How far was Sheriff Joe Arpaio willing to go in ginning up a false conspiracy theory he hoped would disqualify federal Judge G. Murray Snow from the ACLU's big civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio?
As far west as Seattle and as far east as Washington, D.C.
I'll get to the D.C. part in a bit.
In Seattle, as we know, there was alleged computer guru Dennis Montgomery, for whom the MCSO bought computer equipment, made payments in excess of $120,000, and sent two deputies and Cold Case Posse honcho Mike Zullo to babysit, in hopes that Montgomery could construct a conspiracy involving Snow, the U.S. Department of Justice, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and countless others.
Total cost of this year-plus long investigation? My sources estimate close to $1 million. Much of it from RICO funds.
In May 2013, Snow found Arpaio and the MCSO guilty of racial profiling in Melendres. Snow eventually ordered a litany of reforms to correct the situation, appointing a monitor to make sure they got done.
In September of that same year, Arpaio began a secret investigation of Snow, using Montgomery as a confidential informant.
It was a probe I first exposed in June 2014. In January 2015, I revealed that the MCSO was involved in a separate, equally bogus investigation of Judge Snow's wife and that the purpose of both investigations was to seek Snow's recusal.
After Arpaio and his Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan admitted during April contempt proceedings to these investigations, which they insist were not really investigations of Snow's wife or his court, Arpaio's criminal attorney, Mel McDonald, sought to disqualify Snow.
McDonald did this in May, though he told the press in April that there was no reason to seek Snow's recusal.
The former U.S. Attorney denied that the recusal motion was a delaying tactic, intended to put off another embarrassing round of contempt proceedings already scheduled for June.
Nevertheless, that's about all McDonald achieved — a delay.
On July 10, as had been anticipated, Snow denied the defense motion for recusal, lifted a stay he'd placed on plaintiff discovery, and allowed monitor Robert Warshaw to resume his enhanced oversight of the MCSO.
In his 40-page order, Snow used the defendants' words and actions against them. He pointed to statements made under oath by Sheridan and Arpaio confirming that what Montgomery had given them was "junk" and unreliable.
Moreover, if Arpaio and Sheridan really believed what they had testified to, went Snow's logic, how could they now use that same material to disqualify the jurist?
As far as the inquiry into Snow's wife, Arpaio's then-attorney Tim Casey eventually concluded that claims concerning statements allegedly made by Snow's wife — to the effect Snow despised Arpaio and wanted him out of office — were "fundamentally flawed."
If Sheridan and Arpaio thought Snow was biased based on "third-party hearsay," then they had an obligation to bring it to the court's attention in a timely matter.
Instead, the pair sat on the investigation that Casey had farmed out to a private detective at taxpayer expense.
Snow correctly concludes that their use of it 19 months after the fact was an attempt to "manipulate the recusal process."
Regarding the Seattle probe, Snow says Arpaio and Sheridan "instigated the Montgomery matter" and hired Montgomery as a CI "at least partly in an attempt to discredit this court by linking it to a speculative conspiracy."
The move for recusal was part of a "strategic manipulation" by the defense, Snow writes, which successfully "stalled additional discovery into the Montgomery materials from occurring."
Now the proceedings will resume, and a status conference is scheduled for July 20.
(Note: As this column went to press, Arpaio's lawyers asked Snow for another stay so they could seek the intervention of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Which seems about as likely as Bibi Netanyahu's hugging it out with a room full of Iranian mullahs.)
Remember, Arpaio and Sheridan already have admitted to civil contempt of the court's orders. All that's left is to determine whether Arpaio and Sheridan acted "willfully" and, therefore, criminally.
Seems like a no-brainer to me, but Snow is nothing if not deliberate. If he concludes that there was "knowing defiance and subversion of the court's efforts to administer justice," Snow likely will refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney and another judge for criminal prosecution.
Should they be found guilty, Arpaio and Sheridan could do six months in the slammer.
The great irony of McDonald's failed recusal motion is that, as a result of it, Snow unsealed several e-mails culled from plaintiff discovery that indicate how desperate the MCSO was to concoct a conspiracy involving Snow's court.
Indeed, the e-mails, along with timelines and bizarre flow charts labeled "Arpaio brief" show that, counter to the testimony of both Arpaio and Sheridan, the MCSO was using Montgomery to investigate Snow and the DOJ, which has its own abuse of power/racial profiling lawsuit against Arpaio scheduled to begin August 10 in federal Judge Roslyn O. Silver's courtroom.
"Mr. Montgomery needs validation like a drowning man needs oxygen," Zullo cracked in one email, later adding that, "as of this date, our experience dealing with Mr.Montgomery mirrors what has been written about him."
In one plaintive e-mail from Montgomery dated June 29, 2014, the reputed computer whiz complains of "too many mixed signals," from the MCSO, with Sergeant Travis Anglin's supposedly telling him "not to produce information on Judge Snow," while being "attacked for not producing information on Judge Snow."
Montgomery states that he was told, "Sheridan didn't want to go in front of Judge Snow and be accused of retaliating against the judge."
In November 2014, Brian Mackiewicz, the lead detective on the Seattle adventure, concluded that in the 50 to 60 hard drives of data Montgomery had handed over to the MCSO there was "no evidence to support Dennis Montgomery's claims."
Still, Mackiewicz and Zullo continued to pump Montgomery and his attorney, Larry Klayman, for info on Snow, right up till the eve of the first round of contempt hearings in April.
This, though Mackiewicz claims in an e-mail to have caught Montgomery in "lies" and Zullo, in another, states that Montgomery "needs validation like a drowning man needs oxygen."
He's not the only one.
Snow notes that Sheridan and Arpaio's testimony on the Seattle probe "may have been at least partially inaccurate."
The pair "continue to contend under penalty of perjury that the Montgomery investigation never 'involved any investigation of the court.'"
And yet, the e-mails and the flow charts bearing Snow's name tell a different story, one that points to possible perjury on the part of Arpaio and Sheridan.
To cover themselves, Montgomery was taken by the MCSO to the Arizona Attorney General's Office for a "free talk," while AG Tom Horne was still in power.
The AG's Office under Mark Brnovich has confirmed this, as I have reported previously.
Also, Sheridan revealed in his April testimony that the MCSO had "a seated justice in Washington . . . a member of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court in Washington, D.C." review the Montgomery material.
On the stand, Sheridan said he couldn't recall the judge's name.
Mackiewicz also states in one of the recently unsealed e-mails that the MCSO put Montgomery in front of a federal judge in D.C.
Klayman takes credit for this in an e-mail to Mackiewicz, stating, "there would be no judge if not for me," advising him, "do not mess with Lamberth."
Would this be senior federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth, who once presided over the FISA court and has had Klayman before him in court previously?
A member of the judge's staff told me Lamberth had "no comment" when I called to ask about the jurist's possible contacts with Montgomery.
That a federal judge in D.C. would assist a county sheriff with a probe of another federal judge, one overseeing a case where that sheriff is a defendant, seems highly unusual to say the least.
Detective Mackiewicz was more forthcoming than Lamberth when I called him and wondered if Lamberth was the judge in question who met with Montgomery.
But just barely.
"C'mon, Steve," he said. "When it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, sometimes it's a duck."Email [email protected].
On Twitter @stephenlemons.
Valley Fever on Twitter: @ValleyFeverPHX.