Many of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's ex-aides and critics agree on one thing: Despite Deputy Chief Frank Munnell's recent memo portraying Arpaio as a hapless figurehead (a memo you can read, here) it's the sheriff who rules the MCSO.
As I discussed in a blog item earlier today, this narrative depicting Chief Deputy David Hendershott as a maniacal villain who has betrayed his clueless superior doesn't wash, even though much of the local media is still KrazyGlued to the idea.
Joe's own words and deeds, the testimony of his former subordinates, indeed the record of his 17-year reign as Maricopa County's top cop, all suggest that if Hendershott is guilty of the corruption described in Munnell's memo, then, if anything, Arpaio is guiltier.
"Joe knows everything that goes on," Tom Bearup, Arpaio's right-hand man before Hendershott's ascension told me. "Because I've been there. And I know that nothing goes on in that office without [Joe's approval]. Every policy he initialed. Anything major that happened, people would go and tell him, because they felt intimidated."
Bearup, who was Arpaio's Chief Executive Officer from 1993 to 1997, once ran against Arpaio for sheriff and is now a pastor in Alaska. He's borne witness against Arpaio on several occasions and doesn't swallow the line that Arpaio was out of the loop.
"In the staff meetings, it was Joe that would belittle people," Bearup explained. "Hendershott's just a little Joe, that's all."
Indeed, Bearup says, Joe ordered him to lie during the investigation into the brutal, jailhouse death of Scott Norberg, which occurred in 1996. Norberg's demise at the hands of MCSO corrections officers led to a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office and the county that resulted in a $8.25 million settlement.
Bearup recalled Joe's dictate on the Norberg killing. One given before the lawsuit, but still in anticipation of one.
"Joe said, `You get on that stand, and you tell them you don't recall, you don't remember," stated Bearup.
The parallel between that account, which Bearup has repeated under oath, and Munnell's description of Hendershott's allegedly instructing him to mislead Arizona Attorney General's investigators looking into the Sheriff's Command Association scandal, is eerie. Like deja vu to the 10th degree.
The sheriff was clearly no bystander in the affairs of the MCSO. He was deeply involved. In fact. Bearup's downfall began when he started looking into claims that Hendershott was misappropriating funds from the sales of the infamous pink underwear.
Arpaio demanded the names of the deputies making the allegations, and when Bearup wouldn't fork them over, Arpaio threatened that he'd have Bearup "walking a beat in Gila Bend" if he didn't comply. Bearup left the MCSO, only to be harassed, followed, and intimidated by the MCSO.
In a December 2009 cover story, Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey gave readers a glimpse into just how intimately Arpaio has been involved in Bearup's torment, by posting a link to a recording made by Deputy Chief Brian Sands as he was serving an order from county elections officials on Bearup and others.
Bearup was prohibited from running for public office for five years and fined $1,000. In the recording, Arpaio calls Sands to ask about Bearup's reaction to being served. In the tape, Sands laughs as he recounts Bearup's dismay, all for the pleasure of the sheriff.
And like something right out of Martin Scorsese's gangster classic Casino, Bearup claims he once saw Arpaio pocket pink underwear money at a function where Bearup was making sales and keeping track of who bought what. This while Bearup was still in the sheriff's employ, of course.
"[Arpaio] took all the money from me," remembered Bearup, "all the names from me, and screamed at me in front of the hotel in front of my wife, `Don't you ever write down those names again!'"
Bearup also tells a tale of Hendershott, flush with cash, showing up at a party, bragging about all the pink boxers he'd sold that day.
Amazingly, neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney has ever approached Bearup to ask him about his days with Arpaio. Bearup says he's called these agencies many times to no avail.
Another former MCSO employee who says he's never been contacted by the feds is Roy Reyer, an ex-lieutenant, who wrote his own bombshell memo back in 1994 concerning the mismanagement of the sheriff's posse.
Reyer told me that he personally approached Arpaio one night to express concern about Hendershott's abuses of power. But Arpaio was indifferent.
"He told me, `Roy, [Hendershott is] getting my face in the media, he's getting my face on TV, and that's all that I care about,'" Reyer recounted.
The lieutenant was also retaliated against, left the MCSO, and ended up starting the "Overthrow Arpaio" Web site at Arpaio.com.
The ex-deputy told me he doesn't believe the contention that Arpaio was in the dark. He suggested that the memo was a ploy by the MCSO command staff to save themselves and toss Hendershott and his faction to the feds.
"You know as well as I do," he said, "if someone came into that office, that whole goddamn command staff would be thrown out on their asses.
"They know [MCSO Director Larry] Black and [Captain] Joel Fox are going to go down because of this whole SCA scandal...They know Hendershott's going to be history. So it's, `How are we going to save Arpaio and our jobs?'
Also, Reyer questions the raison d'etre behind the memo itself.
"Munnell's talking to Arpaio in that memo like Arpaio doesn't have a clue that any of this stuff was going on," Reyer observed. "I don't buy it...Arpaio knew exactly what was going on."
Reyer's analysis reminded me of William Finnegan's 2009 profile of Arpaio in the New Yorker magazine. In it, Arpaio suggests that Mesa be raided "again" in retaliation for an anti-Arpaio comment that the Mesa mayor's wife supposedly said while on jury duty.
Arpaio's depicted in the article micromanaging even a petty press release regarding the swine flu epidemic, overriding the objections of a public-health professional.
"This is my press release!" he erupted, according to Finnegan. "I'm the sheriff! I have some knowledge! I'm not some little old sheriff!"
I myself have suggested to Arpaio in the past that Hendershott was "the power behind the throne." In reply, Arpaio assured me that he's in command of his department, not his chief deputy.
I also recall another of Joe's press releases, this one about a jail hunger strike.
"In case people don't know, I run the jails," he harrumphed in the 2009 release, "not the inmates or my critics."
That was not a rare remark. Joe makes statements like this all the time. But in sworn testimony, he changes his tune a bit.
Phoenix attorney Joel Robbins, who has deposed Arpaio on more than one occasion for legal claims made against the MCSO, said Arpaio has pulled a Sergeant Schultz-move under oath, claiming ignorance of day-to-day activities in his office. Robbins believes this was part of a strategy to insulate Arpaio, and possibly save him from prosecution.
"You know at some point the deal was that Hendershott would take the bullet once the troops were at the bunker," cracked Robbins. "Maybe [the MCSO] is playing the end game."
He was also skeptical of the Munnell memo.
"What in the world is Munnell talking about?" wondered Robbins. "Talking to the feds...and then sending Arpaio a memorandum as if to alert him for the first time that his regime is corrupt? It seems as if it's a self serving memorandum by Munnell to get him and Arpaio out of this thing."
In fact, Munnell may not be as righteous as he presents himself. Keep in mind what being a 30-year vet of the MCSO entails, particularly when someone's risen to be part of the ruling junta on the 19th Floor of the Wells Fargo tower.
Take for example, a 1999 letter from MCSO Sergeant David Cool to County Attorney Rick Romley, requesting whistle-blower status and protection from Romley's office. The letter relates that Munnell at that time took his orders "exclusively" from Hendershott, and it suggests Munnell may have been aware of hanky-panky with the pink underwear.
"At one point," Cool writes, "[Munnell] said that Director Hendershott ordered many hundreds of pair without the consent of the [Posse] Foundation."
Cool relates having to pen a nasty little memo concerning Bearup on the orders of Hendershott, thereby initiating an internal investigation. The man Cool was told to give the memo to just happened to be Munnell.
You can read the Cool letter yourself, here. It's worth the time, particularly for this choice quote from Sheriff Joe overheard (supposedly) by Cool: "Rick Romley, I am going to fuck him!"
Not in the Biblical sense, I'm guessing.
Interestingly, as my colleague Ray Stern has just reported, County supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley have added themselves to the list of those who don't believe that Arpaio was clueless about Hendershott's misconduct.
Tort titan Michael Manning is also in this camp. He's the guy who scored the Norberg win against the sheriff, and, like Robbins, has questioned Arpaio in depositions and on the stand.
"I know differently," said Manning of the theory that Arpaio's not in control. "I've taken his deposition at least twice and had him in trial at least twice. And while he tries to deny that he knows much about what's going on, he has admitted that he's fully briefed at senior staff meetings, that he meets frequently...with Hendershott. Hendershott follows his direction."
Manning pointed out that Arpaio's never shied away from responsibility at press briefings for acts that could be considered abuses of power. He was wary of the notion that Arpaio handed over MCSO command to Hendershott as of 2008, as Munnell claims.
"His ego has never and will never let him turn complete control of anything over to another person," Manning stated.
He asserted that if Arpaio had done so, he's derelict in his duty, perhaps criminally so. Thus, Arpaio's hanged either way.
It would be interesting to find out if there's some document signed by Arpaio turning over the MCSO to Hendershott as of 2008. But, of course, such a doc would be immediately suspect.
As is the news that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whom Arpaio has given control of the investigation into Munnell's claims, has now suggested that Hendershott be placed on paid administrative leave, like his henchmen Black and Fox. "Outside special counsel" will be hired to assist with the probe, according to Babeu's statement.
I hear Andy Thomas is available. Or there's always Dennis Wilenchik, the lawyer Thomas had handle a bogus investigation of New Times, which resulted in the overnight arrests of Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin for writing a story about abusive grand jury subpoenas from a grand jury that -- it turned out -- didn't exist.
Unless the investigation goes to Arpaio, Babeu's effort will be meaningless, part of a whitewash. The only way this scandal ends with any finality or justice is with Arpaio getting indicted, hopefully by the federal grand jury still looking into the MCSO.
What if Babeu were to ultimately suggest something so radical (for Babeu) as indicting Joe, backstabbing Joe in the process -- perhaps in a power play meant to elevate Babeu's standing as an anti-immigrant darling? Well, then we'd have another problem to worry about. That is, the further political rise of Paul Babeu.
And as unlikely as that may seem, you must admit, it's a chilling thing to consider. Perhaps as chilling as our current state of affairs.