Bill Montgomery

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery Spent Public Money on Islam-Bashing Seminar

How much does it cost to stage an Islam-bashing festival for law enforcement, tick off the local Muslim community, and engender widespread condemnation from the press, the general public, and civil-rights groups like the ACLU and the ADL?

About the price of a brand-spankin'-new BMW 328i. Which is to say nearly $40,000.

That's how much public money Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery spent in 2014 to bring disgraced ex-FBI agent John Guandolo and his team to town for a one-day seminar in anti-Muslim McCarthyism at Tempe's DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.

The event, reported first by New Times, was a public-relations disaster for Montgomery. Putatively, the seminar, which was offered to all local prosecutors and cops in the county at taxpayer expense, aimed to instruct attendees in the dangers of Islamic extremism, but the Southern Poverty Law Center and myriad other organizations contend that Guandolo is the wrong person to instruct law enforcement, as he peddles in paranoid conspiracy theories and Islamophobic statements that are loony in the extreme.

For instance, Guandolo, who left the FBI in 2008 after admitting to sexual encounters with a confidential informant, contends that mosques in America are fronts for terrorist groups, and "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything." He insists that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of the American government, and that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret "convert to Islam."
Because of Guandolo's radioactivity, Montgomery took heat before, during, and after the September 19, 2014, conference, which was attended by 300 law-enforcement professionals. The ACLU and local Muslim leaders signed a letter asking him to cancel the event, and the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona denounced Guandolo in a statement for his involvement in anti-Islam groups such as ACT! for America, which the ADL called "a grassroots organization which seeks to vilify Muslims and Islam." The ADL further stated that it was concerned Guandolo's presentation would "paint a distorted view of the Muslim community" and "promote bigotry and misinformation."

As a result of the backlash, both the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office declined to participate in the training.

Yet, despite such criticism, and despite his office receiving more than 300 letters and e-mails regarding the seminar, the vast majority of them asking Montgomery to nix Guandolo's visit, Montgomery, a man who never likes to admit he's wrong, went ahead with the presentation.

MCAO documents obtained by New Times through a public-records request reveal that Montgomery's office paid Guandolo Associates LLC $11,000 for the training session, titled "Understanding the Threat." As part of the MCAO's contract with Guandolo, the MCAO purchased 300 copies of Guandolo's book Raising a Jihadi Generation for distribution to attendees, at a cost of $3,438. The same number of another book, Shariah: The Threat to America, by the Center for Security Policy, which the SPLC labels as an anti-Muslim "extremist group," set the MCAO back $2,799.

Catering for the event was pricey: $12,466. The county attorney's office also paid for airline flights and hotel rooms for the speakers. The MCAO even purchased 300 lanyards for attendees at a cost of $390.34. And long before the September conference, in February of that same year, the MCAO sent its law-enforcement liaison Keith Manning and two other employees to attend a three-day training session led by Guandolo in Culpepper, Virginia, with a total price tag (including flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, etc.) of $5,381.

All told, the expenses add up to $37,559.

Where did the money for all this come from? MCAO spokeswoman Rebecca Wilder did not respond to e-mails asking that question. But the public records New Times reviewed indicate that at least the payment to Guandolo was made with RICO funds, money obtained through asset forfeitures from suspected criminals. The county attorney's office handles millions in RICO funds each year, with little oversight. 

One could argue that the Guandolo event made Maricopa County less safe, not more. As New Times wrote at the time, local mosques reported receiving threatening phone calls in the run-up to the conference, and Muslims who spoke to New Times about the event expressed unease and fear over the training.

As a firebrand, however, Guandolo did not disappoint. Faced with public opposition in advance of his arrival, Guandolo took to his blog to denounce his critics. In one post, he took on the ACLU's letter asking the county attorney to cancel the seminar. The letter had been signed by several local Muslim leaders, many of whom Guandolo labeled as members of Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Guandolo excoriated the ACLU, pointing out that "aiding and abetting" foreign terrorists is a federal felony, "Hopefully, an indictment of the ACLU will be forthcoming," he wrote. The post was so inflammatory that Montgomery asked Guandolo to take it down, which he subsequently did.

But that didn't stop Guandolo after the fact. Following the conference, which was protested peacefully outside its venue by local Muslims, Guandolo attacked two local TV reporters, Channel 12's Brahm Resnik and Fox 10's Mia Garcia, for their coverage of the brouhaha, calling them "media collaborators" who defend "stealth jihad."

During a press conference, Resnik challenged Montgomery about this and about Guandolo's assertion that the Islamic associations opposed to his training were "part of a massive jihadi network." Montgomery, known to his critics as TLG or "The Little General," dodged the issue, stating that he was "not going to draw any conclusions based on what Mr. Guandolo puts in a blog." He maintained that Guandolo's training had been "good" for law enforcement. 

(Interestingly, Montgomery's fellow Republican, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, later hired Mia Garcia to serve as his communications director.)

Montgomery was not the only person in his organization who embraced Guandolo's teachings. Guandolo's payment was okayed by Montgomery's chief deputy, Mark Faull. And law-enforcement liaison Manning was an enthusiastic supporter of Guandolo and his team. Manning, Montgomery's third in command, largely organized the event, and e-mails to and from Guandolo and his associates show that Manning was guilelessly chummy with the Islamophobes, even sharing information with them.

About a week before the conference, Manning forwarded an email to Guandolo that contained the text of a mass e-mail circulated among local Muslim leaders, discussing an upcoming meeting at which Montgomery wanted to explain why he'd invited Guandolo to town. 

In another e-mail to Guandolo, Manning sent a list of local Muslim leaders' names, saying Montgomery would be "conducting an outreach" to them soon and asking, "I would be curious if you have any acquaintance with any of these leaders." Guandolo replied that he only recognized one name on the list, but that the "position and entities of the others" made it "highly likely that they are at a minimum supportive of jihad."

Additionally, Manning was cc'd on a strange discussion among anti-Muslim activists in which they poked fun at a YouTube video that purportedly shows an imam in Gaza holding up an assault rifle during a sermon.

"Imagine your priest, pastor, or rabbi delivering a sermon like THIS," one wag wrote.

"He's just calling them to prayer — or else!" another opined.

Guandolo chimed in, admitting, "I don't speak Arabic," but theorizing that the imam is telling his audience that "the weapon [is] bad and they should avoid them."

Guandolo adds that he wants to send everyone in the group a "Saint George icon" and asks who has not yet received one.

Manning answers back just to Guandolo, writing, "John: Please bring one with you! Keith."

Finally,  in another e-mail, Manning proposes, as a joke, his own faux presentation for one of Guandolo's seminars: "From Iran with Love: Islamic Ideology and the US Embassy Takeover," which he describes as "an exploration of the similarities between Shia and Sunni Muslim jihadists." If that's not to Guandolo's liking, Manning writes in closing, "I will analyze the last 12 Army/Navy defeats and blame them on Jihadi Subversion."

Montgomery's standard move in the face of criticism is to double down on his position. Perhaps that's a result of being a GOPer in a county where Rs hold a registration advantage over Democrats. In 2012, Dems didn't even bother to field an opponent to Montgomery in the general election.

This year is different. Montgomery will face a general-election challenge from Democrat Diego Rodriguez, a former prosecutor with the Pima County Attorney's Office who has his own practice in Phoenix. 

Rodriguez is hoping that a bad year for Republicans nationally may turn into a good year down-ticket for him, as Dems and Latinos flock to the polls to vote against presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and the party he represents. Asked if he thought the Guandolo seminar was $40,000 well spent, Rodriguez replied in the negative.

Training law enforcement is a "legitimate use" of RICO funds, Rodriguez observed. "[But] if you're inviting politically charged speakers who are espousing ideology, versus giving real-world, practical knowledge, information, and training to the officers, then you got to use your common sense and keep the resources where they'll be best spent."

He added that public money such as RICO funds should be used to "support law enforcement, train law enforcement, not indoctrinate them."
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons