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

Concurrently, Koebel said he'd started to get an onslaught of phone messages from Arpaio public relations staffers Lisa Allen MacPherson, Paul Chagolla, and Brian Sands directing him to call Chief Hendershott.

Some of the text messages included the numbers "911," as if to signify the gravity of the situation. (In her deposition last month, MacPherson testified, "I do not think I made those calls . . . I don't recall them at all.")

Koebel testified that he didn't return Ruby Norman's message until after he spoke by phone with Hendershott on the evening of April 27. Koebel's wireless-phone records (part of the court record in Saban's civil case) indicate that he and the chief spoke for 17 minutes in that conversation. During their talk, Hendershott played Koebel part of an audiotaped phone interview he said he'd recently done with Norman about the rape allegations.

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."

If the deposition testimony of three sheriff's deputies is accurate, reporter Koebel probably was the first person to hear Hendershott's now-erased tape — not the detectives who soon would be looking into Norman's claims.

Koebel testified that Hendershott asked him not to tell anyone he'd played the Norman tape for him. The chief also wanted to know if and when Channel 15 would be doing a story on Saban.

Koebel supposedly said that wouldn't be his call, but, for sure, he needed much solid information — especially a police report — before moving forward.

In deposition, Koebel said Hendershott had promised him a report would be forthcoming.

Koebel's phone records show he called Ruby Norman immediately after hanging up with the chief.

He said his call to Norman was aimed at finding out "why she hadn't filed a report prior to this. I wanted to get a temperature gauge of what she was like. I wanted to find out the credibility."

In that six-minute conversation, Koebel apparently concluded that Norman was credible enough for him to pursue the story.

He returned to Phoenix two days later, on the late morning of April 29.

Chief Hendershott's account hardly meshes with Koebel's.

Said his attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, "After independently hearing about Mrs. Norman's allegations directly from her, Koebel had other business with the Sheriff and had occasion to speak with Chief Hendershott. During that conversation, which related to a wholly separate matter, Koebel asked Hendershott whether the sheriff's office was investigating anything with regard to Ruby Norman's allegations that Saban had raped her."

With a straight face, Wilenchik also has suggested that Hendershott had played Koebel the tape of his Ruby Norman interview only to confirm that her account was akin to what she'd told the reporter in the alleged voice message.

"Hendershott said that if Koebel wanted any further information, he would have to seek it via a Public Information Request," Wilenchik wrote.

Finally, there's Ruby Norman's account of the goings-on, though, like Koebel's and Hendershott's, it should be read with a warning label about honesty attached.

Norman testified in her deposition that Hendershott called her first, not the other way around.

And as for Rob Koebel's involvement in the story, she said, "I didn't call nobody. Koebel called me and then he asked me if he could talk to me . . . I didn't even know who he was."

Norman explained that she'd long been a loyal watcher of Channel 5, and never watches Channel 15 news. She repeated that in a January 8 e-mail to New Times, responding to a question by writing, "No, I did not call anyone. I wrote to the Tribune because that is the paper [where] I read the article about Dan running for Sheriff . . . I do not know how Mr. Koebel got my phone number and information."

A question arises. If Norman is telling the truth on this point, then did Chief Hendershott feed her phone number to Rob Koebel?

Hendershott and Koebel have denied that.


Things were moving fast by April 28, 2004, the second day of the TV sweeps period.

As Rob Koebel tried to enjoy the final day of his Florida vacation, he got more voice mails and text-pages from the sheriff's office, requesting that he call Chief Hendershott immediately.

Hendershott wasn't sitting still. He spoke to Channel 15 news director Bob Sullivan that day and, according to Koebel's deposition, was pushing hard for the story about the rape allegations.

Hendershott allegedly assured Koebel that sheriff's detectives would be filing a report as soon as they interviewed Ruby Norman. He mentioned them by name — Sergeant Steve Bailey and Detective Jeff Gentry of the Threat Assessment Squad. The latter (now called the Selective Enforcement Unit) essentially exists to check out supposed threats against Joe Arpaio, not allegations of ancient sex crimes.

Bailey's inclusion in the case cheered Koebel, who knew the sergeant as a friend.

Late that morning, Lieutenant Ray Jones played a portion of the audio recording that Chief Hendershott had made of Ruby Norman for the investigators before returning the cassette tape to the chief. The plan was for Bailey and Gentry to interview Norman at her home in Apache Junction, then return to downtown Phoenix, where a secretary would be waiting to transcribe the interview as Gentry wrote a police report.

In the late afternoon, the officers drove separately to meet with Norman. Sergeant Bailey later was asked in deposition about communications he had with Rob Koebel that day, April 28. "If I remember correctly, he called me," Bailey said, adding that the conversation had occurred after the Ruby Norman interview.

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