Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal investigation into potential misdeeds by county leaders includes Governor Jan Brewer, a source close to the investigation tells New Times.
The source, who did not want to want to be identified, did not want to elaborate on the subject of the inquiry, saying only that it related to Brewer's time on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Brewer was elected to the Board in 1996 and served as its chair until 2002. She rose from Secretary of State to the state's highest office when former Governor Janet Napolitano abandoned her post in January to become President Barack Obama's Homeland Security Secretary.
Brewer only recently announced her intention to run for a full term.
Rumors that Brewer is under investigation have been swirling for months, though sources for a September Business Journal article (referenced in our blog) leaned toward the office of the state Attorney General as the impetus. That made sense, since the current AG, Democrat Terry Goddard, plans to run for governor in next year's election.
But it also makes sense that it would be Arpaio, since his foes often turn up as the subjects of his office's criminal investigators. Arpaio has made noise about running for governor, as he's done in the past. But he's also hinted that he'll support Vernon Parker, a businessman who's now the mayor of Paradise Valley.
We predict Arpaio will soon throw his full political weight behind Parker, the Republican candidate being pushed by local campaign strategist Jason Rose. Both Arpaio and his ally, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, rely on Rose for election advice. Arpaio's never moved forward on his threat to run for governor in the past, and it seems unlikely he will now, at age 77. Even if Goddard, who polls well, wins, backing Parker, an African-American, in the Republican primary would allow the illegal-immigrant-fighting sheriff to deflect the accusation that he's a racist.
Naturally, the idea that Brewer might have done something illegal -- even if she's never charged with a crime -- could taint the public's view of her and give a boost to her many opponents.
Hints of an investigation at the county level also came this past spring, when Thomas and Arpaio submitted requests to the county for a massive amount of public records. Among the county records sought by Thomas were any that related to a county relationship with HighGround, the public relations firm that Governor Brewer is using to help out her campaign. A parallel records request by the Sheriff's Office also seeks a HighGround connection.
Our source tells us that HighGround's president, Chuck Coughlin, is potentially tied to the ongoing investigation into County Supervisor Don Stapley. Coughlin is suspected of revealing grand jury secrets about Stapley to someone, the source says -- again, without going into detail. It's unknown whether that allegation is the only line of inquiry into HighGround or Coughlin.
Coughlin says he can't confirm or deny if he knows he's the target of such an investigation. "Knowing these guys," he says, referring to Thomas and Arpaio, discussing such a thing could be considered a crime in itself.
In general, though, Coughlin says he believes Arpaio and Thomas have abused their authority.
"I'm incredulous anymore and embarrassed by some of the stunts," he says.
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There's another Brewer-Stapley connection, too: One of the co-chairs of Brewer's campaign is former state Attorney General Grant Woods. Woods works as a lawyer for Conley Wolfwinkel, the land baron and convicted fraudster who figures large in the case against Stapley.
The Governor's office hasn't returned our call.
(UPDATE: Paul Senseman, spokesman for Governor Brewer, tells us he hasn't heard anything about an investigation, though he did see that Biz Journal article).
If we can take anything certain away from all these vague -- but potentially serious -- accusations, it's this: The cage fight that passes for county politics these days looks poised to break out statewide for the 2010 election.
UPDATE JULY 30, 2010: Our source told us today that the governor was never under investigation. The source could not explain why he told us previously the governor was under investigation.