Sidebar: In Book, Ex-Arpaio Aide Sticks to Weak Story on Campaign-Conspiracy Allegations
New Times photo illustration
Roughly simultaneous to his feud with the county, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had been fighting one of the biggest scandals of his time in office - the so-called SCA campaign-finance debacle.
The scandal involved a secret organization, sometimes known as the Sheriff's Command Association, and corresponding slush fund. Retired Executive Chief Brian Sands, whose new book about his 30 years in the Sheriff's Office is detailed in this week's New Times, donated to the fund with automatic payroll deductions. So did former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Deputy Chiefs Scott Freeman, Frank Munnell and Jesse Locksa, plus another man in Arpaio's inner circle, Larry Black a former deputy chief rehired as a civilian, and Black's buddy and assistant, Captain Joel Fox.
Steve Ellman, a local developer who was friends with Sands and Black, and several other millionaires dumped $105,000 into the fund.
In clandestine meetings with a Republican Party consultant, Black and Fox -- with Hendershott on at least one occasion -- handed over two checks totaling $105,000 as donations to the state GOP.
The bulk of the cash was used to create and air a smear ad against the sheriff's 2008 opponent, Democrat Dan Saban. Fox fought a complaint brought by the Democratic party over the anonymous donation, made under the mysterious initials "SCA," and divulged the names of the members after threats of a $315,000 fine. After state GOP officials were forced to return the mystery donation, which had been made under the initials "SCA," they hit up donors including Ellman to repay the spent funds.
Randy Pullen, then-chairman of the party, claims -- incredibly -- he had no idea who "Mister Fox" was until after the ad ran. Fox, meanwhile, had a special reason to protect the identity of one of the donors -- in emails discovered in the state investigation, Fox repeatedly expressed his deep "love" for Black.
Hendershott was later shown to be the mastermind in both the SCA scheme as well as the corrupt anti-corruption task force that ended up costing the county millions in lawsuit settlements. A state investigator concluded that the likely crimes of various SCA participants included illegal earmarking of campaign funds, using corporate money to make prohibited donations, fraud, illegal control of an enterprise and obstruction of justice. The state investigation never produced any indictments related to the SCA, though; neither did a federal probe of the SCA and other MCSO-related matters result in a prosecution, even though the FBI reportedly suggested that charges should be brought against unspecified MCSO officials.
Not long before Munnell wrote his famous memo that ultimately resulted in the firings of Hendershott and Black, Sheridan -- Arpaio's current chief deputy -- told Sands that he, Munnell, Freeman and Deputy Chief Bill Knight were going to formally complain about Hendershott and wanted to know what Sands thought -- this is according to Sands' self-published book. Sands writes that he wasn't interested, telling Sheridan "I was involved in none of those controversies."
Image: Evie Carpenter
While that may be true of the bogus anti-corruption probes, it's not true of the SCA. Records later showed that Sands contributed about $100 a month to the secret fund, for a total of $2,000.
Sands has never varied from his story about how he came to contribute the money, either in his book and interviews or to state and police investigators.
Sands claims that he, Hendershott and other commanders in 2008 discussed forming a "union" just for themselves. Sands told the group he'd get them the number for a guy he knew at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office who was part of a similar commander's union, so they could have ideas on how to structure the organization. But a few weeks later, when he approached Larry Black with his contact's number, Black didn't want it and told him the union had already been set up.
Sands, who claims nobody ever actually asked him to contribute, then coordinated the automatic payroll deduction with Black.
"You know, I didn't ask a lot of questions" about the alleged union, Sands said in 2010 under questioning by investigators with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, who were probing the allegations of wrongdoing exposed by whistle-blower Frank Munnell. "I was just running on a theory of what was said in a group of people."
Sheridan, who didn't contribute, Freeman and Munnell had different versions of what Hendershott had said about the formation of the SCA, the Pinal County probe found.
They thought - correctly - it was an attempt by Hendershott to help Arpaio's 2008 re-election campaign, especially since Hendershott was Arpaio's chief campaign fundraiser. Witnesses including the MCSO's head of internal affairs later recounted that it was common knowledge on the 19th floor that Black had worked on the footage used in the ad, and that the SCA money had paid for spot.
Sands claims he was ignorant of any malarkey related to the SCA until the scandal exploded in the media. But even after that occurred, Sands blew an opportunity to raise the alarm himself, before Munnell did.
Prior to Fox divulging the SCA members' name, Lisa Allen told the public that the Sheriff's Office had nothing to do with the SCA. Sands, a contributor to the fund, would have known that was a lie. Then in mid-2009, the home of Captain Fox, who was under Sands' chain of command, was raided by state police.
The following year, state investigator Mike Edwards asked Sands if he'd considered opening an internal investigation on Captain Fox, especially after the raid, when he knew Fox had potentially been involved in criminal behavior related to the fund to which Sands' himself had contributed.
Sands told Edwards that Hendershott normally makes decisions about who to investigate internally, and Hendershott was "aware" of the problem with Fox.
This explanation is far from perfecct, though. Sands, like anyone else who knew something about the SCA scandal, knew that Hendershott wasn't just aware of the potential crimes -- the chief deputy had been implicated in them.
"I asked if he was concerned that somebody under his command was the target of a criminal investigation, and Brian Sands said it did concern him," Edwards wrote in his 2010 report. "He did not express his concern to Chief Hendershott or Sheriff Arpaio. They already had knowledge so it was their decision as to what to do."
Arpaio later testified on the question during Joel Fox's appeal of his firing. Asked by lawyer Clarisse McCormick why he didn't confront Hendershott or Black after he learned they were involved with the SCA.
"I was letting nature take its course and see what happen," Arpaio answered.
Sands, following the lead of Arpaio, pretended as if Hendershott, Black and Fox, who all worked together at the time on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown Phoenix, were not being investigated for an alleged criminal conspiracy to bend campaign laws for the benefit of Arpaio's 2008 campaign.
There must have been a good reason for their silence.
What happened next, of course, was that Munnell penned his memo, the subsequent investigation revealed wrongdoing, and Hendershott, Black and Fox were ousted.
Arpaio, with Sands' help in 2012, was re-elected.
Jerry Sheridan, Frank Munnell and Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.