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

Minutes later, she sent a second e-mail to the Saban camp, threatening to "stop this run for sheriff unless he tells his brothers about a family matter. It will hit the news big-time if he doesn't stand up and be a man and make his lies right."

Norman gave Saban all of 12 minutes to "make his lies right" before e-mailing Arpaio about a sheriff's candidate she wanted to bust.

The missive first reached the computer of Lieutenant Ray Jones, the commander of the Threat Assessment Squad (now called the Selective Enforcement Unit).

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."

Jones testified in deposition last month that he'd reviewed Norman's e-mail on April 8, and thought at first that it was a prank.

Jones said he'd sat on it for about a week before forwarding it to his supervisor, Chief Hendershott.

That the commander would inform Hendershott about such an amorphous tip ("I am the mother of one of your running mates that's not so honorable" is about all Norman had written to Arpaio) speaks to the extent that the sheriff's honchos were involved in his reelection campaign.

Hendershott's place atop the sheriff's pecking order was and is secure: He runs the office's day-to-day operation while Arpaio flits from one photo-op to another.

Certainly, the chief, who serves at Arpaio's pleasure, would demand to know about anything that might affect the sheriff's political future, to which his own is inexorably tied.

Though she'd screamed "rape" to the Tribune, to her son Travis Scott, and to the Saban camp, Ruby Norman had alleged no specific criminal act in her e-mail to Joe Arpaio. But the "tip" apparently was too tantalizing for Dave Hendershott not to check out himself once he got wind of it.

Arpaio attorney Dennis Wilenchik has written that "there is nothing to prove that Saban was even a threat to [Arpaio's] employment let alone a direct obstacle, just because he was running in a primary for the office which Arpaio held."

But on April 15, just as Chief Hendershott was pondering what to do with the tidbit from Ruby Norman, a story in the Arizona Conservative reported that the Republican Party's District 22 in the East Valley had endorsed Saban, not Arpaio.

Clearly, this primary election had the potential at least to be something of a horse race, something Joe Arpaio hadn't had to worry about since first winning office in 1992.

Sometime in early April 2004, Chief Hendershott met for lunch with Channel 15's then-news director, Bob Sullivan.

KNXV was in crisis mode, having finished near or at the bottom of the heap in the previous ratings periods.

As the sweeps period approached, Sullivan asked Hendershott for some scoops, in the same vein as the chief earlier had handed Channel 5 an "exclusive" on an sheriff's office prostitution sting.

Channel 15 had a chip they could play with Hendershott, and his name was Rob Koebel.

Koebel was an unabashed Arpaio groupie, and once had had notions of being a Maricopa County sheriff's deputy himself.

He had worked at Channel 5 before moving over to Channel 15 in early 2003. When he'd applied at 15, Koebel listed Joe Arpaio as a reference. The two were that cozy.

Koebel loved the access he'd won from the sheriff's office after doing a series of especially positive stories on Arpaio when he was at Channel 5.

He also was good friends with sheriff's Sergeant Steve Bailey (though Bailey later would deny that under oath), a supervisor with the then-titled Threat Assessment Squad, which worked directly under Hendershott.

Bob Sullivan called Koebel with super news after the luncheon with Hendershott: The chief wanted Koebel as talent on a series of "exclusive" stories to air during ratings crunch time.

Some of the proposed pieces were sheer inventions, such as a proposed prostitution sting at the Ritz-Carlton (viewers seem to adore yarns about hookers) and other high-dollar hotels. According to Koebel's deposition, no one had filed any complaints with the sheriff's office about uptown prostitutes. Undeterred, Hendershott and Sullivan apparently devised a plan to plant a female deputy as a "prostitute" at the fancy hotels and see what happened, as Channel 15's hidden cameras whirred. (The story never aired.)

The pair also discussed reprising an earlier piece on underage drinking during Arizona Diamondbacks games. But Koebel said later that Hendershott apparently had balked, so to speak, at the baseball story because of "a concern that Jerry Colangelo [might have been] unhappy with that."

The accounts by key players Norman, Koebel, and Hendershott about how Norman's rape allegations got looped into the new "special relationship" between Channel 15 and the sheriff's office differ dramatically.

Koebel testified last November that Norman had been the first to call him about Dan Saban's "problem." He said he got a voice message at work from her on April 25, 2004, while vacationing in Florida.

Importantly, he claimed not to know how Norman had gotten his phone number.

"People knew I've worked with the sheriff's office," Koebel guessed during his deposition. "The assignment desk could have sent that call right into the voice mail."

Koebel said Norman's message hadn't mentioned Dan Saban by name, but claimed that deputies already were investigating a sheriff's candidate on suspicion of rape.

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