Did Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous Seattle investigation begin with a billionaire intent on revenge against his ex-wife? And was this wealthy individual drawn to Arpaio as part of the paranoid atmosphere that swirled around Arpaio's investigation of President Obama's birth certificate?
To judge from audio files recently entered into evidence by the plaintiffs in Arpaio's federal contempt trial, the answer to both questions appears to be yes.
The recordings were made by Arpaio's Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo, one of the three investigators Arpaio assigned to the Seattle operation, which was first revealed by New Times in June 2014.
Zullo recently testified in Arpaio's trial after coming full circle from invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times during the proceedings.
The posse shamus had fought the release of the sound recordings to the plaintiffs but was shot down by the jurist in the case, U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow.
Zullo's about-face on testifying allowed the plaintiffs to ask the posse honcho questions about the recordings and more easily enter them into evidence over the objections of Arpaio's defense attorneys.
The recordings contain conversations among Zullo and others involved in the investigation, such as MCSO Detective Brian Mackiewicz, MCSO-confidential informant Dennis Montgomery, and Arpaio himself. Portions of the audio files were played during Zullo's time on the stand.
Two recordings totaling more than an hour and 20 minutes are of an October 2013 meeting at MCSO headquarters attended by Zullo, Mackiewicz, Arpaio, then-billionaire Tim Blixseth, and Blixseth's attorney, Mike Flynn.
Blixseth, who made his fortune mostly in timber and real estate, first approached Zullo as a result of Zullo's investigation on Arpaio's behalf into President Obama's birth certificate, according to a September 2014 report on the Seattle probe by Mackiewicz.
In that report, Mackiewicz writes that author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi introduced Blixseth to Zullo. The detective claims that Blixseth traveled to Phoenix in 2012 for a meeting with Arpaio in which Mackiewicz says the billionaire "provided some information in reference to what he believed was criminal activity being committed by his ex-wife."
Mr. Blixseth explained he believed [his ex-wife] was opening fraudulent bank accounts within the State of Arizona to funnel money in an effort to conceal monies due to her Federal Bankruptcy.The timber tycoon remained in contact with Zullo, and in October 2013 had another meeting with Arpaio, recorded by Zullo, where Blixseth told Arpaio and others present about a Seattle computer guru, later identified as Montgomery.
Based on the limited information Mr. Blixseth provided, it was determined the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office was not going to investigate his allegations. He was counseled to take the matter to federal authorities.
In the audio files, Blixseth, who is now in a Montana jail on federal contempt charges as part of a bankruptcy case, describes Montgomery's work for the CIA, for Blixseth and for Blixseth's ex-wife.
The billionaire says he suspected Montgomery of hacking into "my lawyer and my e-mails to help her" in the contentious aftermath to their 2009 divorce.
Montgomery would later switch sides, according to Blixseth, contacting the billionaire and telling him that his suspicions had been correct about Montgomery's activities.
But Blixseth says Montgomery had a bigger tale to tell, about the latter's work for the CIA and about how Montgomery had uncovered a plot at the highest levels to undo Blixseth's attempts to have his ex-wife federally prosecuted.
Blixseth claims in the recordings that Montgomery "hacked into all of America" for the feds and helped the CIA build an all-powerful computer system called "the Hammer," in Fort Washington, Maryland. Blixseth says Montgomery also squirreled away copies of the files he harvested on behalf of the CIA, including records of "900 million" phone calls, according to Blixseth.
Montgomery told Blixseth that he also had hacked into the e-mails of then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and then-Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who at the time was head of the Justice Department's criminal division.
According to Blixseth, the e-mails showed his ex-wife had connections with the Obama administration that helped end any grand jury indictment of her.
Blixseth wants the e-mails to become public, he tells Arpaio, and he believes this could be achieved by getting immunity for Montgomery.
"I've got my eye on this son of a bitch," Blixseth says of Breuer. "This guy [Montgomery] gets immunity, he's gonna cough up all the Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer e-mails."
Which is where Arpaio comes in. Blixseth says some of the material Montgomery allegedly swiped from the CIA involved millions of Americans' personal information, with more than 150,000 victims in Maricopa County.
Blixseth also claims he has Fox News reporter Carl Cameron on the job. He says that Cameron has done video interviews with Montgomery in preparation for a special report.
The billionaire wants Arpaio to get involved on behalf of those allegedly affected in Maricopa County. He says Montgomery is willing to testify to a grand jury.
Montgomery, says Blixseth, also can testify about harvesting sensitive information wholesale from banks and telephone companies on behalf of the feds, and about hacking into voter registration files in Florida.
"You could indict [CIA Director John] Brennan and [U.S. Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper," Blixseth suggests.
The billionaire sweetens the pot with talk of Obama's birth certificate. Some of the information that Montgomery has indicates Brennan helped surreptitiously alter Obama's birth certificate, Blixseth suggests.
Arpaio sounds both skeptical and intrigued.
"Don't count on Arizona," the sheriff tells Blixseth. "There's no Attorney General that has the balls."
The sheriff also schools the billionaire on the basics of law enforcement.
"I can't indict anybody," Arpaio explains. "Because that's the prosecutor, Grand Jury. That's why I'm having trouble with the birth certificate . . . My problem on the birth certificate is getting somebody to do the goddamn thing. Nobody will touch it. And we have the evidence."
Blixseth says he's getting Montgomery to focus on Maricopa County in his searches and gives Arpaio thumb drives containing the personal information of 3 million people, supposedly acquired by the CIA.
If Arpaio can do an investigation, he could also be part of Cameron's story, Blixseth says.
As they are uploading the data, Donald Trump's name is mentioned as one of those whose information is in the file.
"Trump is a double agent anyway," Arpaio harrumphs, without explaining the comment.
Blixseth calls a person he identifies as Cameron and they speak briefly, with Arpaio telling Cameron that he's discussing the case with Blixseth.
"As you know, I'm waiting for Dennis," the voice identified as Cameron states. "And he sent me a couple of e-mails today, but I haven't seen the final last batch and stuff."
(Note: An e-mail apparently from Cameron to Montgomery entered into evidence in the contempt case shows Cameron berating Montgomery for not producing the promised information.)
Cameron tells Blixseth that he's busy and asks to call him back.
Arpaio finds this revealing.
"Nobody on a big story says he's on something else," says Arpaio of the reporter's remarks. "I'm going to tell you what's going to happen: This will never play."
Indeed, Cameron's piece apparently never ran.
At the time, Arpaio also thought that a possible MCSO investigation into Montgomery and Blixseth's allegations, and a Fox News story reporting same, might "generate some interest" in the birth-certificate investigation.
There is some discussion on the audio files about how Montgomery's material may have been obtained by illegal means.
"All I wanna know is, do you have like $20,000 you can spare to hire a lawyer to help you and help us," said Arpaio. "Do you know any lawyers."
"I brought one," said Blixseth, evidently indicating his attorney, Flynn.
"Yeah, but does he know this shit?" says Arpaio. "So everybody stays out of trouble?"
Blixseth says that he thinks the feds will "probably try to indict me."
Mackiewicz wonders, "Indict you for what?"
"Aiding and abetting, national security," Blixseth replies. "They'll try all kinds of horseshit."
Blixseth believes that if Arpaio can help Montgomery get immunity in Arizona, it will help shield him and Montgomery from prosecution under the legal principle of "the fruit of the poisonous tree."
That is, if evidence is illegally obtained by law enforcement, it cannot be used to prosecute someone.
"They're going to go after you because of your domestic problem," Arpaio warns Blixseth. "[They'll] think that you have a hard on, I dunno, with the wife."
"They're always gonna say you have an ax to grind because its your ex wife," says Mackiewicz.
It's unclear who "they" are: the media, the feds, or both.
The meeting concludes with Arpaio saying that the MCSO will wait to see what Fox News does with the story.
Meanwhile, everything must be kept quiet.
"I don't want to call on [the MCSO's division on] computer crimes on all this shit," the sheriff says. "I want to keep this very quiet now. So keep this shit — this is top secret. Or you end up with a bullet in your brain."
The "bullet in the brain" reference" sounds like a dark joke, though during the meeting, there had been talk of witnesses to the birth certificate investigation ending up dead.
Other recordings played in part or in whole during Zullo's time on the stand are also published here.
In the 2013 recordings titled by New Times as, "What could you do?" and "Monitor's, Arpaio's Whatever," Zullo and Mackiewicz talk to Montgomery about what's in his database of information reputedly from the CIA.
In the former, Zullo wonders how someone could be ruined with the personally identifying info in the database. Montgomery suggests that, hypothetically, this could involve uploading child porn into someone's e-mails or using banking information to implicate someone in tax-evasion.
In the latter recording, the three discuss what to search for in the database to prove its relevance. Zullo suggests searching for Arpaio's info.
In the remaining recordings by Zullo, Montgomery discusses "working on Snow stuff," at one point, a reference to the federal judge in the case. Montgomery also tells Zullo about a mysterious trip Montgomery supposedly made to Lockheed Martin in Los Angeles with $7,000 in cash provided by the MCSO.
Zullo testified that this had to do with Montgomery's obtaining access to a super computer at Lockheed. In the recording, Montgomery claims that Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan knew about the trip but did not want MCSO personnel involved.
It's important to observe that, according to both Arpaio and Sheridan, what Montgomery ultimately gave them was "junk."
Similarly, two ex-NSA employees hired by the MCSO to examine Montgomery's work product in 2014 declared him to be "a complete and total fraud," stating that there was no way to know where the info he possessed came from.
Its unusual origins aside, evidence and testimony in Arpaio's contempt trial — including timelines and flow charts produced by Montgomery — show that the investigation came to encompass the pursuit of an anti-Arpaio plot involving Snow, Holder, the DOJ, and others.
Plaintiffs have argued that the Seattle investigation goes to Arpaio's state of mind during the time the sheriff was disobeying the court's orders in the underlying civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio.
If it can be shown that Arpaio's defiance of the court was willful, Arpaio could face a criminal contempt prosecution that could land him in federal prison for six months or more.
All parties in Arpaio's trial rested last week in the contempt case. Final arguments are scheduled for November 20, after which Judge Snow plans to make findings of fact and rule on the civil contempt case.
At a yet-to-be-determined later date, Snow will hear the arguments of the defendants' criminal attorneys and decide on possible criminal contempt referrals to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
CORRECTION: The recording now labeled "Monty's Database" was previously labeled, "Monitor's, Arpaio's, Whatever." As one close listener has pointed out, Mackiewicz is probably saying, "Mine, yours, Arpaio's, whatever." This makes sense because at this point in the Seattle investigation when the recording was made, the monitor had not yet been appointed. The article has been corrected. All apologies for the error.