The Feds Have Been Investigating Arpaio Since 2008, So Where the Hell are the Indictments?

Can you find Sheriff Joe behind this pot plant? Dennis Burke can't.
New Times Photo Illustration

President Barack Obama fancies himself Samuel L. Jackson in the remake of Shaft these days, following his order to have the Navy SEALs take out 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Though he gets some kudos for the kill, bin Laden is not the man Obama's most afraid to go after. That distinction goes to none other than our own Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Reportedly, the CIA learned of the al-Qaeda leader's Pakistan digs in August 2010. It took the administration about 10 months to put a plan into action to off the porn-lovin' Islamo-fascist.

Yet, here in Sand Land, the FBI has been investigating Arpaio and his department on criminal abuse-of-power allegations and other matters since late 2008.

Indeed, in December 2008, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers jump-started a federal grand jury inquiry into the matter.

So for more than two years and counting, the feds have supposedly been all over Arpaio.

Still, no indictments.

This, despite evidence of Arpaio and his henchpeople's misdeeds steadily flooding into the public realm, via public documents, news reports, and the words of Arpaio's top lackeys, both former and current.

Arpaio's retired bookkeeper (read: "Chief Financial Officer") Loretta Barkell recently rolled on Arpaio, telling Channel 12's Joe Dana that her jefe knew all.

Barkell, who's testified before the grand jury and gabbed to the feds ad nauseam, finally decided to go public after Arpaio blamed the nearly $100 million he pilfered from protected funds on accounting errors and computer glitches.

The erstwhile bean counter, who pulled in a salary of $142,000, said she brought up the draining of taxpayer funds to Arpaio and his now-fired Chief Deputy David Hendershott over and over again.

"Prior to last summer, they had been told every single year for the last 10 years," Barkell squealed to Dana.

Though she claimed she had no options other than to tell Arpaio about the siphoning (ditto on Hendershott's intimidation and abuse of fellow MCSO employees), Barkell's testimony is self-serving.

She could have informed the feds, the media, or she could have found a job somewhere else, though it's unlikely she would have scored one paying as much money per annum.

Additionally, she could have wagged her tongue to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, with which she worked on budget agreements.

True, in years past, all but Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox kowtowed to Joe. But that worm turned once Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas went to war with the Supes, ginning up criminal charges against some members and hitting the board with a laughable RICO suit, all of which since has been tossed.

Barkell's excuses aside, her testimony leads right to Arpaio's office. It shouldn't take a genius prosecutor to utilize her skillfully during a trial.

I should also point out that she maintains that Arpaio's entire command staff knew about the swindle that resulted in the mega-millions gone missing.

My colleague Ray Stern has been burrowing into the massive report from Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's office on the infamous memo leaked to the media last year, authored by MCSO deputy chief Frank Munnell.

Munnell's memo painted a picture of an out-of-the-loop sheriff undermined by three nefarious underlings: Hendershott, Deputy Chief Larry Black, and the man who "loves" Black so deeply, Captain Joel Fox ("Love Connection," April 14).

Adhering to Munnell's narrative, Babeu eventually advised Arpaio to fire the three henchmen, which Joe finally did. After his report was complete, Babeu declared Arpaio as stainless as a freshly bleached serviette.

Arpaio was "deceived," according Babeu, led down the primrose path by that horrid ogre Hendershott.

Thing is, Babeu's own investigation, which he farmed out to a private detective because his staff couldn't handle it, doesn't back up this line of bull.

Stern has pulled back the MCSO flagstone in various blog posts on the thousands of pages he's been reading. Beneath is a sickening, undulating mass of creepy crawlies operating without public scrutiny, at least 'til now.

For instance, in one Stern item, we find out that Hendershott and his aggro pet, Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla, threatened Arizona Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez with arrest and the loss of her kid to Child Protective Services for her reporting on the MCSO.

Ex-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes Steve Ellman is shown to be connected to numerous aspects of the growing scandal, in addition to his donation to the Sheriff's Command Association, the group, headed by Fox, that illegally funneled money to the state Republican Party to pay for a nasty campaign ad targeting Arpaio nemesis and former candidate for sheriff Dan Saban.

In another incident, Black practically bribes an MCSO lieutenant with season tickets to Coyotes games to drop an assault charge on former Coyote Brad May, who allegedly had punched the lieutenant during a 2002 fracas at a Scottsdale nightclub. The lieutenant, to his credit, turned down the offer.


And in the most intriguing blog post to date, Stern discusses an interview investigators did with Chagolla, in which the sheriff's stooge mentions regular, private meetings between Arpaio and Hendershott, where Chagolla would occasionally be ordered in, asked some questions, then dismissed.

Chagolla stated that these Hendy-Arpaio tête-à-têtes "occurred on a regular basis and frequently occurred after everybody left the building."

Chagolla added, "So as to whether he's left out of the loop or not, you know, I find that hard to believe."

Damn sure is. Particularly for anyone who's been reading New Times since the sheriff took office 18 years ago.

Arpaio's penchant for retribution, his malfeasance concerning money, the corruption, and the criminal cruelty of his jails all predate more recent scandals.

We need only recall the 2007 arrests of Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin. The perennial flaps over pink-underwear sales. The cover-ups involved in the death of inmate Scott Norberg. On and on.

Arpaio's onetime right-hand man, Tom Bearup, insisted in an interview with me last year: "Joe knows everything that's going on."

Bearup said he witnessed many of Arpaio's misdeeds, that the sheriff told him to lie under oath, that Arpaio knew about misappropriated pink-underwear funds, and that the sheriff was a micromanager when it came to getting revenge.

There's hard evidence of the last accusation.

In a 2009 cover story, Lacey called out President Obama for not having the stones to go after Arpaio. The piece described a 2000 recording of the sheriff talking to Deputy Chief Brian Sands as Sands went to serve legal paperwork on Bearup.

It was something a mere foot soldier could have accomplished, but Arpaio dispatched one of his top goons, and he called up Sands afterward to delight over every detail.

There are so many examples of Arpaio's total control of his office that even a fresh-out-of-law-school prosecutor should be able to nail Arpaio.

And that's just over the criminal portion of Joe's conduct. Don't forget, there's a DOJ civil rights probe of Arpaio's office that began in March 2009. This involves Arpaio's Hispanic-hunting, illegal-immigrant sweeps and raids.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, appearing with Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke at the federal courthouse in Phoenix for a March 2010 press conference, promised "results" from the civil rights investigation.

Hundreds of documents proving allegations of racial profiling leveled at MCSO deputies have been filed by the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit Melendres v. Arpaio.

The documents detail blatant incidents of the MCSO's arresting Latinos for breathing while brown, and they include a rash of racist jokes and images that sheriff's deputies e-mailed to each other.

The feds long have had access to these documents — as well as to numerous witnesses and to incriminating statements by Arpaio and his beige-shirted oafs under oath.

Alas, the DOJ has produced no discernible results after 27 months of investigating.

Why the silence? Why are the feds frozen, like some ancient beetle trapped in amber, on both the civil and criminal investigations?

Because these cowards' knees knock every time the media mentions Arpaio's name.

With 2012 'round the corner and bin Laden's corpse being the standard bearer for the president's re-election effort, going after Arpaio might create a martyr for the far right, which thinks Arpaio's the second coming of Elvis.

Better to concern themselves with other matters, as Arizona's U.S. Attorney is eager to do.

See, Burke's more interested in keeping medical pot out of the hands of Arizonans who can prove they suffer from chronic pain than pursuing Arpaio.

In a letter dated May 2 to Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble, Burke relayed the not-so-stunning news that possession of pot is still a federal offense, despite Arizona voters' approval of Proposition 203, now the Grand Canyon State's medical-marijuana law.

Burke writes that his office will "vigorously prosecute" any individual or entity growing, merchandising, or marketing pot, "even if such activities are permitted by state law."

The focus will be on those operating "large marijuana production facilities," Burke announced, not on "seriously ill individuals" who take a toke because a doctor recommended it.

But, he warned, Uncle Sam can still pop you bong-suckers if he wants.

The new state law, Burke said, "does not render possession or distribution lawful under federal statute."

And that goes double for Native Americans, as Burke has the nerve to point out regarding the descendants of indigenous peoples dwelling on their sovereign land here in Arizona.

"Individuals that grow, distribute, or possess marijuana on federal or tribal lands, may be subject to federal prosecution, no matter what the quantity of marijuana," Burke stated.

Arizonans and, particularly, denizens of Maricopa County should be incensed that Burke can threaten law-abiding citizens with arrest, while our own modern-day version of Al Capone scoffs at state and federal statutes.


Just this week, Arpaio sent out an e-mail alert to followers, formally announcing his bid for re-election while soliciting donations for his already bloated, multimillion-dollar campaign war chest.

In the letter, Arpaio mentions that Obama's Justice Department is out to get him because he's rounding up them illegals.

The criminal investigation of the MCSO goes unmentioned, natch.

Ironically, Arpaio and Burke are on the same page when it comes to the medical ganja law. Arpaio opposed Prop 203 at a press conference before Election Day last year.

In fact, he pointed out what Burke does in the latter's letter — that puffing pot violates federal code.

When I reminded him that he was violating the federal code in other ways, Arpaio nearly blew his stack, accusing New Times of breaking some unnamed law.

Burke knows Arpaio can be prosecuted. I wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. Attorney can quote from memory the federal statutes regarding abuse of power and violating civil rights under the color of law that Joe has bulldozed over.

Not to mention various state and federal laws concerning bribery, corruption, malfeasance, and misusing funds.

And yet, Burke's hands remain firmly beneath his parked haunches. People who know him claim it's not his fault, that the blame lies with politicos and Justice Department suits in D.C. They say Burke isn't in control of the situation.

I would agree that Burke is not the final shot-caller on this, but it doesn't absolve him.

Because while he wastes taxpayer time and money worrying about some pain sufferer, or not, smoking weed, Arpaio is busy shilling for campaign donations — and heading for probable re-election in 2012.

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