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

Koebel was referring to Chief Hendershott. "It seemed like that [rape] story aired," he said, "and the implications were, 'Now, are you in the back pocket of Chief Hendershott?'"

But other local media that had filed their own public-records requests for the Ruby Norman police reports got quite a different response than Rob Koebel.

For instance, New Times filed its request for the Saban report on May 24. Sheriff's officials at first responded by claiming they didn't have the reports anymore, because they had forwarded everything they had to the Pima County Sheriff's Office. That was a lie.

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."

An employee of the Pima County agency later signed an affidavit saying that Maricopa County had faxed its Norman police report and transcript, not mailed it.

It took New Times 144 days to get the Saban police report, and then only after the paper filed a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court. (Judge Michael Jones later ruled against the newspaper in its larger suit aimed at obtaining a wide range of public records from the sheriff's office. The case is now before the Arizona Court of Appeals.)

On June 14, 2004, the Pima County Sheriff's Office announced that prosecutors in its county and at the Arizona Attorney General's Office had advised the agency to drop the Saban case, which it did.

Two weeks after that, the Saban camp informed Channel 15 that Rob Koebel had donated $100 to Joe Arpaio's campaign earlier that year.

The station fired Koebel that July 8.

Remarkably, Koebel admitted in his deposition that he had discussed becoming a public information officer with the sheriff's office after his firing. But the discussions apparently never got serious.

"It [was] apparent from all sides that that would have been the stupidest political move that we could have made," Koebel testified.

"When you say 'we,' you mean the [sheriff's office] and yourself?" Joel Robbins asked.

"Of course," Koebel said. "I think they feel bad when, you know, Saban uses a $100 donation [to get me fired], which they probably should have paid me — [Arpaio's office] probably should have paid me to do the story as opposed to the other way around. So people feel bad."

In spite of Channel 15's hit piece, Saban won the political endorsement of all the major police unions and fraternal organizations in Maricopa County and statewide in the summer of 2004.

Probably more important, Senator John McCain publicly backed the tainted challenger against one of the nation's most famous (many would say infamous) sheriffs.

But, in the end, Saban couldn't overcome Arpaio, though the sheriff's victory margin of 12 percent certainly wasn't the rout that experts originally had envisioned.

Soon after losing the primary, Saban received a letter from Rob Koebel, who had left Arizona and was looking into other lines of work.

"Danny," the former reporter wrote, "I guess you learned a lot through the campaign! Voters don't vote for losers, cry babies . . . Guys with multiple police investigations don't make the best candidate for sheriff." He signed off with, "Love and kisses, Rob Koebel."


Asked at his deposition last November who he considered the victims of this sordid affair, Rob Koebel replied that he saw three: himself, Ruby Norman, and Joe Arpaio.

Koebel wasn't represented by an attorney at his daylong deposition. Instead, he was accompanied by an unnamed gentleman he claimed is writing a book about his life.

Dan Saban has continued as police chief of Buckeye, one of the Valley's fastest-growing cities. Last month, he announced that he again wants to challenge Arpaio in the 2008 election, this time as a Democrat.

Chief Saban surely will run on much the same platform as in 2004 — that it's time to clean house at an agency he sees as corrupt at the top. Dave Hendershott, who works at the pleasure of Sheriff Arpaio, certainly would be the first to go.

Saban recently got an ugly preview of what to expect during his 2008 campaign against Arpaio. It came during a December 28 segment on KTAR radio on which he appeared with former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, who was guest host that day.

Saban received several positive phone calls during the show. But, near the end, Romley took one from Lisa Allen MacPherson, Arpaio's forgetful public information officer.

"I think a lot of these people who are calling in supporting Mr. Saban are the same people that keep supporting him," MacPherson said. "He's probably told his cronies, a few people that are disgruntled with the sheriff's office, to call in . . . Arpaio is phenomenally popular with everybody, and it's never changed."

MacPherson then got down and dirty.

"And as far as Dan Saban is concerned, and his second attempt at running for sheriff — I think when all the cards are out on the table, people are going to find out what a disgraceful person Dan Saban really is."

That comment illustrates what Saban was referring to in March 2004, when he wrote to his supporters that the sheriff's office was about to ramp up "a `smear' campaign against me for issues in my personal life."

Rick Romley seemed taken aback for a moment, then asked Saban what he had to say.

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