than Saban, though the evidence suggests that Saban was 15 or 16, not 17, when their sexual encounter happened.)

"If he is going to run for sheriff, he should be an honest man," Norman wrote to the reporter. "He can start his honesty by telling his brothers the truth. If Dan does not tell his brothers the truth and make things right, I will see to it that his candidacy goes down the drain. I will give this information to people that will use it against him."

Saban soon wrote back to Wells, asking him to call right away, which the reporter did.

Norman testified last July that she'd contacted the Tribune after reading a story about Saban's candidacy, which infuriated her.

She already had laid the groundwork for her public attack that January 27, when she wrote to her son Travis Scott that Saban had 10 days to "make his lies right. Because if he doesn't, I will see to it that he will never make office as Sheriff for Maricopa County. I will go straight to Joe Arpaio with a closet full of skeletons that Dan would not want out . . . I will go to Joe Arpaio and the media . . . It's time for my revenge, and it will be a sweet revenge, to say the least."

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