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The ATF Agent Who Put the Mahon Brothers in the Hoosegow; Plus, Why the MCSO Has Something Else to Worry About

ATF Special Agent Tristan Moreland
Courtesy of the ADL

INVESTIGATING JOE

A delicious moment occurred during a recent Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting, one discussing the board's findings that the MCSO has kept a second set of books on the estimated $80 million the MCSO's misspent in jail-enhancement funds.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's interim chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, sat across from Supervisors Chairman Don Stapley. It's Sheridan who's taken over from Arpaio's top henchman, David Hendershott, while Hendershott's getting "investigated" by Arpaio's pal, Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu.

Stapley and the board demanded access to all the MCSO's records, as some of them are held in a computerized account called "Zone 2," from which the board is currently blocked.

Sheridan assured Stapley that the MCSO was doing everything in its power to cooperate with the Supes, "even though we are being threatened with [criminal prosecution]."

Without a blink, Stapley shot back, "I understand how that feels."

It was a rich riposte for Stapley, arrested twice on a trumped-up, multi-count indictments concocted by Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas as political payback. The charges were dropped, of course, but only after Stapley had to make two perp-walks.

As Sheridan suggested in the BOS meeting, all the MCSO's top brass must worry about indictments over this latest fiasco, in which money approved by county voters for a jails fund was misappropriated over a span of several years to pay for unrelated MCSO expenses — everything from yearly salaries to the sheriff's controversial immigration sweeps.

In a letter dated October 6 to Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, County Manager David Smith outlined a number of felonies under state law that MCSO staff may have committed as a result — everything from outright theft and destroying documents to forgery and running fraudulent schemes.

And now the U.S. Attorney's Office will have the power to investigate and prosecute the MCSO's state crimes, as well as federal ones. That's because, during the same BOS meeting, the Supes unanimously voted to deputize six assistant U.S. Attorneys from Burke's office as Special Deputy County Attorneys.

The idea was interim County Attorney Rick Romley's and came out of his discussions with Burke on the matter. The Supervisors rubber-stamped his decision with their vote.

In addition to the allegations spelled out in Smith's October letter, these six federal prosecutors will also be able to sniff out "any state-related charges that may arise in connection with the current federal investigation." This, according to the board's agenda item for the action.

I'm told that the six feds — some of whom are former deputy county attorneys — already have worked on the grand jury investigation of the MCSO. The evidence they glean from a probe into state lawbreaking by the MCSO can be used in the federal grand jury.

That there are a half-dozen of them shows the seriousness of the U.S. Attorney's probe, and Burke's office's clear intent to secure indictments.

The six include: Rachel Hernandez, executive U.S. Attorney; Patrick Cunningham, Burke's "criminal chief"; and John Lopez, chief of the financial crimes and public-integrity section.

In other words, this is serious.

Burke's office is targeting the MCSO in a high-profile way. And, recently, Burke has been more outspoken concerning the MCSO's nefarious deeds.

In an October 22 letter to Romley, Burke stated there was a "total lack of evidence" to back up the bogus RICO suit that Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas, ginned up against the county.

And in an October 5 letter to county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Burke confirmed that allegations of wrongdoing in a leaked memo by MCSO Deputy Chief Frank Munnell were getting "fully investigated" by his office and the FBI.

When Burke was sworn in last year, I wondered openly whether he had the stones to be this state's Eliot Ness when it comes to cracking down on MCSO mob boss Joe Arpaio.

My doubts are somewhat allayed by this latest move. But there's still one concern — Romley will be exiting the County Attorney's Office on November 22, after the recent election results are certified by the board.

Could newcomer Bill Montgomery, the guy Arpaio helped get past Romley in the GOP primary with hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative TV ads and mailers targeting Romley, undo the cross-deputizing of these assistant U.S. Attorneys?

Romley told me that he doesn't think so, that in making Burke's law dogs deputy county prosecutors, he's conflicting out the investigation into the misspending of jail funds. The conflict exists because the County Attorney's Office advised county agencies following the jail fund's approval by the voters.

"Once you conflict it off, it's done. You're over," Romley said, meaning that if the County Attorney's Office declares a conflict of interest, it can't come back later and rescind the original decision.

Romley also stated that the deputizing of federal prosecutors will last as long as their investigation into the allegations. There's no time limit to their appointments as deputy county attorneys.

 

But just because you're not supposed to do something doesn't mean that Arpaio's boy, Montgomery, won't try. If he does, he'll remove all doubt that he's the sheriff's shill, which he's been swearing high and low he's not.

Actually, Romley's move may be a blessing to Montgomery, giving him some shelter from demands Arpaio may have regarding the inquiry into MCSO malfeasance.

Hell, Montgomery may even want Arpaio indicted by the feds. Because if he is, Montgomery will never have to worry about paying Joe back for the favors Montgomery's received.

WAR ON W.A.R.

If you Google the name Tristan Moreland, the first thing that comes up is a death threat.

"Tristan Moreland needs killing," reads an obscure entry by "professor rat" on an online e-mail archive. Professor rat doesn't really explain himself beyond this header. But then, the online vermin doesn't really need to.

The name of Special Agent Moreland, a 21-year veteran of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is known to an assortment of Second Amendment fanatics, illicit traders in firearms, and white supremacists. Moreland's busted many of them over the years, and though he has a wife and two kids, he acknowledges that such threats come with the territory.

"It worries you, honestly," he says. "I'm a human being. But it's not something you don't expect anytime you're in a profession that, by its nature, is going to make certain people unhappy."

On November 4, Moreland, 47, will be honored by the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona with its George Weisz-ADL Law Enforcement Award, during the group's big event of the season, its Torch of Liberty Award Dinner. Past recipients include Phoenix Police Department Lieutenant Heston Silbert, who created the PPD's elite, neo-Nazi-busting Career Criminal Squad.

Moreland's law enforcement career has included participating in the investigations of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine massacre, and the 1996 Olympic Park bombing.

He was instrumental in reviving the 2003 cold-case murder of Mesa resident Angela Pinkerton. Though Pinkerton's body — believed to be buried in a massive landfill in Mobile, Arizona — was never recovered, Moreland helped put together the case that sent Pinkerton's killers away for a long, long time.

But the ADL isn't honoring Moreland for the breadth of his career, collaring a diverse panoply of perps — from Mexican mafia types looking to buy hand grenades to domestic terrorists cooking up biological weapons in their kitchens. Rather, they're honoring him for putting twin white supremacists Dennis and Daniel Mahon in stir.

The Mahon brothers are awaiting trial in federal court on charges related to a 2004 bombing that targeted Don Logan, then-director of Scottsdale's Office of Diversity and Dialogue. Logan, an African-American, was severely wounded in the blast that also injured two of his co-workers.

The Mahons' indictment states that the object of the brothers' conspiracy was to "promote racial discord on behalf of the White Aryan Resistance." Now referred to online as "The Insurgent," W.A.R. is a white-supremacist association headed by far-right racist godfather Tom Metzger.

Metzger and Dennis Mahon, a former imperial dragon of the Oklahoma White Knights of Ku Klux Klan, have advocated a "lone wolf" model of leaderless white nationalism, in which small cells or individuals operate secretly, thus leaving fewer clues and witnesses for the authorities and fewer chances for undercover agents to get close to them.

However, Moreland successfully did just that. He used a "cooperating individual," in this case a trailer park femme fatale, of sorts, to snuggle up to the Mahons. Apparently, no hanky-panky occurred, but it was enough to get the middle-aged Mahons to (allegedly) spill their guts to the CI.

Moreland, too, gained entrée to the Mahons' inner circle, so much so that Dennis Mahon made incriminating statements to him, according to court records, and even gave Moreland a tour of the Mahon family residence in Illinois, pointing out a structure, and telling Moreland, "This is where I make my bombs."

Later, when the Mahons were arrested, Moreland spoke to both men separately, with Dennis Mahon telling him, "You know, I think I've seen you before."

Dennis Mahon said he suspected Moreland might be a government agent, but apparently not enough to ward off association with him while the agent was undercover.

Speaking generally, Moreland tells me that such undercover work involves getting used to the racial epithets common to white supremacists and acting as if insane conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism are perfectly normal.

"You've got to get comfortable talking like that," he says. "You can't just say it, and choke on it. You've got to say it with some conviction, and that takes a little time."

 

I wondered whether Moreland was concerned with his face going public, since Dennis Mahon suggested that Moreland didn't disguise himself. Also, the award from the ADL will up his visibility.

He replied that he's been interviewed on TV and has had his photo in a newspaper, and that such exposure doesn't much affect his ability to go undercover.

"Fortunately, people's memories are very short when it comes to images like that," he says. "I'm going to know certain arenas where I'm not going to work undercover anymore. Will I still work undercover? Sure. But I'll probably work outside of the white-supremacy world for a while, or certainly outside this little group."

The case is not over. Aspects of it are still under investigation, and, with time, it may end up being the French Connection of white-supremacist collars. The case has so far spanned nearly seven years, involved hundreds of ATF agents and other law enforcement, and involved work in a dozen states.

Tom Metzger's home in Warsaw, Indiana, was raided the same day the Mahons were taken into custody, and though Metzger's not been charged with any crime as a result, the link between him and the Mahons is tantalizing.

Robert Joos, an anti-Semitic religious nut was arrested and indicted in 2009 as part of Moreland's investigation. Joos — whose name is pronounced "Joes," not "Jews," as the spelling might ironically suggest — was one of the first people the Mahons allegedly called after the Logan bombing went down.

The Mahons are said to have used his sprawling 200-acre Missouri compound to do military-style training. When the ATF swooped down on it, they found it honeycombed with caves stockpiled with weapons, ammo, and explosives. This year he was convicted as a prohibited possessor and caught a 6 1/2-year sentence.

Court records also show that the Mahons were allegedly receiving financial support from a wealthy Michigan man, who's heir to old money. This individual has not been charged with anything, but the possibility that the Mahons may have had a sugar daddy is intriguing and probably will be explored further during the trial.

Finally, in an odd twist, it may have been the 2004 New Times cover story "Barbecue Nations" that served as a twisted motivation for the bombing. The feature, by former New Times scribes Susy Buchanan and David Holthouse, described a neo-Nazi "AryanFest" shindig just north of Fountain Hills, where both Tom Metzger and Dennis Mahon were present.

Though Moreland could not comment on this theory because the Mahon trial is pending, it's one he suggested to Dennis Mahon upon his arrest, according to a transcript of their recorded conversation. There, Moreland mentions the "Aryan Fest article, which is, I know, what kind of kicked this whole thing off."

That article portrayed Dennis Mahon as a drunken blowhard and described the event as one where "shaved-headed men hugged each other like they were at a gay pride picnic."

Logan apparently already was known to the Mahons, who were living in Arizona at the time. The brothers' indictment states that Daniel Mahon called Logan's office in 2003, with the anonymous message, "The White Aryan Resistance is growing in Scottsdale. There's a few white people who are standing up."

The New Times article infuriated the white-power movement. Could it be that its unflattering depictions of Mahon and the rest called them out, demanding a response that may have come in the form of the Logan bombing days later? Was this the Mahons' way of proving their machismo to the world and striking back against what white supremacists call the Zionist Occupation Government?

Perhaps only time, and the Mahons' trial — expected to begin sometime in 2011 — will tell.


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