Information Blockade

The sheriff's made a career of stonewalling critical media — the public's right to know be damned

"It's not on [the] Web site in a prominent fashion," Chagolla retorts. "Even after providing the truthful facts to Ms. Conway, she just decided to go past it. So I'm afraid that the trust issue is there. I don't think we're gonna get the fairness we should be entitled to."

In fact, Conway did try to get "truthful facts" from Arpaio for her story. But in an October 14 e-mail reviewed by New Times, Chagolla tells Conway that Arpaio won't agree to an interview with her because he thinks the fugitive warrants issue is a "tired" subject.

Chagolla told Dickerson the sheriff wouldn't talk to him either.


Nobody has confronted the Sheriff's Office more than New Times.

The newspaper began taking critical looks at the Sheriff's policies the year he first took office, and hasn't stopped in 14 years. For its efforts, its reporters and columnists have been ignored, yelled at, blackballed, kicked out of press conferences, threatened with arrest, and — on October 18 — arrested.

The paper has taken Arpaio to court — which is the only remedy in Arizona when the government fails to comply with the state's public records law — three times.

Former New Times writer Tony Ortega, now editor of the Village Voice in New York, wrote a story in 1996 headlined, "There's No Accounting for Joe's Posses." As the title suggests, the article explained how finances were hidden within the MCSO posse program.

Arpaio had set about expanding the department's existing posse program after he was first elected. His volunteer posse soon swelled to about 3,000 volunteer members. Mounted posses were sent to patrol shopping mall parking lots. Members trolled for prostitutes along Van Buren Street in Phoenix. They helped in search-and-rescue operations. And the sheriff's media team always made sure their actions were well-covered in the press.

To raise funds, the 49 posses in the program sold pink boxer shorts similar to the ones Arpaio forced jail inmates to wear in yet another publicity stunt. Proceeds of the underwear sales were handled by the nonprofit Posse Foundation, and often involved collecting large amounts of cash. But after initially allowing New Times to inspect the Foundation's ledger — which showed the posses had raised $417,269 in four months — the organization clammed up.

The sheriff argued that the posses were independent, nonprofit groups not subject to public records law — despite evidence that huge sums of pink underwear money were routinely handled by on-duty MCSO employees, and that the Posse Foundation's address was that of the Sheriff's Office. Amazingly, in April 1998, Superior Court Judge Rebecca Albrecht ruled in favor of the sheriff.

All these years, and the public still can't find out exactly where millions of dollars in underwear money goes.

Former New Times staff writer John Dougherty first investigated Arpaio and dangerous jail conditions he's inspired in a November 1993 article. It was one of dozens of investigative articles that Dougherty wrote through the years about how sheriff runs his agency.

In 2004, Dougherty came to believe that Arpaio may have tapped into unsupervised slush funds inside his office, such as the posse money, to buy commercial real estate with cash. Dougherty found out that Arpaio had sunk about $790,000 in cash into three properties in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills. Two questions arose immediately: Where did Arpaio, who makes about $143,000 a year in salary and federal pension, obtain the money for his investments, and why did he buy the properties in cash rather than mortgaging them to leverage his investment money more efficiently?

Dougherty eventually discovered that Arpaio may have purchased up to $2 million in real estate in recent years. But details of purchases have been kept secret. Arpaio had the records deleted at the County Recorder's Office using a law intended to keep the personal information of law enforcement officials out of public records for their safety. Oddly, Arpaio's home address hadn't been deleted from all the government records, as if the sheriff cared more about shielding his commercial investments from public scrutiny than keeping his home safe.

In a succeeding article, Dougherty published Arpaio's home address, and that information — as is the case with everything in the print editions of New Times — was reproduced on the paper's Web site.

New Times filed suit against the sheriff in July 2004, asking a judge to unseal the commercial property records. A month later, Superior Court Judge Colin Campbell turned down the request, and the records remain shrouded today.

The third lawsuit, filed in Superior Court on September 23, 2004, is still on appeal. It was brought to force Arpaio to respond to a dozen public records requests submitted during the 2004 election campaign, including on specific raids conducted by deputies, jail vending machine documents, and booking reports for the sheriff's Mesa substation, among other documents.

Dougherty wanted to find out whether jailed friends and relatives of high-dollar donors to Arpaio's political campaigns had been put up in the more upscale Mesa jail. Dougherty also wanted to investigate claims that money from the sale of food and toiletries at the jail was being misappropriated.

In a brief exchange outside the county's Fourth Avenue Jail in 2004, sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa Allen MacPherson told Dougherty the office would never turn over the records. When he reminded her of public records law, MacPherson replied: "So sue us!"

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My Voice Nation Help
7 comments
Dee
Dee

I wouldn't report stuff to you either. You just grease the axels of law brekers and aid and abet them through your little news rag.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

>>Comment by Sandra Rennie.

Problem is Sandra, Thomas and Arpaio sleep together and the other Politicians and the AG are as spineless as it gets. Don't count on much to happen. The best way to get rid of the slimeballs is voting them out of office in November 2008.

Sandra Rennie
Sandra Rennie

This is the feelings of a group of concerned citizens; "Please, "New Times", let us know what we can do to help stop this criminal, as in FELONY ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFFICE, give us any information that will help us get these felons charged with the crimes that they have committed and punished for this BLATANT ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFICE. This should be handled in a way as to make an example of them so that this will never happen agein. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior, it is absolutely unacceptable, and a breach of the public's trust. If you could be so kind as to head us off in the right direction, we will be forever indebted to you.

Peggy
Peggy

Unbelievable!!! Can't we do anything besides vote? I can't afford to come to Phoenix to circulate petitions but mail me some and I'll work on it here.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Ray,Great job, you told it like it is, factual, truthful and a great piece of work.Love you all at the New Times and I thank GOD that someone in Maricopa County is not affraid to tell the truth about these Nazi's called Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.Watch your back brother, I can say from first hand experience, these guys are worst than the snakes that crawl below the earth.You're brother in the fight to expose these dirt bags all the way to the end.Jim Cozzolino

Coz
Coz

"Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla"

Now this is a guy that is a real disgrace to humanity and life in general.

Officer Scagnetti
Officer Scagnetti

Ladies and gentlemen, part 8 of our ongoing 42 week consecutive coverage of... a story about us. (cough)

 
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