Don Stapley Asks Donors for More Legal Defense Funds; Alleged Crimes of County Supervisor Still Under Review
It may seem like Don Stapley's troubles are about over, but Stapley sure doesn't think so.
The embattled chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors mailed a new fundraising letter two weeks ago to his friends and acquaintances, begging for big bucks to counter the "frightening amount" he owes in legal bills.
Two criminal cases against Stapley could still come back to bite him.
The first case, which hinged on allegations that Stapley had failed to disclose various real-estate deals, fell apart when a judge ruled the disclosure law wasn't valid. But Yavapai County, which is handling the prosecution of that case, has appealed the judge's ruling.
The second case against Stapley was dismissed in the aftermath of a stunning legal victory by Stapley's colleague, Supervisor, Mary Rose Wilcox. (We go into detail in both cases in our November feature article, Serving Up Stapley).
After Pima County Judge John Leonardo ruled that County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio had abused their power in going after Wilcox, Thomas handed both the Wilcox and Stapley cases to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores, whose office continues to review them.
This week, Flores assigned the cases to a special prosecutor, Dennis McCarthy of Nebraska.
Stapley is now prepared to sue the county he helps run for $5 million.
But he's also hedging his bet by hitting up potential donors.
New Times obtained one of the March 18 letters. It was sent to a California resident with Stapley's name and home address at the top, and is signed by Stapley.
"Out of necessity, I again write to you asking for assistance," Stapley starts off. "I do so with great hesitation."
Stapley explains that the attacks by Arpaio and Thomas have been "endless," and:
...more work is needed to put an end to this legal nightmare. As an individual, I must assume the costs to defend myself against baseless accusations and must do so at my own expense while the attacks are well financed with a seemingly bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars.
Of course, that's the same bottomless pit he's hoping to tap into with his own legal claim against the county. But we digress.
After acknowledging that some of his potential donors expressed concern that Arpaio might retaliate against them, "I ask you to consider the following:"
1. I am in desperate need of funds to pay the attorneys for the various pending and completed legal matters. I owed a frightening amount and must continue to pay legal counsel to continue to defend myself against false allegations.
2. The tide of public opinion has very clearly turned. Recent actions by the courts are most encouraging. I am cautious however, as past victories and dismissals have been followed by desperate last minute actions on the part of the Sheriff and County Attorney.
3. The trustees of the Stapley Expense Trust have decided not to release the names of contributors to the Trust. None have been released.
I would sincerely appreciate any significant check you could send.
In other words, don't bother with that small check.
Stapley encloses a contribution card and a pre-paid envelope for the donors' convenience.
The longtime supervisor is an experienced fundraiser, that's for certain. In fact, it's one of the things that got him in trouble.
As our November article detailed, some aspects of the second criminal case against Stapley looked solid. Based on documents we reviewed at the Sheriff's Office, it looks as though Stapley raised excessive funds for his campaign for president of the National Association of Counties, then spent a good chunk of the money on personal goods and services.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in recent court testimony that further work was necessary in the case and that she was "shocked" when Arpaio's deputies arrested Stapley in September. Still, she believed the case had "merit."
After details of the case were revealed in New Times, we wonder how any donors could trust Stapley with a new windfall.
Susan Schuerman, Stapley's executive assistant, tells New Times that the Stapley Legal Expense Fund board of directors -- not Stapley -- has total control over every cent raised. She says the March 18 letter was sent by the fund's members, although Stapley authorized it.
Schuerman says Stapley has spent $1.5 million of his own money to defend himself.
Schuerman also defended the Expense Fund's decision to keep the names of contributors secret. True, she acknowledged, fund members had pledged to be more transparent when they began their efforts. But "that was before the deputies started going to people's homes," she says.
Stapley is right to be worried, but a conviction is probably a long shot at this point.
Polk, in her testimony, said that the September arrest of Stapley "complicates the successful prosecution of both Stapley cases," because it looked like revenge.
Reached by phone last week, Daisy Flores told New Times that prosecutors would be forced to look beyond the merits of the case and examine the totality of circumstances that led them to Gila County.
Based on that statement, we wouldn't bet the special prosecutor Flores has hired will decide to move forward with a new prosecution.
If Stapley really did commit crimes, and if he escapes justice entirely (and profits from the debacle via his lawsuit), Thomas and Arpaio only have themselves to blame.
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