By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A career cop who'd been in narcotics, homicide, and other divisions at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Deputy Chief Knight suddenly found himself in the middle of a classic MCSO vendetta for about four months in late 2008 and early 2009.
Knight had taken over MACE from previous commander Jimmy Miller and was running the unit during an astonishing period of county history, in which Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas targeted the Board of Supervisors, with which both politicians had fought over budget and other matters for years.
In December 2008, Thomas' office persuaded a grand jury to charge Supervisor Don Stapley with 117 misdemeanor and felony counts related to his failure to properly fill out financial-disclosure forms. The charges were bogus, as the public would later learn: It turned out that the disclosure forms weren't legally required.
Worse, the misdemeanor charges concerning Stapley's paperwork — upon which the felonies were based — apparently were filed after the one-year statute of limitations had run out.
Arpaio and Thomas had several motives to go after Stapley, a fellow Republican. One of the strongest was that Stapley, considered a more moderate conservative than the lawmen, had told the press he was actively working behind the scenes to undermine the pair's crusade against illegal immigrants (see "Serving Up Stapley," November 26, 2009).
Knight didn't know all that at the time. As the pages of a newly released investigative report detail, the deputy chief just knew his boss was hell-bent on getting Stapley.
Knight told his story to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's investigators as part of a six-month-long probe into alleged misconduct in Arpaio's office. Although the probe was an internal investigation requested by Arpaio and whitewashes the sheriff's personal role in the scandal, a 1,022-page summary report and hundreds of pages of supplemental documents detail plenty of evidence that Arpaio was involved in illegal activity.
Arpaio wasn't "concerned with a positive outcome in the [Stapley] case," Knight told investigators. "I think . . . he was more interested in seeing them getting their butts kicked in the media. Them being Stapley in this matter."
About a month after the indictment, MACE raided the offices of an associate of Stapley's, developer Conley Wolfswinkel. The claimed justification was that the Sheriff's Office was looking for evidence of additional crimes that detectives had uncovered in the disclosure-form case.
Knight had reviewed the search warrant before a raid on January 22, 2009, and believed that he had enough evidence based on testimony from Stapley's bookkeeper, Joan Stoops, to carry out the raid. Stoops told detectives that it appeared Wolfswinkel had inked an agreement to pay Stapley hundreds of thousands of dollars in a land deal when Wolfswinkel had business before the Board of Supervisors.
Knight said Sheriff Arpaio reviewed the search warrant personally — and asked Knight why he hadn't included more details about the case in the warrant. Knight, according to the report, told Arpaio that the details weren't necessary to establish probable cause, the legal term for the level of evidence needed to persuade a judge to sign a search warrant.
The report doesn't specify which details Arpaio wanted Knight to add, but it does describe how Arpaio pressed him on the issue, saying he wanted to make sure the warrant would hold up. Knight didn't buy what Arpaio was saying, believing that the sheriff only wanted the extra information so he could sensationalize the case.
"Are we writing a press release or are we writing a search warrant?" Knight said he asked the sheriff. "I just need to be clear on what we're trying to produce here."
The sheriff stared at him and said sternly: "Get the information in there," the report states. Arpaio then got up and walked out.
Knight did as he was told and included the superfluous information. He had the warrant signed and prepared his deputies for the raid on Wolfswinkel's Tempe business office. He recalled that Arpaio's right-hand man, then-Chief Deputy David Hendershott, called Knight numerous times, asking: "Are we in yet?"
Hendershott, Knight stated, told him that as soon as the search warrant was signed, Knight was to go to the nearest Kinko's and fax a copy to sheriff's headquarters.
"So we get in; we secure the place," Knight said to investigators. "I run over to the nearest Kinko's, which is three or four miles away, [and] fax the document over to him.
"By the time I get back to Conley's business, I've already got a news helicopter flying overhead."
Knight found out later that the search warrant had been handed to the media in conjunction with a press release.
A news conference was under way before Knight got back to his office.
Arpaio also tailored his public statement to emphasize the shocking revelation that Stapley and Wolfswinkel were being investigated in an alleged "bribery" scheme.
Most of the news media ran with the story in earnest.
Knight's team spent 11 hours going through Wolfswinkel's office. But the Babeu report says when Knight mentioned to Hendershott that it would take his MACE crew a long time to go through all the boxes of documents and other items seized, Hendershott told him not to worry about it, that MACE needed to "hit someplace next week [in the Stapley investigation because] we need to keep this rolling in the media."