Maricopa County Craziness

Arpaio: "In Politics, a Person Has No Friends;" Claims Political Enemies Weren't Enemies Before Investigations

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio claims on his Web site that political enemies Don Stapley, Mary Rose Wilcox, Terry Goddard, and Sandra Dowling weren't enemies before he began investigating them for alleged crimes.

Writing in third person, (or maybe it's an anonymous employee doing the writing on his behalf), Arpaio takes on an Arizona Republic opinion piece that skewers him for Monday's arrest of County Supervisor Don Stapley. The essay states: The fact of the matter is this: none of these officials were Sheriff Arpaio's adversary when the investigations against them launched. To say that each one was a friend of the Sheriff would go too far, it's true, because in politics, a person has no friends. But they were by no means enemies of the Sheriff.

This claim is not only suspect on its face, but each of the elected officials have made public statements that Arpaio's investigations are politically motivated retaliation.

So who's right? It's somewhat unclear -- but the scale tips toward Goddard and the others when you factor in County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who's worked closely with Arpaio on the investigations.

For instance, some news reports before the announcement of the investigation against state Attorney General Goddard in 2007 reveal that Goddard didn't believe that targeting individual illegal immigrants was very effective. The position put him at odds with Arpaio, who continues to use county resources to bust average undocumented residents. More compelling as a motive for why Arpaio might go after Goddard, though, is the sheriff's alliance with Thomas.

Not only did Thomas run unsuccessfully against Goddard for AG in 2002, but both Goddard and Thomas were at one time considering a run for governor in 2010. Thomas was in on the Goddard investigation with Arpaio from the beginning.

Thomas also figures in the first criminal investigation of Stapley, according to Stapley's defense team. In a court motion filed earlier this month, Stapley's lawyers state that Thomas blamed Stapley directly for trying to usurp his office's power. A few months after Thomas launched a lawsuit against the board, Stapley criticized Thomas publicly in a January 2007 Arizona Republic article:

A member of the Board of Supervisors questioned whether Thomas was tying campaign donations to county contract work. Supervisor Don Stapley said he thought Thomas was using the lucrative contracts as a "political lever."

(One of the lawyers hired by Thomas in his 2006 lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors was Leo Beus, who also represented the opponents of Stapley's buddy, convicted felon Conley Wolfswinkel, in a high-dollar lawsuit).

Wilcox, one of Stapley's fellow Supervisors on the five-member county board, was outspoken in her opposition to a hotline Arpaio had set up for the public to rat out illegal immigrants. That was in 2007, two years before Arpaio announced he was investigating Wilcox. Thomas' office, on the other hand, has been looking into a case related to Wilcox for five years. This becomes something akin to a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: Which elected official began hating the other first? Did Wilcox oppose Arpaio to get back at Thomas? Is Arpaio investigating Wilcox because she doesn't like Thomas? Who knows? But Arpaio's statement that Wilcox wasn't his enemy before the Sheriff's Office began its investigation of her isn't very clear cut.

Then there's Sandra Dowling, the former county superintendent of schools. She alleges in a lawsuit that the sheriff and Board of Supervisors retaliated against her complaining that county schools weren't properly funded.

The relationships between these public officials over the years isn't easy to sort out. But the Republican sheriff's argument about not being political enemies with the accused sounds iffy, especially considering that two of officials, Goddard and Wilcox, are Democrats.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.