Glimmers of Real Sheriff Joe Arpaio Penetrate His Public Mask in Court

A poster of Arpaio behind bars, on display outside the federal courthouse, where the sheriff is on trial for contempt of court.
A poster of Arpaio behind bars, on display outside the federal courthouse, where the sheriff is on trial for contempt of court.
Sal Reza

There is Arpaio as he would have the world see him, and there is Arpaio as he actually is.

So many of Arpaio's fans — the people who vote for him and nearly worship him — couldn't care less about the reality beneath the public image of a strutting tough guy with a veneer of grandfatherly likability.

But under the questioning of plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Young during Arpaio's contempt trial before U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, the sheriff's pettiness, vengefulness, and criminality effectively were unmasked.

Take the smoking gun entered into evidence by the plaintiffs, a double-sided document obtained during the discovery process.

On one side is a timeline of a bogus conspiracy that Arpaio desperately wanted to gin up involving Snow, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and Covington and Burling, the huge international law firm, of which one branch has partnered with the ACLU in the underlying civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio.

The timeline was faxed directly to Arpaio in November 2013 by his confidential informant in the so-called Seattle investigation, Dennis Montgomery, a computer consultant who once worked as a subcontractor for the CIA and other federal agencies.

The MCSO ultimately paid Montgomery more than $120,000 for information that Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, later agreed was "junk."

During the first couple of days in this second round of hearings in the trial, Sheridan testified that the Seattle operation cost $250,000 and used money from the MCSO's general fund, its RICO account, and the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program to pay two detectives and one civilian to work in Seattle with Montgomery for more than a year.

To date, there has been no audit of the Seattle operation, and the MCSO has not released billing records related to it. The MCSO may have spent as much as $1 million on it all told, according to my sources.

Montgomery's timeline is one of several he provided to the MCSO to illustrate the conspiracy Arpaio longed for, so as to undermine Snow's court.

Also, Montgomery would give the MCSO more than 50 hard drives of data that he supposedly had culled and kept during his time working for the government.

This initial timeline cited cellphone numbers for both Arpaio and Sheridan and, next to them, supposed wiretap numbers.

"The DOJ was investigating me and my office criminally," Arpaio testified of his thoughts at the time. "And I was just concerned if this had anything to do with the criminal investigation."

Arpaio said he never solicited the fax from Montgomery, but Montgomery was on Arpaio's radar as part of the Seattle operation, which Arpaio ordered in late October 2013 after he met with Detective Brian Mackiewicz, Cold Case Posse honcho Mike Zullo, and then-billionaire Tim Blixseth, a business partner of Montgomery's.

Arpaio claims it was at this meeting that he heard Montgomery's name for the first time and was told that Montgomery had access to data illegally harvested by the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Among the victims of this alleged harvesting, Arpaio was told, were 150,000 Maricopa County residents whose names and bank account numbers had been accessed.

Arpaio was one of the victims, the sheriff claimed, along with his wife, Ava. So were several local judges, supposedly. But Snow is the only local judge Arpaio could recall by name either in his deposition or on the stand.

Earlier that same October, Snow had ordered numerous reforms for the MCSO, including a monitor that Arpaio definitely did not want.

Which brings us to the other side of the document, on which Arpaio had typed a memo to himself about the "links," as he referred to them under oath, between Snow, Covington and Burling, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the memo, Arpaio writes of a photographer in San Diego named "JC," who calls to tell him of his phones getting tapped by the DOJ.

The CIA is mentioned cryptically, as is JC's reporter friend "Kimberly," who has "sensitive documents" but is afraid to cross state lines with them, for fear of arrest.

Arpaio said he dispatched Zullo to San Diego to investigate the lead, but nothing came of it.

In the memo's last paragraph, Arpaio's speculations concern former Republican U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, who supported Snow's nomination to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.

In 2013, Kyl joined Covington and Burling. The firm's D.C. branch alone has 500 lawyers, one of whom is Snow's brother-in-law, a fact that arose in 2012 but was discounted at the time by Arpaio and his lawyers as irrelevant.

Arpaio can't quite get his facts right in the memo. For instance, he writes that "Snow's wife works [at Covington]," which is not true.

Scrawled at the top of the memo, in Arpaio's handwriting, is a reference to Snow's sister-in-law's working for the firm, which again is not true.

Also included is biographical information about Snow, his birthplace and birth date, where he went to school, and his employment history.

Arpaio told the court that he thought all these pieces fit somehow. Years earlier, Kyl had encouraged the MCSO to become part of the federal government's 287(g) program, Arpaio said, allowing deputies to enforce federal immigration law.

The feds jerked that grant of authority in 2009, but the MCSO continued to enforce federal law, even after Snow enjoined the agency from doing so in December 2011.

This stubbornness on Arpaio's part is one reason he and four current and former underlings are on the hook for civil and possible criminal contempt of court.

At one point, Young asked Arpaio whether he had typed his J. Edgar Hoover-esque memo at night, suggesting that the sheriff may have been "dreaming" or "hallucinating."

Arpaio said he had only been commenting on the "irony" of the situation and that "in my mind, the people [in the memo] connected."

The sheriff also turned defensive.

"I was just making notes," he harrumphed, adding, "I have a right to make notes."

Indeed, the memo is not only smoking-gun evidence that Arpaio was investigating a federal judge just weeks after that judge issued a decision adverse to Arpaio's office.

It also offers a self-portrait of Arpaio as he actually is: a paranoid old authoritarian, writing delusional memos to himself, creating nonexistent conspiracies with which to punish his enemies.

Other flashes of the real Arpaio offered in the testimony of others include Arpaio's telling a captain to "get the fucking money," when the captain worried about the Seattle investigation's exhausting the MCSO's RICO account.

Or when Arpaio is challenged by a skeptical sergeant on the Seattle probe and asked the subordinate, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

This is the same Arpaio who once laughingly admitted on camera that he had watched prisoners tortured while working for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Latin America during the 1970s.

And it's the same Arpaio whose callous indifference to the deaths in his jails is legendary, who seems never to allow an opportunity for vengeance to elude him.

To this end, Arpaio even mentions his old enemy, former Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, in a handwritten line above the memo, where he claims that one of the victims of identity theft among the 150,000 names is Wilcox's husband, Earl.

After all Arpaio has done in the past to ruin the Wilcoxes by ginning up false and eventually dismissed criminal charges against Mary Rose, Arpaio still is fantasizing about targeting them in late 2013.

Both Mary Rose and Earl Wilcox were in court when Arpaio's memo was flashed on a screen during the sheriff's testimony.

"My heart sank when I saw Earl's name," Mary Rose told me after court was adjourned until October 8, when the sheriff is scheduled to again take the stand.

"[Arpaio] has not changed," she said with a sigh. "He is a very vindictive man."


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