Tom Bearup was once one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's most trusted aides, a political operative who, until his fall from grace earlier this year, played a key role in creating the myth of the self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff."
Bearup now regrets taking part in that project, which he characterizes as a campaign of lies and half-truths.
And since coming clean recently in court testimony, Bearup is now willing to detail a series of stunning admissions:
* That not all money raised by Arpaio's posses can be accounted for, money that was entrusted without oversight to David Hendershott, a high-ranking officer with a checkered financial history. The Posse Foundation's statutory agent and accountant admits that money may be missing.
* That another law enforcement agency has contacted Bearup and appears to be investigating the missing money and Hendershott's involvement. He refused to identify the agency for publication.
* That Arpaio uses his posses for political purposes, particularly in the sheriff's current unannounced campaign for governor. If Bearup is correct, those activities may violate election laws which prevent supposed tax-exempt nonprofit organizations from raising money for candidates.
Bearup's testimony also bolsters deputy accounts of Arpaio's megalomania, his oppression of employees who dare to disagree with him, and his precarious state of mind.
"People in law enforcement perceive Arpaio as a joke," Bearup says.
The defection of one of his highest-ranking employees could not have come at a worse time for Arpaio. Several high-profile civil lawsuits alleging inmate abuse and employee mistreatment are making their way to trial, and, in Bearup, the attorneys bringing those cases suddenly find themselves with a star witness.
Two of those attorneys, Joel Robbins and Nick Hentoff, wasted no time deposing Bearup after they learned that he had left the Arpaio fold.
Transcripts of Bearup's testimony were obtained by New Times, and, confronted with them, the former aide agreed to discuss his views about his journey, which took him from one of Arpaio's most fervent supporters and key advisers to a man determined to expose Arpaio.
"Someone has to stand up," he says, "and show the sheriff's true colors."
Tom Bearup lives in a church. Through most of his tenure as Arpaio's aide, Bearup has worked part-time as the minister of Family Bible Fellowship in north Phoenix. He has been ordained since 1994.
Family Bible Fellowship seems to be a work in progress. Although the church on Greenway Road has stood for eight years, it's clearly still evolving: A baptismal hot tub sits uninstalled on the altar.
Bearup explains that it's just one of many things he hopes to get to when and if his fortunes improve.
He's owned and lived at the church for three years. Bearup and his wife Adele and five of their children live in three rooms in the annex next door. They share a single, small bathroom.
The largest room in the annex is filled with chairs and is used for church functions, some of which require Adele to feed many people. That's inspired her to start a catering business, and Bearup says he's trying to help it get off the ground.
Neither the church nor the catering business is a going concern. In three months, Bearup estimates, the family will run out of money.
He doesn't expect much sympathy.
Only months ago, Bearup enjoyed a salary of $80,000 as an executive officer in the Sheriff's Office. At one time, as Sheriff Arpaio nurtured his image as a crime fighter, Bearup was among his most trusted employees.
Bearup was a trouble-shooter. He solved political problems for Arpaio. He acted as a buffer between demoralized patrol deputies and the sheriff who continually embarrassed them. He managed the steady flow of publicity stunts for a sheriff with an insatiable appetite for press. Within the office, he was called on to do dirty work--firing an employee, for example--for a sheriff with little spleen for conflict.
But over time, Bearup fell out of favor as Arpaio put more of his trust--and increasing power--in the hands of David Hendershott, who holds the title of Director of Operations and Development.
By July, Bearup's pay had been slashed by $24,000, and Arpaio had moved him to an inconsequential post at the Madison Street Jail.
So, on September 8, Bearup quit.
And now, after attorneys who have brought lawsuits against the sheriff jumped at the chance to depose Bearup, Bearup is willing to talk about what he saw at the Sheriff's Office that led him to lose respect for Arpaio, a man he once admired.
He knows that it will probably make him a political untouchable. And he says jumping Arpaio's camp has made it difficult to find employment. He also blames past New Times reporting for his troubles landing a new job. Recently, Bearup says, he was up for a business management position until the Alaska firm that planned to hire him obtained a New Times article ("The Shadiest Guns in the West," June 27, 1996) which detailed Bearup's problems as the Tucson manager of the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. In 1989, HUD investigated Bearup for several alleged misdeeds, including his not paying on a HUD-assigned mortgage after becoming an employee at the agency. Following the investigation, Bearup was fired.
He went on to become one of several mythmakers for a sheriff the federal government and Amnesty International say runs a shoddy jail where inmates, most of whom await trial, are subjected to unconstitutional and inhumane treatment.
Yet Tom Bearup wants to be believed. He may have taken part in a campaign to dupe citizens hungry for tough law enforcement, but he now claims to regret his role in it.
He knows he will be dismissed by some as a vengeful ax-grinder. But, Bearup asks, if he had sought to avenge his fall from grace, wouldn't he have gone to the press immediately after his resignation? And wouldn't he also have kept a "little black book," as he puts it, to store away the sheriff's secrets for future use?
Bearup didn't keep a little black book. But what he did keep in his memory, and what he shared recently in official court testimony, could prove just as explosive.
On October 20, attorney Nick Hentoff deposed Tom Bearup for more than three hours.
Bearup had been called to testify in a lawsuit filed by Gary Josephson, a former sheriff's employee who is suing over his November 1994 termination. Bearup is one of the defendants in the case, as well as Maricopa County, Arpaio and the Sheriff's Office. Hentoff's goal is to prove that Josephson was fired because Arpaio believed he was feeding information to the media. Arpaio insists that Josephson was let go only for budgetary reasons.
Previously, Bearup had testified he had been told by Arpaio that Josephson was let go to save the Sheriff's Office his $30,000 salary. But now, Bearup has changed his tune, saying that Josephson also lost his job because Arpaio suspected Josephson of criticizing him.
Bearup--despite that he's a defendant in the case--was also willing to say much more, to the apparent consternation of attorney Laurie Metcalf, who is defending Arpaio, the Sheriff's Office and even Bearup. Hentoff says Metcalf appeared concerned as Bearup answered his questions at great length.
Bearup admitted, for example, that in the spring, Sheriff Arpaio told him he could begin telling people Arpaio planned to run for governor of the state of Arizona.
When Arpaio announces his intentions publicly, he'll have to quit his job as sheriff. So in the meantime, Bearup says, Arpaio carries on a barely disguised campaign which--if Bearup's statements are true--could be breaking several election laws. (Most of Metcalf's frequent objections, made for future consideration in court, are edited out for clarity.)
Hentoff: "Do you know of any situations under which Mr. Hendershott is misusing the posse in either unethical or immoral ways?"
Bearup: "I believe he's probably using it in political ways."
Hentoff: "How is he doing that?"
Bearup: "Not only the executive posse, but other posses."
Bearup: "Being involved in fund-raising, being involved in generating support for the sheriff."
Hentoff: "Are you talking about political fund-raising?"
Bearup: "Yes. . . ."
Hentoff: "Do you believe that Chief Hendershott is using the posse for campaign purposes for Joe's race for governor?"
Hentoff: "What is the basis for your opinion?"
Bearup: "I believe that they are selling tickets."
Hentoff: "Do you know that?"
Bearup: "Yes, I do. . . ."
Asked to elaborate on his testimony, Bearup replies: "Hendershott would call the posse members and ask them to sell tickets for him for Arpaio fund raisers." The members were not only expected to find buyers for the tickets but to purchase them themselves. "They're going to say it was in an off-duty capacity, but the list of donors and help staff [in Arpaio's campaign] will read like a posse roster," Bearup says.
Hentoff: "What other ways do you believe that the posse or the posse foundation is being used in Sheriff Arpaio's campaign for governor?"
Bearup: "I don't even--there has been a question raised to me out of the pink shorts money, that even some of that money could have been funneled into the campaign. Now, I don't know if that's true or not, but that issue was raised. . . . Dave Hendershott was supposed to--in order to get his promotion, that he was to raise $135,000 for the sheriff's campaign for governor, and if he did that, he would get a raise in his salary."
Hentoff: "Did he subsequently get a raise?"
Bearup: "Yes, he did, and a title change to director. . . ." (In March, Hendershott received the new title and a $13,000 raise.)
Hentoff: "Do you think that [Arpaio] views the posse as his private campaign staff or workers?"
Bearup: "I believe so today."
Hentoff also quizzed Bearup about deputy concerns about the large amounts of money that Arpaio's posses have raised through the sale of pink shorts, shirts and other sources. The Sheriff's Office released records to New Times showing that posse sales had exceeded $400,000 by March 1996, but has refused to release subsequent records.
The flow of money was particularly heavy in late 1995 and early 1996, and deputies say the control of that money was suspect. Bearup confirms that boxes containing cash were brought to the Enforcement Support bureau, from which Director David Hendershott oversees posse operations.
Bearup: "I was telling [Arpaio] that I believed and what I was hearing, that there was abuses or potential abuses of money that was coming in from the pink shorts sales, that there was a number of people that were coming to me, and naturally he wanted to know who they were, and I refused to tell him, but that I was hearing that money was being thrown on the table, that Dave Hendershott had money brought into his office and he was--it would be in his office with him alone in that office. There was no accountability of that."
Hentoff: "Was money missing?"
Bearup: "Nobody knows. . . . Nobody knows if there was money missing. All I wanted to have was an accounting."
Hentoff: "Did you ever receive an accounting?"
Bearup: "Oh, no. . . ."
Hentoff: "What was his response when you brought this to his attention the second time?"
Bearup: "He was angry. He told me that I was just jealous of Dave Hendershott. . . ."
Arpaio may regret dismissing those concerns. If large sums of money were placed in Hendershott's control with little or no accounting--the money has since been transferred to the Posse Foundation, which claims to keep a complete accounting of it--Arpaio could come under question for what he knew about Hendershott's own financial history.
At that time--late 1995 and early 1996--Hendershott faced state and federal liens of $69,766 for failure to pay taxes over a six-year period. In March 1996, he managed to pay off the state liens when he refinanced his house. He still owes the federal taxes, which total $54,851. One of Hendershott's creditors won a $19,000 judgment against him when he failed to appear in court. This year, Hendershott filed bankruptcy for the second time in 10 years.
Yet despite that history, Hendershott was entrusted with large amounts of cash that passed through no known accounting.
Allen Wilson, presently the Posse Foundation's statutory agent and a CPA by trade, admits that money-handling was lax in the early months of the pink-shorts trade. He claims that a better system is now being followed. The Foundation was sufficiently concerned about the earlier cash flow, however, that an audit was recently carried out. Despite the assurances of Foundation board member Jim Irvin and Executive Posse commander Marvin Weide that the audit accounted for every last dollar, Wilson admits that that's not the case.
"The [Foundation's] board all along has known that the cash situation at the beginning was hard to account for," Wilson says. But could there be tens of thousands of dollars missing, as some deputies have suggested? "It didn't happen," Wilson replies.
"A few thousand? It could have," he admits.
And now, the concern by deputies has apparently spread beyond the Sheriff's Office.
New Times asked Bearup whether he's been contacted by a law enforcement agency which is asking questions about missing posse money.
"Yes," he replies.
Hentoff quizzed Bearup at length about the environment in Maricopa County's Sheriff's Office. The picture that emerges is a bizarre one.
There was the simple matter of Bearup's job title, for example.
After helping to run Arpaio's 1992 campaign for sheriff, Bearup was rewarded with a job as one of five "executive officers." The job paid $39,000. Soon, however, Bearup proved to be an asset to Arpaio smoothing over minor emergencies, and Arpaio promoted Bearup to chief of his executive officers.
Then, Bearup says, someone must have pointed out to Arpaio that as "chief executive officer," Bearup's title made it sound like he ran the place. At least that's the only explanation Bearup can come up with for the angry phone call he received over the July 4 weekend in 1995. Bearup took the call on his cellular phone as he and some members of his family were shopping.
Hentoff: "What was he irate about?"
Bearup: "I can't recall other than my title, and he's the one that gave me the title. I didn't ask for it. I didn't go out to get it. I was working just because I was loyal to the job I had to do."
Hentoff: "Did you find it peculiar that he was calling you up and screaming at you about your title?"
Hentoff: "Was he yelling at you?"
Bearup: "He was screaming. In fact, he was screaming so loud, I was on the cellular phone, and my wife and the general manager of Sam's Club was standing close by with my children. They could hear his conversation."
Hentoff: "And the sole reason he was screaming at you was because you had a title that he didn't like?"
Bearup: "That seemed to be the gist of it. . . . He explained to me that people would think that I'm running the show, and that CEO sounds like that I'm higher than the sheriff. And I said, 'Sheriff, there is nobody in this world that doesn't know that you run your camp,' and . . ."
Metcalf: "I'm just getting confused. What is the question?"
Metcalf would interrupt constantly to object to Hentoff's questions, a common tactic in depositions. But her interruptions didn't seem to stanch the flow of Bearup's confessions.
New Times asked to speak with Arpaio about Bearup's testimony, but he did not return calls. His spokeswoman Lisa Allen says that she has read the transcripts of Bearup's testimony and finds nothing in them that she would characterize as significant admissions. She also called Bearup's credibility into question, particularly after the New Times story about his firing at HUD.
"The sheriff is not going to answer allegations by a disgruntled employee. The truth will come out in the hearing," she says. (The Josephson matter is actually moving toward a trial.)
In his testimony and later discussions with New Times, Bearup describes an environment ruled by fear, where Arpaio relied on David Hendershott to be his enforcer as the sheriff himself spent almost his entire time on public relations.
In the past two years, Arpaio has increasingly changed the organizational chart of the Sheriff's Office to bolster Hendershott's authority. The posse czar now also oversees SWAT, canine, and personnel divisions as well as all of enforcement support, which provides training to deputies and posse members. In Arpaio's absence--which is frequent, given his schedule of political appearances--Hendershott wields great power.
Bearup says he was under pressure to identify deputies who dared to criticize the sheriff, but he claims that he refused to do so.
Bearup: "I would tell him [Arpaio] what the problem was, and my concern was addressing the problem, not who said it. And Joe has an attitude sometimes of killing the messenger."
Hentoff: "What was his ultimate goal in terms of wanting to have information about what people were saying? . . . Why did he feel the need to get this information?"
Bearup: "I've often contemplated that over the course of the last five years, and the only thing I can attribute it to . . . is his many years of DEA experience, that he's dealt with a lot of drug dealers and people probably that are murderers, and he grew to distrust anyone at all. And there was probably a psychological paranoia that was developed. . . ."
Hentoff: "Did you remember when [former chief deputy] Russell [Pearce] testified at [Gary Josephson's] merit-system hearing? . . . He knew Sheriff Arpaio as being paranoid. Would you agree with his testimony?"
Bearup: "I certainly would today."
Bearup testified that when he refused to give up the name of a deputy who had criticized the sheriff, Arpaio said, "You're just worried that David [Hendershott] or me is going to kill him."
Bearup: "And I says, 'Well, frankly, that's probably what it is.'"
Hentoff: "Could you say what you mean by that? 'David or me is going to . . .' What did you mean by that last statement?"
Bearup: "That he was going to retaliate in some fashion or--he probably wouldn't have done it himself. He would have had Dave Hendershott, who was more of a crony that would do everything that he wanted him to do."
Bearup says such retribution usually took the form of transfers to dead-end positions. Deputies in places of authority and with long experience suddenly found themselves transporting prisoners to court appearances or working the graveyard shift in a basement properties office.
Bearup testified that Arpaio also bragged that he knew how to get around merit-system rules so he could fire someone he suspected of leaking news. That directly contradicts Arpaio's own earlier testimony in Josephson's merit hearing, when the sheriff denied ever saying he knew how to bypass those rules.
Arpaio became so paranoid about leaks of information that he asked Bearup to create a register which could keep track of every phone number employees called. Bearup says he advised against it. So Arpaio gave the job to Hendershott, and the system was implemented.
Despite the sheriff's popularity with the public, in his own office, Arpaio knew he was so unpopular that only by keeping his employees in fear could he assure their loyalty. That Bearup did not relish this management style, he believes, was one of the reasons Arpaio began to lose trust in him.
This spring, Arpaio made that clear to him.
"The problem with you, Tom, is you don't know how to lie," Bearup testified that the sheriff told him. Arpaio said it after accusing Bearup of coveting his job, which Bearup denied. Not long afterward, Bearup was stripped of most of his responsibilities.
Hentoff kept much of his questioning focused on this environment of deceit and betrayal.
"After reviewing Mr. Bearup's deposition," Hentoff says, "it's apparent that instead of seeking higher office, Sheriff Arpaio should concentrate on seeking psychiatric assistance."
"My faith is in God, not in Joe Arpaio," says Bearup, who claims that the sheriff actually demanded that he choose the other way.
Bearup repeats it for an incredulous listener: Arpaio wanted the part-time pastor to put his sheriff above his God.
When he didn't, Bearup says, Arpaio harassed him. "He used to page me in the middle of my sermons, knowing that he was doing that."
Bearup is standing in the aisle of his small church, posing for a photographer, and he can't stop breaking into laughter. Despite his uncertain political and business prospects, the short, stocky former lawman still has a sense of humor.
"I pray to God that when I get to heaven, I'm six-foot-five and have a neck," he says.
He gets serious again when he ponders his own role in the creation of "Sheriff Joe."
Bearup now admits that partly through his efforts, a gullible public bought the empty slogans and staged news events of a sheriff's office dedicated not to law enforcement but to a cult of personality.
Bearup says his early years were partly consumed with trying to improve Arpaio's image with longtime deputies. Bearup says it was generally a lost cause.
Appealing to the public was a different matter. Bearup oversaw much of the effort to get Arpaio on local and national and later international television, a task now handled by head flack Lisa Allen.
That effort suffered a serious setback, Bearup says, when an Arizona Republic article prominently described Arpaio's oily hair, dandruff and bulbous red nose. "So Lisa Allen got some makeup to put on him as he became a professional actor."
Today, Bearup estimates that 80 percent or more of Arpaio's time is taken with daily speaking engagements, interviews and the development of "Joe Shows," staged news for television cameras.
Hentoff: "Have you ever known him to lie to the media while he was sheriff?"
Bearup: "I don't know that I can ever say that he lied. I don't know that he's always told them the whole story."
Hentoff: "Do you think he's misrepresented the truth?"
Bearup: "I think he's given them what he feels they wanted to know."
Hentoff: "Can you think of an instance where he hasn't told them the whole story?"
Bearup: "I honestly can't think of anything directly."
Hentoff: "What about when he was sleeping in the tents and said that he had no protection?"
Bearup: "Oh, okay. Yeah, I believe he probably lied at that time."
It's one of Arpaio's favorite chapters of the Sheriff Joe myth: that he spent two nights in his Tent City jails accompanied only by a reporter on one occasion and an Arkansas sheriff's candidate on the other. No precautions were taken for his protection, Arpaio tells rapt audiences.
But the sheriff's own records prove that a SWAT team was stationed nearby all night on both occasions, and that on one night a sharpshooter was stationed on a roof overlooking the tents.
Bearup says it was his decision to bring in the SWAT team. Arpaio approved the plan, Bearup says, but asked that the SWAT team be kept out of sight.
Bearup now says it amazed him that local media were willing to take the sheriff's claims at face value without asking for records to check them.
Local media parroted Arpaio's claim, for example, that a posse program in 1996 would put 1,000 posse members on the streets for a month of busting drug pushers. Records show, however, that 100 posse members turned out the first day and the numbers quickly dwindled thereafter. By the fourth week, an average of nine volunteers showed up each day.
Camera crews have flocked to chain-gang events--in particular when Arpaio put the gangs to work burying paupers in the county's potter's field. News outlets, eager to report the chain-gang detail as a get-tough measure designed to humiliate inmates, don't know or don't mention that inmates have for years worked outside the jails, or that even in chains the inmates volunteer for the work. And, contrary to Arpaio's claims that he dreamed up the idea, inmates had also been burying paupers for decades.
Bearup says the Sheriff's Office also put its credibility at risk when, he claims, posse overseer Hendershott greatly exaggerated the effectiveness of posse raids on Van Buren Street prostitution. Luckily, Bearup says, reporters were so gladly eating up the action, they didn't bother to check Hendershott's figures.
"I wonder why the media has put up with it," he says. "If we're going to do law enforcement, let's do it. But the Van Buren operations were just another pony show. And the media fell right in line with that."
Bearup says deputy criticisms of Arpaio's vaunted posse are accurate. Out of 3,000 posse members, Bearup estimates that fewer than 100 are actually active. The program has been a serious drain on the department, and doesn't save money as Arpaio says it does.
Arpaio claims to save the county millions by various means (while his budget has actually increased each year after cuts early in his administration), including depriving inmates basic necessities and putting them at risk with few guards. That approach backfires when inmates are injured or denied medication and end up suing the county.
Arpaio claims that the amount in claims his office has paid pales beside the millions the previous administration, under Sheriff Tom Agnos, shelled out. The county had to pay those claims primarily because of a single case: the temple murders case, in which four defendants were falsely accused and won huge settlements.
Now, however, Arpaio is catching up. Figures released by the county show that in 1992, Sheriff's Office liabilities totaled about $400,000 and climbed to nearly $700,000 the following year. Then, boosted by the temple murders case, those claims jumped to more than $4 million in 1994. But since that time, under Arpaio, those numbers have not settled back to their previous level. Claims in 1995 were $1.3 million; in 1996, they totaled $968,830.
And still pending are most of the high-profile cases of inmate abuse which have occurred under Arpaio, including that of Scott Norberg, whose family is seeking $20 million in damages.
Bearup will no doubt be called on many more times to testify in those cases. He says he's becoming more resolute in that role.
"I can't stand the thought of money being stolen at the Sheriff's Office. It just turns my stomach. And the way he treats people is so abusive. It's sad that the public has been duped the way that it has. If our concern was the safety and the protection of the public rather than grandstanding, there would be a totally different approach at the Sheriff's Office."
But opposing the sheriff, Bearup admits, has a chilling side.
He says that the night after his first deposition--a deposition witnessed by Sheriff's Office employee John J. MacIntyre--shots were fired outside his house. Bearup was not at home, but his children reported the shots to the police.
Hentoff: "Do you think there's a connection between the shots that were fired at your house and the deposition that you attended in which you made critical comments to the sheriff?"
Bearup: "It's certainly coincidental that it happened. I don't have any proof that that's what it was. There has been speculation with my wife and I that this is an attempt just to back me off. But as I've said to anybody, my testimony is going to be my testimony, regardless of what my personal feelings are. I was very loyal to the sheriff. I did the best job that I could. He was my friend. He is not my friend today."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.