Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard Goes After Captain Joel Fox and the SCA Money

In near-endless posts on our Web site, Captain Joel Fox has waxed on about the media, about his career as a SWAT team commander, and even about the nature of truth.

But when we contacted Fox Monday to question him about some shocking new information we had just confirmed — the fact the Arizona Attorney General's Office had executed a search warrant on his home earlier this year — the usually garrulous sheriff's captain went silent. And the search warrant, we learned, is still under seal.

So we asked our lawyers to get the search warrant opened.

Fox, of course, is a commander of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's SWAT team and an Arpaio loyalist. Not coincidentally, Fox was, for months, the only person linked to the "SCA fund," a secret slush fund that conveyed checks totaling $105,000 to the Arizona Republican Party — just in time for the party to finance a nasty ad attacking Arpaio's opponent.

When Fox refused to give up the SCA's donor list, the state GOP was forced to return the money. But it didn't end there. Facing a huge fine from the county, Fox eventually revealed that a half-dozen of the sheriff's top command staff had donated to the fund, including Chief Deputy David Hendershott.

So, too, did at least one wealthy friend of Arpaio's, developer Steve Ellman, and two out-of-state limited-liability companies. The latter donations are in clear violation of state law. One of the firms, an Alaska-based investment fund, actually marked its check with a memo to "Vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio." That suggests that the state Republican Party allowed the sheriff's men to earmark their donations for Arpaio. That, too, is against the law.

With such serious allegations against him — and such strong circumstantial evidence already on the table — you'd think Fox would have kept quiet. Or at least, as we journalists call it, "get lawyered up."

But Fox, oddly, just wouldn't shut up. In lengthy responses to each and every related blog post and story on our Web site, he's insisted that our coverage of the scandal has been overblown, that the money was never earmarked for Arpaio, that the SCA was never a political committee, even that the fat contribution to a political party was not, in fact, a political contribution.

Recently, responding to a post by my colleague Ray Stern, Fox insisted that he had no secrets. "Just because you don't know the answer, it doesn't make it a secret," Fox chided Stern. "Just because you never thought to ask the question, it doesn't make it a secret."

But as chatty as Fox can be, there's a big secret he's been keeping.

The SCA scandal has become the subject of a grand jury investigation by the Arizona attorney general — something Fox is all too aware of. In fact, as Fox's attorney confirmed, investigators with the Attorney General's Office executed a search warrant on Fox's home in Gilbert in March.

I sent Fox an e-mail to ask him about the search warrant. But the chatty captain didn't respond.

So I contacted the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Go figure: Spokesman Steve Wilson had no comment, either.

Typically, a search warrant is unsealed within a few weeks of its execution. But a judge has the discretion to keep one sealed much longer if an investigation is ongoing. Earlier this month, when I visited the Pinal County Courthouse, where the search warrant was filed, I was able to confirm that it exists. But I was not allowed to access documentation that showed what probable cause the investigators had shown the judge, what they were looking for, or what evidence they'd gathered.

Fox has been attempting to get back the materials seized, as his attorney confirmed to New Times. And, he's been able to get access to some of the documents — but the judge ordered that they be opened to only the parties involved and not members of the public.

And that, frankly, troubles me.

This investigation has enormous ramifications for the Arizona Republican Party and the Sheriff's Office. What did GOP Chairman Randy Pullen know, and when did he know it? What role did Hendershott play in raising money for the fund? How can it be a coincidence that Hendershott was peddling the same nasty allegations about Arpaio's opponent that ended up in the SCA-funded ad?

And what about the SWAT team, which Fox serves as a commander? It's been one year since Fox turned the money over to the state GOP. And as best as I can tell, the Sheriff's Office has studiously ignored the growing scandal. (Sheriff's spokeswoman Lisa Allen insists that the matter "has absolutely nothing to do the Sheriff's Office" — even as a half-dozen members of its top command staff used direct deposit to provide seed money for the fund.) Fox is out there investigating other people. Isn't the fact that he's under investigation relevant to his targets and their attorneys?

There's simply too much we can't know until that search warrant is unsealed.

So we at New Times are going to do our best to unseal it.

We are going to attempt to intervene in the Pinal County case. We're going to ask Pinal County Superior Court Judge Robert Carter Olson to unseal the search warrant documents.

And, as it turns out, we might have to fight Dennis Wilenchik to do it.

This ought to be good.

The last time we got crossways with Dennis Wilenchik, it ended very badly — for him.

Regular readers of this newspaper should remember that Sheriff Arpaio pushed to get New Times prosecuted for daring to publish his home address online, even though the address was readily available on the Web to anyone with a passing knowledge of Google.

As my colleague Paul Rubin reported, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas initially turned down the case. Then, a few weeks later, Thomas suddenly declared he had a conflict and shuffled the case off to the Pinal County Attorney.

The county attorney at the time was Robert Carter Olson, the same Robert Carter Olson who is now the presiding judge in Pinal County Superior Court: It was Olson whom Arpaio lobbied to prosecute this newspaper, and Olson who will have to decide whether to unseal the search warrant. Small world, eh?

In his previous entanglement with New Times, though, Olson didn't have much impact: He sat on the case for nearly two years without taking action. It was only after he was appointed to the Superior Court bench, and the new Pinal County Attorney declared a conflict of his own, that Thomas got the case back and made the disastrous appointment of his former boss, Wilenchik, as special prosecutor.

I don't use "disastrous" lightly. Wilenchik is an attack dog and, like many a dog, can be more rabid than cunning. When he demanded information from our Web site that was none of his business, my bosses defied him and published his awful demands. They were hauled off in handcuffs under the cover of night, a misstep that led to Wilenchik's termination as special prosecutor the very next day. We eventually learned, too, that he'd issued grand jury subpoenas on his own, without bothering to convene a grand jury.

Sometimes, though, it feels like a vampire movie around here: The villains never stay dead.

In July, Fox was forced to cough up a list of donors to SCA fund. We learned then that he had a lawyer: Dennis Wilenchik.

In an e-mail to New Times, Wilenchik confirmed that he's representing Fox — but only in terms of getting back the unspecified "stuff" seized by the Attorney General's Office and getting access to the search warrant affidavit.

"The court made an order on that, limiting return thus far to only the immediate parties and not to be released otherwise, so I am not at liberty to [release it]," Wilenchik wrote in an e-mail.

New Times will be filing its motion to intervene this week, says attorney Steve Suskin, asking that the court unseal the search warrant and supporting documentation.

"We believe that an issue of great public concern such as this deserves to be examined and presented to the public so that everyone can understand what has happened in these bizarre, disturbing events," Suskin says.

There's a hearing in the case set for August 31. New Times will attempt to get into court that day and at least make our request to open up the file.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how Fox and Wilenchik react. Fox insisted just two weeks ago that he has no secrets, and Wilenchik says he'd release the documents if not for the judge's orders. Surely they won't object to Judge Olson unsealing the search warrant, will they?

We'll keep you posted.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske