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All the Sheriff's Men: The SCA Campaign-Finance Scandal is Linked to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Chief Deputy David Hendershott

ANALYSIS (See list of related stories that led up to this piece)

"This situation has absolutely nothing to do with the Sheriff's Office."

That's what sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa Allen told New Times last week when questioned about the growing SCA campaign finance scandal — a claim that surely ranks right up there with "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" and "I am not a crook!" when it comes to pathetic denials.

After all, we're talking about a situation in which a half-dozen of the sheriff's highest-ranking officers systematically stashed tens of thousands of dollars in a secret account and then funneled the money to the Arizona Republican Party. Now these ace detectives would have us believe it's pure coincidence that the Republican Party just happened to donate virtually the same amount of money to a committee that financed the nastiest attack ad in recent memory — and that the ad just happened to target Sheriff Joe Arpaio's opponent.

Right.

Thanks to last week's belated financial disclosures, we now know that high-ranking sheriff's officers, including Chief Deputy David Hendershott, donated money from their paychecks using direct deposit. They then spent nine months denying their involvement — violating the most basic tenet of campaign finance law.

We also know now that donors to the fund included not just the sheriff's most enthusiastic employees, but one of his richest friends.

Yet we're supposed to believe the money was never meant to go to the sheriff's re-election efforts. We're supposed to believe, in fact, that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!

The sheriff is not a crook!


There's good reason everyone at the MCSO keeps insisting that this whole thing is a giant coincidence, even though its explanations contradict all logic. If what appears to have happened really did happen — if the sheriff's men laundered money to attack his political opponent — someone just might end up in prison.

Lisa Hauser is an attorney with Gammage & Burnham who specializes in election law. In fact, for 10 years, she prosecuted such cases for the Arizona Attorney General's Office. (She is also, for the record, a Republican.)

While not speaking to the merits of this particular case, Hauser says the facts, as reported, raise a number of questions — and potential violations of the law.

I'll get to those in a minute. But first, a little background on the scandal, for those of you who haven't been able to follow my colleague Ray Stern's excellent minute-by-minute coverage.

Last October, as Sheriff Joe Arpaio was in the thick of a hard-fought re-election campaign, the Arizona Republican Party ran a vicious ad targeting his opponent, Dan Saban.

Saban and Arpaio had a history of animosity, to put it mildly. Four years earlier, when Saban ran against Arpaio in the GOP primary, Arpaio's top staffers (including spokeswoman Allen and Hendershott) leaked a police report to a TV news reporter alleging that a teenage Saban had raped his own foster mother. When the charge turned out to be baseless — the mother had a history of making false allegations and mental instability — Saban sued Arpaio.

That was a huge mistake on Saban's part. As much as he had been wronged in the 2004 election, the lawsuit opened the door to questions about his sex life. Sadly, that life had been rather complicated, including no fewer than four divorces ("Below the Belt," Paul Rubin, September 20, 2007).

Ultimately, the suit allowed Arpaio's attack-dog attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, to ask Saban about a number of subjects better left unaddressed by an aspiring politician, including whether the veteran cop had ever masturbated on duty. Unbelievably, Saban admitted he had. It was 30 years ago, but still . . . His videotaped admission provided one of the key visuals in the Republican's attack in 2008.

The ad was both outrageous in its pettiness and dishonest in its innuendos. In addition to the bit about masturbation, the ad suggested Saban might have once exposed himself to a child (he didn't) and attempted to rehash the whole foster mom allegation (which had no merit).

Not surprisingly, public pressure forced the Republican Party to yank the commercial after just a few airings. It also had to pull an ad smearing the opponent of Arpaio's best buddy, County Attorney Andrew Thomas. That ad accused attorney Tim Nelson of allowing child molesters to go free — simply because Nelson had taken contributions from defense attorneys.

Both ads were paid for by a group called Arizonans for Public Safety. Campaign finance records revealed that group was funded entirely by the Arizona Republican Party.

And that raised some questions from Republican legislators. They questioned why the party would use its limited funds to help Arpaio — who had a giant war chest — at a time when the Democrats were pouring money into legislative races, leaving them vulnerable.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske