Five little words just might prove to be the downfall of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's command staff — and the Arizona Republican Party.
"Vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio."
That inscription appears on the memo line of a $25,000 check, written by an Alaskan investment company in December 2007. That check, made out to the "Command Officers Association," ended up in the shadowy SCA account started by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's command staff, and, eventually, in the coffers of the Arizona GOP.
Sheriff's Command Association
For months now, party officials insisted it was pure coincidence that, just after they received a six-figure check from the mysterious SCA account, they funded an incredibly nasty attack ad aimed at Arpaio's opponent. And the sheriff's command staff, which raised the money, was equally wide-eyed. Oh, no, they said. The money donated by the sheriff's men was not earmarked for the sheriff.
There's a reason they said that. If the state party let the sheriff's men launder money through it, that would be totally illegal.
After all, there's a strict limit to what an individual can give a political campaign: $390. If the sheriff's wealthy friends got around that by giving tens of thousands each to a secret fund, and the state Republican Party accepted the money with the understanding that it would end up going to the sheriff anyway, they are all in huge trouble.
We knew this SCA scandal is ugly. As I reported last month ("The Ventriloquist's Dummies," July 23), nine months after county officials insisted that the fund's contact person list his donors, Captain Joel Fox finally did so in July. At that point, in July, we learned that Arpaio's top command staff, including Chief Deputy David Hendershott, had made direct payroll deposits into the fund. We also learned that Arpaio's friend Steve Ellman had donated $25,000, as had half a dozen other wealthy businessmen.
But we didn't know the whole story until this past Monday.
On Monday, county officials finally received copies of the actual checks written to the SCA account. And those copies make it clear just why the sheriff's commanders spent nine months resisting entreaties to turn them over.
The checks themselves strongly suggest that the money was earmarked for Arpaio from the beginning. The "memo" from the Alaskan donation is proof that donors knew exactly where their money was going.
The photocopied checks also point to a second potential illegality: Donations to the SCA included checks from limited liability companies. That's strictly forbidden by state law.
As the record now shows, two out-of-state companies donated to the fund:
• The SCA accepted $25,000 from WTG Investments in Anchorage — not a man in Anchorage named Tom Gimple, as Sheriff's Captain Fox had claimed.
• The SCA also accepted $10,000 from Liautaud Development Group, LLC, not an individual named James Liautaud, as Fox claimed.
There are other weird discrepancies. In every case, Fox misstated the dates he received donations. (Once, he was off by as much as nine months.) And he overstated the totals given by two donors — perhaps to conceal the fact that he'd omitted one donor entirely. Nicholas Fergis, a man with extensive local investments, apparently made a $10,000 wire transfer to the SCA fund in January 2008, yet Fox's previous filing with the county never mentioned him.
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This story has been curious from the beginning, and it's getting curiouser. I can only hope that some law enforcement agency is taking this seriously.
They need to be questioning Joel Fox about why he faked information in his initial filing two weeks ago. They need to be questioning Sheriff Joe Arpaio about what he knew and when he knew it.
And, most importantly, they need to ask Randy Pullen, chairman of the Republican Party, about how $105,000 in donations apparently meant for Joe Arpaio ended up going to — surprise! — an ad that benefited Joe Arpaio.
I don't think anyone can explain this one away now. But boy, would I love to see them try.