Sheriff Joe Arpaio Admits He Busted Mexicans to "Spite" Critics in 2009 Recording; Evidence Shows He Also Did It for Publicity, Not Legit Enforcement
Sheriff Joe Arpaio stands next to his ally, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, during a news conference in 2009 announcing "corruption" in Maricopa County. In a new recording, Arpaio claims he busted Mexicans to "spite" his critics.
Image: Ray Stern
News media across the country lit up over the weekend with anti-Sheriff Joe Arpaio stories after a recording surfaced in which Arpaio admits he busted Mexicans to "spite" critics.
Bigots at the Texans For Immigration Reform fundraising rally in September of 2009 laughed as the Maricopa County sheriff described the illegitimate reason for targeting Hispanics in illegal-immigrant roundups.
After critics including local politicians and officials with the U.S. Justice Department "went after me, we arrested 500 more just for spite," said Arpaio. A couple of days ago, he clarified for the Associated Press that he only regretted not mentioning that he had busted "thousands," and not just 500.
Arpaio has been accused of leading the worst case of racial profiling in a law enforcement agency in U.S. history. The Justice Department, which announced the damning findings against the Sheriff's Office in December, appears ready to sue Arpaio for failing to cooperate in settling the matter.
No local observers should be surprised to hear Arpaio mock his accusers. Arizonans have long been aware that Arpaio's anti-illegal-immigrant crusade has been conducted mainly to pump up his political mojo among right-wingers.
As we noted last week, one of Arpaio's top men, Deputy Chief Frank Munnell, and Arpaio's longtime spokeswoman, Lisa Allen, seem to agree in a secretly made recording that the immigrant round-ups are done for publicity.
Another great example of Arpaio's ulterior motives can be found in the lengthy investigation into whistle-blower Munnell's allegations.
In late 2010, Deputy Chief Brian Sands described to investigators how Arpaio -- by way of his former chief deputy, David Hendershott -- planned a mass roundup of Mexicans as a way to grab headlines.
Sands recounts how as the agency prepared in October of 2008 to conduct a crime sweep in the northwest Valley, Hendershott told one of Sands' lieutenants that "he wanted him to go out and round up as many illegal aliens as he could arrest."
Hendershott was Arpaio's most-trusted go-to guy, so it can be assumed that he was only following the sheriff's orders.
Sands "cautioned" Hendershott that such a large-scale roundup would cause friction with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.
Hendershott was mainly concerned "that he wanted to see something that would, you know, be very newsworthy out there," according to Sands.
In the recording from Texas, Arpaio can also be heard linking his office's budget battles with the County Board of Supervisors to the bogus corruption charges with which he saddled the Board members.
"The county has cut my budget $35 million just for spite. But I'm still locking them all up," Arpaio told the Texans.
In reality, the Supervisors were slashing the budgets of every county agency because of money problems after the Great Recession.
The secret recording of the 2009 staff meeting we wrote about last week also has Arpaio confessing his battles with the Board stemmed from budget negotiations.
As Arpaio tried to strong-arm the Board into giving his office more money than it deserved, (especially considering he was simultaneously -- and unlawfully -- raiding $100 million from a jail-tax fund), the sheriff launched a federal racketeering lawsuit against political enemies that included all five members of the Board. Arpaio stood by the side of now-disbarred former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and claimed he had never before seen such "corruption" in local politics.
The RICO suit, which was later dropped by Thomas and Arpaio because it was embarrassingly devoid of substance. For example, it specifically named Board members Max Wilson and Fulton Brock as part of the conspiracy, but made no specific allegations against them. Arpaio apparently assumed they were guilty by association.
The state Supreme Court's Disciplinary Panel, in disbarring Thomas and his acolyte, Lisa Aubuchon, wrote that Thomas and Arpaio appeared to have an "unholy collaboration" as they illegally targeted enemies with false charges.
Wilson told New Times last week that whether Arpaio should be held accountable for his actions is best left up to voters.
The 79-year-old sheriff is hoping to be elected to a sixth term this November.
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.