Andy Kunasek released one page of a transcript to New Times today that he believes shows the attempt by a prosecutor to "extort" him as part of a political power play.
Kunasek says he's not ready to release the entire transcript of the "free talk" he had earlier this year with Lisa Aubuchon, former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas' attack-dog prosecutor. Nor would he show the full transcript to New Times, saying it contained "evidence of other issues." He's turned over all of his findings to the feds, for their review in their probe of Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he says, and he doesn't want to chance jeopardizing the federal investigation.
Because of that, we can't give you the full context of the conversation that Kunasek describes as extortion. But on its own, the short excerpt from the transcript sure raises questions.
In February, Thomas' prosecutors invited Kunasek and his lawyer to chat about the criminal investigation against him that had been launched by Arpaio's chief deputy, Dave Hendershott. Kunasek was being targeted because he might have authorized a $14,600 sweep of county offices for hidden listening devices.
Hendershott and Thomas wanted Kunasek and others related to the bug-hunt charged with, among other things, misuse of public money. Ain't that a laugh? Under Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio, millions have been wasted on asinine lawsuits alone.
The probe into Kunasek over the bug sweep had major political overtones; it was clearly another case of Thomas and Arpaio using their police powers to go after their enemies. And Kunasek, by then, was their enemy. He'd questioned the legitimacy of Thomas and Arpaio in the aftermath of the indictment of Supervisor Don Stapley and helped dismantle Thomas' civil law division.
The transcript sheet provided by Kunasek seems to reveal that Aubuchon used the threat of the criminal probe to achieve a political end. Specifically, the deputy county attorney wanted Kunasek to help make sure Arpaio and Thomas would be happy with the choice for a new county attorney who would replace Thomas after he resigned to run for state Attorney General. (Thomas later did resign, on April 1).
After laying out the possible charges against Kunasek in the bug sweep, Aubuchon's conversation turned to the practical matter of Thomas' replacement:
Aubuchon: But I guess I am here for two reasons. One is ... you might have some information to provide, you also wanted to give me information about what you felt yo uknow in terms of the bug sweep or whatever, but I also feel even though maybe it's not my official role, other than I don't represent the office in any official capacity in this right now. It seems to me that a lot of this stuff can be worked out and if Mr. Thomas is going to leave, then I think clearly there is a problem with the board appointing a successor unless there is something that the parties can try to work out together for the interest of the community.
Kunasek: I -
David Derickson (Kunasek's lawyer): How can he help you do that -- I mean legally how can he do that? If the board has a conflict of interest on that particular issue.
Aubuchon: But it could just be the process here, it could be that we are going to agree that (former Chief) Justice McGregor makes the selection or something.
It certainly sounds like Aubuchon is telling Kunasek that if he makes a deal on the replacement for Thomas, the criminal probe would be "worked out."
Kunasek didn't agree to any deal, and the Board of Supervisors ended up choosing Rick Romley as Thomas' temporary replacement. (Voters will decide on Tuesday whether Romley or former deputy county attorney Bill Montgomery, Arpaio's boy, will run in the general election).
The idea that the bug sweep constituted a crime was ultimately rejected by the Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and a grand jury. Thomas and Arpaio, through Hendershott, have pressed the case anyway. Last month, despite the grand jury's decision to kill the investigation, Hendershott held a news conference in which he accused Kunasek of "theft" of public funds related to the bug sweep.
"He's just an insane bully," Kunasek says of Hendershott. "It's all about pressure, leverage and control."
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Kunasek released a letter today outlining his concerns. As a commenter noted on today's blog article about his letter, though, Kunasek didn't seem very concerned when Arpaio's office used shady criminal probes to target other political enemies. Kunasek tells us that he's learned his lesson when it comes to the sheriff's office.
"We've been raised to think law enforcement are the men in blue, not the big brown stain," he says. "Maybe it takes becoming a victim to lose that naivety.
Kunasek knows he's taking a chance, politically, by blasting Arpaio and Thomas in the press, and by helping the federal case against the county lawmen. But, he claims, the facts show that Thomas' office tried to "extort" him. And he won't keep quiet about it.