Maricopa County Andrew Thomas has authorized three special prosecutors -- two from Washington D.C. and a Phoenix attorney -- to handle criminal allegations against County Superivor Don Stapley.
The move appears to violate the spirit of a promise made by Thomas to the Board of Supervisors a few months ago that his office would no longer be dragging Stapley, one of five members of the county Board of Supervisors, through the coals. It also appears to reverse a statement made recently by Barnett Lotstein, a top aide to Thomas, that Thomas won't prosecute any new Stapley cases. But Lotstein tells New Times that the Maricopa County Attorney's Office will still stay out of the case. The prosecutors will act independently and have the authority to decide whether or not to attempt to get a grand jury to indict Stapley on the new allegations, he says.
Thomas' office, with the help of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office, targeted Stapley late last year with a criminal case based on the Supervisor's alleged failure to follow campaign finance form disclosure guidelines. But Thomas kicked the case over to the Yavapai County Attorney's office after decisions in key court cases bolstered critics' cries about conflicts of interest.
That first case fell apart after Stapley's defense team argued successfully that the disclosure law wasn't actually in effect, as far as county officials were covered by it. But two weeks ago, Arpaio's deputies made a sensational arrest of Stapley in a whole new criminal case -- this one alleging fraud and theft related to a pool of money collected by Stapley in his bid to become president of the National Association of Counties.
In two letters dated from today, Thomas thanks the newly appointed special prosecutors for agreeing to the job and gives them authority. The letters don't specify exactly what case the prosecutors will be handling, except by an internal identifying number. Both letters state that the special prosecutors will take over the case plus two investigations by the sheriff's office described in a confidential attachment to the letters. (We didn't get the attachment, darn it).
Thomas appears to offering the new folks a chance to settle in for a while:
"When additional Maricopa County public-corruption investigations appear to be warranted, please advise me so that I can authorize your participation in same and prepare a supplemental appointment letter for each investigation," Thomas writes.
Thomas wants the lawyers to investigate the Stapley matters and bring them to a Maricopa grand jury "for potential charing and prosecution."
The two D.C. lawyers are the high-profile husband-and-wife team of Joseph E. diGenova and Victoria Toensing. Thomas' letter says they'll be paid:
*$295 an hour for out-of-court fees.
*$475 an hour for in-court fees
*Expenses as incurred.
*And get this: $150 an hour for "travel time." That's right -- county taxpayers are paying a couple of lawyers big bucks just for their air time.
The local guy is attorney David Eisenberg. He doesn't command as much money as the D.C. couple, but the public will fund him at rates of:
*$250 an hour for legal services
*$250 per hour for travel time
*55 cents per mile while driving
*Expenses as incurred.
Among the three, diGenova -- a former U.S. Attorney from D.C. who helped take down Mayor Marion Barry -- will call all the shots, Thomas' letter states.
Look for the anti-Stapey rhetoric to ramp up in a big way: The D.C. couple are anything but media shy, according to a 1998 Washington Post article.
Here's a statement just put out from Thomas' office:
County Attorney Andrew Thomas has appointed special prosecutors to work with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on the new case involving Supervisor Donald Stapley and two other ongoing investigations.
The team is headed by Joseph diGenova, who was United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1983 to 1988. During that time he conducted an investigation of corruption in the D.C. government, which led to the conviction of two deputy mayors, and supervised the prosecution of attempted presidential assassin John W. Hinckley. In 1997, he was named Special Counsel by the U.S. House of Representatives to probe the election of Ron Carey as President of the Teamsters. In 1992, diGenova served as Independent Counsel in the Clinton Passport File investigation.
Also serving as special prosecutor is Victoria Toensing. As Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Justice Department, Toensing established Justice's Terrorism Unit. She also served as Chief Counsel for Senator Barry Goldwater, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, from 1981 to 1984. Both diGenova and Toensing are currently in Washington, D.C.
Local attorney David Eisenberg is the third member of the team. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Arizona from 1995 to 2005. In 1994 Eisenberg served as an independent counsel in an investigation of the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development.
As we mentioned last month, Yavapai had given the older Stapley case to special proseuctor Mel Bowers, a former county attorney from Navajo County. Bowers told New Times he didn't really want the new case because it was too time-consuming and might mess up his retirement. But Bowers also happened to mention that Yavapaio County Attorney Sheila Polk had given the new Stapley case to a deputy county attorney to review.
We ask Lotstein whether anyone from Thomas' office talked to Yavapai officials about the quality of the new case before the decision was made to take it away from Yavapai and give it to these new special prosecutors. Lotstein tells us he doesn't know -- and that he had no intention of finding out the answer to the question, either.
We suspect a bit of prosecutor shopping. Since Yavapai already had someone looking at this case, officials from that county must have decided it was marginal, at best. If it looked like a slam dunk, they would have jumped on it - especially after the first case capsized.
Polk wasn't available for comment.
Lotstein says diGenova and crew agreed to review the new Stapley case after looking at the probable cause statement penned by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office before Stapley's recent arrest. We think that's kind of odd, since the probable cause statement didn't contain any smoking-gun evidence. For diGenova to jump on the case based on that statement makes it almost seem like he's doing a favor for someone. But Lotstein says part of the reason his office has turned to these special prosecutors is the complete lack of any conflicts or knowledge of the case.
"They don't know us," Lotstein says.
And we don't know them. But we get the feeling that we'll be hearing a lot from them -- soon after they catch their taxpayer-funded flight.