Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office said it will look into allegations that some of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies faced gestapolike tactics in Arpaio's desire to root out dime-droppers. Those allegations surfaced in an affidavit by former lieutenant Robert Wetherell, who left the sheriff's office in October and days later made stunning accusations about his former supervisor, Director David Hendershott. Other deputies contacted County Attorney Rick Romley and backed up Wetherell's allegations. Last week, Romley, citing a conflict of interest, forwarded information in the case to assistant U.S. attorney Tom Hannis.
Deputies tell New Times, however, that the feds are interested in more than just Wetherell's accusations.
They expect the federal probe to include not only how Arpaio's office deals with malcontents, but also how the office handled more than $1 million raised by the sheriff's volunteer posses.
The Posse Foundation board launched an audit of the posse money after some deputies raised concerns. That audit is nearly finished, and deputies say the findings are expected to be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Questions about "pink underwear" money--cash raised through the sale of souvenir boxer shorts that commemorate Arpaio's policy of dressing male inmates in pink--initially were made public a year ago by former Arpaio political aide Tom Bearup.
Bearup, who was once one of Arpaio's most trusted advisers, testified in a deposition last October that he twice brought deputy complaints about the way Hendershott had handled pink-underwear cash to Arpaio's attention. Bearup said deputies were suspicious that large amounts of cash were going through Hendershott's division with little or no accounting. Arpaio, however, refused to investigate.
Now, Bearup says he's heard from a Posse Foundation board member that $100,000 in cash and automobiles may be missing, and that the board plans to forward its findings to the FBI. Former sheriff's lieutenant Kelly Waldrip says he's heard the same thing from another board member, former lieutenant Jerry Robertson.
Robertson, however, this week refused to specify how much money was missing or what the board would do with its findings: "We are looking into things, and when we're ready we will say what we have to say. We're not going to be secretive about this. This is a new board, and the new board is running everything according to Hoyle."
Last year, New Times printed excerpts of Bearup's deposition ("Doubting Thomas," November 6, 1997) and days later, Bearup says, he was contacted by FBI agent Bob Bumpers. Bearup says Bumpers interviewed him for several hours about Hendershott, the posse money and deputies' accusations.
Jerry Giffin, a former civilian employee of the sheriff's office, says he, too, was interviewed by Bumpers a year ago. Giffin worked under Hendershott and says he was alarmed at the lax way large amounts of posse money were handled. "The sheriff would routinely brag that they had sold more than a million in underwear. Where's the cash?" Giffin says.
Bumpers could not be reached for comment, and FBI spokesman Ed Hall says he can't comment on what others might be saying about the agency.
In early 1996, the sheriff's office made public records showing the posses had raised more than $400,000 in the first few months of selling underwear. Since then, the Posse Foundation and the sheriff's office have refused repeated requests by New Times to turn over additional records. In March, Superior Court Judge Rebecca Albrecht ruled that the foundation was not subject to the state public records law and didn't have to disclose its records.
U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Cathy Colbert says her office can't comment about the scope of its inquiry into the sheriff's office. Last week, the U.S. Attorney's Office acknowledged that it had received information from Romley and would be conducting the inquiry.
On November 2, former lieutenant Robert Wetherell signed an affidavit accusing Hendershott of rigging an internal investigation against former sergeant Mark Battilana. The affidavit surprised many deputies because Wetherell was at one time a close associate of Hendershott.
Steve Barnes, president of the Deputies Law Enforcement Association, says Wetherell's accusations--that Hendershott tampered with witnesses and testimony to force out Battilana, whom Hendershott suspected of talking to the press--have emboldened other deputies to come forward and talk to county and federal officials.
Sheriff's office spokeswoman Lisa Allen says Arpaio and his office consider Wetherell's accusations unfounded. "We stand by what we did with the Battilana deal. I don't know why Wetherell's making the statements that he's making."
Over the weekend, she points out, two deputies named in Wetherell's affidavit--Dale Tupper and Gary McGuire--told KPNX Channel 12 reporters that the affidavit's allegations were untrue. Deputies say it's interesting that while other deputies have lost their jobs for talking to the press, Arpaio was eager for Tupper and McGuire to criticize the affidavit. Allen says Tupper and McGuire were given permission by Arpaio to give television interviews.
"If the U.S. Attorney wants to take a look at this, we're okay with that, because we know we're going to come out just fine," she says.
Barnes says that on November 13, Lieutenant Jim Mann told Romley that he could corroborate portions of Wetherell's affidavit. Mann, who couldn't be reached for comment, then followed sheriff's office policy by informing Arpaio's chief deputy, Jadel Roe, that he had talked to Romley. Four days later, Barnes says, Mann was informed by the sheriff's office that he was being investigated by the internal affairs office, which is overseen by Roe. Barnes says that Mann was told he faced termination for, among other things, spreading rumors about the sheriff's office. Mann, however, showed his superiors a letter from Romley which indicated he was immune from investigation under a state "whistle-blower" law.
Romley spokesman Bill FitzGerald refused to comment on Mann's actions because the case has been referred to the U.S. Attorney.
Barnes says Mann turned to the deputies association for help, and Barnes, as association president, contacted Romley, who told Barnes he would call Roe. Roe quickly ended the investigation, calling it unfounded.
Allen, the sheriff's spokeswoman, says the investigation into Mann was started before he called Romley and that it was not payback for his support of Wetherell.
Barnes, however, disagrees. The investigation "was absolute fabrication, to use a nice word. And that's proven by how it was ended in the same day."
Barnes says other deputies are also coming forward with information to bolster Wetherell's accusations. Wetherell's attorney, Carolyn Crook, says investigators at the U.S. Attorney's Office will find plenty of witnesses to talk about conditions in the sheriff's office. "Arpaio has a complete conspiracy to create his own mafia there. I think what happened is that enough people told the county attorney about what was going on that something had to be done," Crook says.
Barnes concurs, saying that deputies are anxious to substantiate Wetherell's claims. "And if Arpaio doesn't cooperate with a smile," Barnes says, "the public should be suspicious. This is the sheriff who already looked at this situation and decided it wasn't worth investigating."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.