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Bill Montgomery Would Rather Talk About Jodi Arias Than Judge Snow's Order, and Here's Why

Monty claims his office has been "looking very carefully" at fraud cases involving the undocumented to make sure they "pass constitutional muster," but recent examples tell a different tale.
Dennis Gilman

The first cracks in the Berlin Wall have begun, but Comrade Montgomery's unwilling to concede the inevitable.

When it comes to those gaps in the concrete, he'd rather not discuss them at all. Surely that will make them go away.

Forgive the Cold War metaphor, but like an apparatchik under an ailing premier in the old USSR, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery plods along, blinders firmly on, fearful of the change nipping at his loafers.

Considering Montgomery's self-serving stance on comprehensive immigration reform (he's for it, allegedly), you'd think that in the wake of federal Judge G. Murray Snow's recent order in the civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio, a little political courage would be forthcoming from our county attorney.

Snow found that the Sheriff's Office engaged in biased policing against Latinos and ordered the MCSO to cut it out. He set a hearing for June 14 (Arpaio's 81st birthday) to discuss what will happen next.

Arpaio's attorney, Tim Casey, whose firm has billed close to $1 million on the case, has promised an appeal, which is sure to make him an even richer man at taxpayer expense.

It'll make the county poorer still, as it now must pay the plaintiffs' legal fees, which already are more than $1 million. And if the MCSO loses an appeal, it could cost us maybe another $1 million.

But since Casey knows that Snow's order is unlikely to be overturned and as he and the sheriff hope to avoid the independent monitor the plaintiffs want to oversee the decision, the MCSO already has begun to comply.

The sheriff's illegal-immigrant hotline has been unplugged, and the ads on MCSO vehicles advertising it are being removed.

Reportedly, freeway patrols for illegal immigrants will be suspended. And there will be no more work-site raids hunting for undocumented workers, at least for the time being. Casey's even been able to keep Arpaio on a leash, for the moment.

Yet, Montgomery continues to prosecute undocumented workers caught in Arpaio's previous employer raids, holding them non-bondable on jacked-up forgery charges, to coerce guilty pleas that'll make them deportable.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division put Montgomery on notice in a letter to his office, suggesting that such cases were tainted because the MCSO engages in "a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing."

Among other findings in the 22-page letter, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez concluded that the MCSO's Criminal Employment Squad "targets work sites where most, if not all, of the employees are Latino."

Also, CES detectives "typically detain and investigate the immigration status of all employees at a raided work site whether or not the employees are listed in the warrant authorizing the raid."

This, under the guise of "enforcing state forgery and identity theft statutes."

Notoriously, Montgomery denounced the DOJ letter, claiming that there was no evidence offered by the Justice Department to back up its allegations, though the department offered examples of its findings and provided an outline of them in "sufficient detail" to alert Monty of "the violations committed" by the MCSO.

Nevertheless, Montgomery copped a cowboy attitude and told the Justice Department to "put up or shut up." Not long after Monty's Clint Eastwood moment, the department sued the MCSO and the county in federal court on civil rights' grounds, a legal action that remains in play.

(As an aside, the law firms involved in battling the DOJ have billed $837,744, according to the county. Which you can add to the more than $2 million the Melendres case has cost taxpayers already, when defendants' and plaintiffs' bills are combined.)

Monty's parroted this line whenever anyone's brought up the DOJ letter in the context of his apartheid-like policies toward the undocumented.

So now that Judge Snow has issued a 142-page decision offering "findings of fact" drawn from evidence, statistics, and testimony provided in large part by the MCSO, what does Monty have to say for himself?

Bupkis. A recent press conference at his offices mostly was dedicated to the Jodi Arias trial.

Much of the press played along, but this may have been by design, as New Times reporters simply were left off an e-mail list notifying other local journos of the presser.

Thankfully, KJZZ reporter Jude Joffe-Block was present and asked Monty the question that made him squirm: How would his office be affected by Snow's ruling?

"We have been looking very carefully at submittals involving human smuggling and employment-related fraud cases to ensure that they pass constitutional muster," Montgomery told her. "For all those cases we have been handling, not a single one has been dismissed by a court because there was no probable cause for the arrest."

That is a highly disingenuous response, considering that in several cases I have followed involving undocumented workers accused of ID theft and forgery, there have been serious problems with the evidence against the accused.

Seventy-year-old Rafael Lavallande Gonzalez, a diabetic, was nabbed in Arpaio's raid of a GNC warehouse last August. The prosecution wouldn't allow defense lawyers to see the original paperwork in Gonzalez's employment file until trial began about five months later.

When his attorneys reviewed the evidence, they found that one of the documents purported to have been forged by Gonzalez had Wite-Out on it, with a false Social Security number written in another person's handwriting.

That evidence helped Gonzalez win acquittal.

Miguel Angel Morales waited more than six months for trial on similar charges. His attorney discovered that the tipster who led the MCSO to raid the construction company where Morales worked had alleged that others at the workplace were recruiting the undocumented as employees.

MCSO deputies admitted under oath that they'd never investigated this possibility. That was enough to establish reasonable doubt as to who did the actual "forgery," and the jury acquitted Morales.

Not all such cases involve the MCSO. Sol Zenir, 24, was held for six months non-bondable after an Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer investigated her on forgery and ID theft following a routine traffic stop.

On the day Zenil's case was going to trial, Montgomery's prosecutor revealed that the Social Security number she supposedly had "forged" was her own, obtained legally when she was a child.

Zenil pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a deal with the MCAO and went free.

Did Monty's office "look very carefully" at Zenil's case? Or did it hold a young girl — who has now applied for and received deferred action as a DREAMer — without bail, hoping she would plead guilty to a felony and be deported?

The MCAO will not respond to my inquiries concerning Zenil.

Recently, a judge agreed to suppress evidence improperly obtained from the Arizona Department of Economic Security in the case of Octavio Castaneda Flores, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-eligible 28-year-old held for eight months without bond on the usual bogus charges.

Monty's office was forced to move for dismissal, and by the time you read this, Flores will be reunited with his common-law wife and their four U.S.-citizen children.

Bottom line: The county attorney is shirking his responsibilities as a public servant and an officer of the court, choosing to play politics instead of doing his duty.

No wonder he'd rather bloviate about Arias.


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