AG's investigators found that several campaign-finance laws were broken in the bankrolling of the slimy ad (which accused Saban of raping his adoptive mother and masturbating on duty): earmarking donations to a political candidate, making donations that exceeded individual spending limits, and using corporate money to help a campaign.

Arpaio has refused to explain what he knew about the illicit fundraising project (or, in fact, answer any specific questions for this article). Though the SCA scandal was broken in press reports in late 2008 ("The AZ GOP Slandered Dan Saban and Used Funny Money for Sheriff Joe," October 23, 2008), the sheriff put Hendershott and Black on administrative leave only last September with the release of the Munnell memo. The two were fired last month, while Fox remains on leave as he appeals his termination order.

The SCA criminal investigation, started by former Attorney General Terry Goddard, was considered ongoing when current AG Tom Horne took office in January. Horne promptly referred it to the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office, the agency overseeing the federal probe of alleged criminal wrongdoing by Arpaio and his office.

Captain Joel Fox
Dennis Gilman
Captain Joel Fox
Discredited MACE investigations guided by Arpaio targeted three of the five county supervisors -- Andy Kunasek and Don Stapley (both left of U.S. flag) and Mary Rose Wilcox (right). The poorly evidenced cases fell apart, leading to accusations of political wrongdoing by Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Michael Ratcliff
Discredited MACE investigations guided by Arpaio targeted three of the five county supervisors -- Andy Kunasek and Don Stapley (both left of U.S. flag) and Mary Rose Wilcox (right). The poorly evidenced cases fell apart, leading to accusations of political wrongdoing by Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

The federal probe has continued without any sign of a result for going on 2 1/2 years.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke's excuse for inaction, according to federal sources, is that the case is complex and prosecutors don't want to be accused of using the same tactics as Arpaio — namely, throwing the book at targets without clear-cut evidence.

Burke, who wouldn't comment directly for this article, certainly has plenty of fodder for criminal indictments.

The worst allegations and the most damning testimony against the sheriff and his top commanders have come from current or former employees, who finally chose to break their silence. From Munnell to Barkell, Arpaio's retired chief financial officer, the sheriff's people have blabbed to the press, to FBI agents, and to a federal grand jury.

Forget for a moment the horrendous jail conditions that the sheriff imposes on thousands of inmates and his sweeps for illegal immigrants that also have nabbed American citizens and legal residents. It seems clear that it's not just members of Arpaio's command staff who have broken the law. It's Arpaio himself.

In 2009, Arpaio and Thomas' war with county officials was in full swing.

The feud over budgets and lawsuits had turned gravely serious. That year, Arpaio had three of the five Maricopa County supervisors under investigation by his MACE team:

• Stapley — Besides the alleged financial-disclosure violation charges that ultimately got tossed out, Stapley was accused of fraud in a second criminal investigation. There were supposed misdealings with Wolfswinkel, plus he had raised tens of thousands of dollars from donors for his campaign for president of the National Association of Counties but spent much of it on himself. On Friday, September 18, 2009, the financial-disclosure case was dismissed because of the aforementioned problem that he had done nothing illegal. That Monday, Arpaio ordered his arrest on the fraud premise, a move that shocked the legal community because it looked like blatant retaliation.

• Mary Rose Wilcox — The lone Democrat on the board was accused by the MCSO of taking out loans with the lending arm of Chicanos por la Causa, a social-services organization, and then returning the favor by passing — along with the other four supervisors — a measure giving federal grant money to the group.

• Andy Kunasek — The current chair of the Board of Supervisors was accused of misusing $14,000 in county funds because he allegedly ordered the supervisors' offices swept for hidden electronic-listening devices that were suspected to have been placed by the Sheriff's Office as part of its investigations. The reality was that the MCSO never planted any bugs. A grand jury later discredited the case and tossed it out.

A central figure in these cases turned out to be Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk. After Thomas was warned by a judge about his conflicts of interest regarding the Stapley case (a lawyer in Thomas' office had once helped Stapley prepare the same disclosure forms that Stapley was accused of flouting), Thomas asked Polk to review it and the Wilcox case.

Polk rejected the Wilcox investigation outright, telling Arpaio and Thomas no crime had been committed.

The week before Arpaio ordered Stapley's arrest, she had told him and Thomas that the fraud case wasn't ready to move forward.

Then, days after Stapley was taken into custody and perp-walked to jail before TV news cameras, Polk complained to Arpaio that he shouldn't have arrested the supervisor.

Arpaio went off on her, she wrote in her notes at the time, yelling that he had probable cause for the arrest and that nobody could tell him differently.

Arpaio and Thomas, not happy with her opinions and clearly worried about the media attention, pressured her to give the cases back to Thomas, which she did. That December, Thomas persuaded grand juries to indict Stapley — again — and Wilcox.

The grand juries were never told about Polk's opinions.

Just before the announcement of the Stapley and Wilcox indictments, on December 1, 2009, Arpaio and Thomas informed the public that they had filed a RICO suit against the Board of Supervisors, judges, and other county officials. Arpaio called the leaders "corrupt," but little about the convoluted conspiracy alleged by the lawmen made sense (see "The Court Tower Conspiracy," February 18, 2010). For instance, one of the allegations of a conspiracy to commit illegal activity was that one of Stapley's attorneys had "laughed" at Thomas' lead prosecutor, Lisa Aubuchon, during a court hearing.

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