Sheriff Joe Arpaio and His Fiesta Bowl Freebie

As Arpaio proves, it pays to be the sheriff . . .
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There's one thing Sheriff Joe Arpaio never lacks for: money.

Certainly in the political realm, the sheriff is well heeled. His last campaign-finance report, filed in 2010, showed he had a cool $2.8 million in cash on hand.

He probably has a lot more than that now, because Joe's camp forever is sending out hysterical appeals for donations with spurious claims, such as one I noted in a recent Feathered Bastard blog item and on our print-edition feedback page this week ("Joe Signs Crazy Rant"): It claims the sheriff is getting recalled and needs the dough to fight off the effort.

If you haven't heard about that recall effort, there's a good reason. It doesn't exist. But fools and their funds are easily parted by political fiction.

Along these lines, the sheriff's campaign solicitations are equivalent to those Nigerian e-mail scams that pop up regularly in your in-box. Which is to say, they work. Arpaio doesn't have to file another finance report until January 2012. No doubt the total at that time will cause pupils to pop.

Personally, Arpaio's done pretty well for a public servant, amassing a tidy sum of holdings, according to what can be gleaned from public records.

Recently, Arpaio and his wife, Ava, transferred the titles of various properties they own into Ava Investments LLC — the LLC meaning "limited liability company," which, as it sounds, limits their liability should they be sued.

Why is this a concern for Arpaio? After all, we, the taxpayers, shell out through the nostrils every time there's a settlement or award to the many claims drawn by the "most sued sheriff in the country."

Over the years, lawsuits resulting from Arpaio's malfeasance have cost Maricopa County close to $50 million.

By the end of the near-octogenarian's tenure — whenever that'll be — the number will be much higher, particularly after all the suits resulting from his and ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas' war on other government officials are settled.

Maybe moving his properties into an LLC is just good business. Or maybe Arpaio's preparing for the day when he'll no longer be a public figure and faces the outside chance of being dinged as a private citizen.

Arpaio and his wife formed the LLC in December 2010, according to records on file with the Arizona Corporation Commission. A review of the 10 properties in that LLC shows that Arpaio and his wife are millionaires.

Including his home in the wealthy, nearly all-white enclave of Fountain Hills, Arpaio's real estate holdings are valued at about $2 million by the county assessor. As former New Times reporter John Dougherty first noted, a good portion of these holdings were paid for in cash — $790,000 plunked down between 1994 and 2005 ("Histrionics Lesson," August 11, 2005).

Where Arpaio obtained this cash always has been a mystery, as Joe won't answer questions about it. In 2007, at a roast of Arpaio held in Sun City, I chatted with him and Ava before the event and asked Ava where the two of them scored so much liquidity with which to purchase the parcels in question.

"We've been very lucky over the years," is all Ava would say.

Arpaio does list the properties (other than his abode) on his 2010 financial-disclosure form. And he lists Ava's Starworld Travel Agency as an asset worth anywhere between $25,000 and $100,000. The form also shows that he and Ava are debt-free.

The county tells me that Arpaio's salary is $100,824. It used to be reported that he got another $65,000 a year in pension money from his time at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. I'm not clear on whether he still receives the pension, as he used to note it on his financial disclosures, but for 2010, it isn't mentioned.

The sheriff, as we all know, is a celebrity and flies all over the country regularly, speaking to groups, appearing on such TV shows as The Colbert Report, and shilling for political candidates.

Precious little of this has been reported over the years in his financial-disclosure forms. At least three times, he's listed "gifts" of more than $500 in value from the Knife and Fork Club, a social group that exists in various cities and books speakers to hold forth before members.

Which Knife and Fork Clubs and what these "gifts" entailed are not mentioned.

The American Management Association also gifted Arpaio a couple of times. I'm still waiting to hear from Allen on the specs of the AMA and Knife and Fork Club handouts.

There is one curious entry for 2005, a "planning trip" to Beverly Hills, paid for by the Arizona Sports Foundation, a.k.a. the Fiesta Bowl. The entry shows both Joe and Ava as "recipients," meaning they traveled together on the Fiesta Bowl's dime.

For weeks, I've been pestering the Fiesta Bowl for details of this trip, but Fiesta Bowl spokeswoman Kristen Pflipsen had not dug up anything by press time.

However, surprisingly, top MCSO flack Lisa Allen got back to me with the following statement:

"Sheriff Arpaio and his wife traveled to Burbank on Friday, Sept 16, 2005, as guests of the Fiesta Bowl Committee. The Sheriff toured Fox Sports studios that Friday evening as a possible interview guest but does not recall if he was, in fact, interviewed.

"He and his wife stayed two nights at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel. They did not attend any football-related events during their brief stay. They returned home Sunday, September 18, on a 9:35 a.m. America West flight. No taxpayer dollars were expended and the trip was properly recorded on Sheriff Arpaio's financial disclosures for 2005."

Allen also addressed why Arpaio declines to report his out-of-state forays.

"Sheriff Arpaio does make an occasional out-of-town trip for purposes of media appearances and speaking engagements," she wrote to me via e-mail. "He travels alone. The trips are paid for by the invitee and not by the county taxpayer. These overnight trips fall under the reporting threshold of $500 per."

Who knew air travel and hotel accommodations could come so cheap? Maybe Joe's been slumming it at Motel 6's over the years.

To my knowledge, this is the first time Arpaio's name has surfaced among the politicos who've scored Fiesta Bowl freebies. Indeed, Arpaio is not mentioned in the report on the scandal released by the Fiesta Bowl.

However, MCSO Lieutenant Aaron Brown's name figures prominently. Brown's Blue Steel Consulting provided security services to the Fiesta Bowl and scored about $500,000 in fees from the bowl for 2009-10.

The report notes that Brown attended a, um, business meeting at Phoenix's Bourbon Street strip club with former Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker and another bowl bigwig. That night, Junker dropped more than $1,200 on food, drink, and dances by strippers.

In an interview with Fiesta Bowl investigators, Brown took the spear for the Bourbon Street outing, telling them he had "pushed" Junker to go.

Brown still is employed by the MCSO, though the Fiesta Bowl since has dispensed with Blue Steel's services. Brown is the subject of a resulting internal investigation by the MCSO, which Allen says is ongoing.

Back to Arpaio's Fiesta Bowl trip. As with all such junkets enjoyed by Arizona politicians, their necessity seems non-existent.

After all, how many male politicians are so ignorant about football that they have to be schooled in it?

And there's no way Arpaio can say he couldn't afford to stay at the Regent Beverly Wilshire with his wife.

The guy's loaded. And that's counting only the money we know about.

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