Arpaio Tipped Off to Laid-Back Mesa’s Illegal Cleaning Staff by “Disgruntled” Former City Employee

By Ray Stern

It's no stretch to characterize the raid by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies on Mesa's city hall and library as a heavy-handed political move. As covered in the July 10 edition of New Times, the city’s outspoken Cuban immigrant police chief, George Gascon, and Arpaio have sparred publicly since before Gascon came to Mesa from Los Angeles two years ago.

But this time, Mesa was asking for it. The city left a weakness for the sheriff to exploit.

A chat with city spokesman Steve Wright yesterday afternoon makes it clear the city pretty much blew off concerns raised last May about illegal immigrants on cleaning crews. And because those concerns were coming from a “disgruntled” – Wright’s word, not mine – city employee who was on the verge of being fired over a devious e-mail prank, Mesa comes off looking none-too-savvy for having failed to see this one coming.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith (pictured below) apparently realized he’d driven into a political box canyon about noon yesterday. Earlier on Friday, he’d planned another news conference about the raid, seeming like he was going to continue the expression of outrage he’d shown on Thursday.

Then Smith canceled the news conference and took off early on a family vacation to the Mogollon Rim. Though Wright told me Smith would be available to talk to me on Friday, suddenly he was out of touch. Smith put out a 2 p.m. press release, though, just before he high-tailed it out of town, stating he planned to meet with Arpaio next week:

During our meeting, I intend to discuss how Mesa and the Sheriff’s Office can work to resolve differences that have arisen from the challenges of overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities within the city.

News flash, Mayor: Arpaio sees only one jurisdiction – his. The “challenges” are all Mesa’s.

Smith will be meeting at Arpaio’s office, according to Arpaio. Total capitulation. It reminds me of some obsequious politician meeting with the conqueror in a captured Paris suburb during WWII.

Chief Gascon, among the most media-friendly public officials in the Valley, wasn’t talking by yesterday afternoon, either. Gascon gave a few sound bites to Channel 3 (KTVK) early Friday, smiling as he noted that the three illegal immigrants arrested at the Mesa library “would not be categorized as violent criminals.”

But Wright said later Gascon would not be making further statements about the raid because, “this isn’t a law enforcement issue as much as an issue between two government agencies.”

Wright also said Wade Pew, the police lieutenant who first heard of a problem with the cleaning crew back in May, wouldn’t be giving statements. On the day of the raid, Arpaio claimed Pew had been warned that some of the cleaning crew members were undocumented, but said it wasn’t the city’s problem. In a brief phone interview, Pew told an East Valley Tribune reporter his reaction to the tipster had been mischaracterized, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

It’s kind of a moot point, anyway. The city did, in fact, hold a meeting in May between Pew, Mesa facilities supervisor Dennis Ray, and managers of the cleaning company, Management Cleaning Controls. According to Wright, the company’s representatives gave verbal promises that all of their employees were legal workers. And city officials – whether gullible, lazy or sympathetic to the plight of immigrants – never asked for proof.

Yet the city probably should have taken the concerns about illegals more seriously. As Wright related, those concerns were coming from a "disgruntled" city employee, Chuck Wilson.

Wilson, a computer technician with the city’s municipal security team, knew in May his job was in jeopardy because of an investigation that had been going on since the previous August. By September 2007, the investigation had determined Wilson was responsible as a supervisor for distributing an inappropriate e-mail that had offended other employees.

A police internal affairs report released by Mesa on Friday gives all the sordid details. Back in August of 2007, the one employee whom Wilson had supervised -- whose name was deleted from the report – thought it would be hilarious to create a joke e-mail based on Preparation H Raymond, (pictured here), a character on the Late Night with Conan O’Brien TV show.

With Wilson a few feet away, the employee pasted a picture of the character above ribald lyrics sung on the show:

If your butt’s not feelin’ fine Raymond’s here, Raymond’s here Just squirty this lube on your behind Raymond’s here to help

Silly and immature, of course. But here’s the nasty part: With Wilson’s knowledge, the employee set up a Hotmail account and made the e-mail appear to have come from one of the men in the office, presumably an employee named Raymond.

Not only was one of the women in the office offended by the e-mail, but the security officer whom the e-mail appeared to come from ended up worried sick all weekend that he was going to be fired, the report states. After all, the city takes naughty e-mails much more seriously since a 2006 scandal in which 521 city employees, including 200 police employees, were caught sending inappropriate messages.

Wilson and his subordinate fessed up only after they realized one of the offended women had caused the department’s supervisors to launch an investigation, the report shows. In May of this year, Wilson knew he was only a few steps away from losing his job. And, in fact, the report shows that a disciplinary board recommended in June that Wilson be fired. After a few fruitless appeals to his supervisors, Wilson lost his job last month. (The subordinate, by the way, only received a lengthy suspension.) A letter from Wilson indicates he believed the offense didn’t merit termination.

The point is, Wilson apparently didn’t make the complaints about the cleaning crew because he was concerned about the country’s illegal immigration problem. (However, New Times could not reach Wilson on Friday or Saturday to ask him about it.) City officials should have guessed Wilson was prepared to make a stink. And it should go without saying that allowing undocumented workers in a sensitive area like City Hall is a bad idea.

Wright said the city will “definitely” re-examine the companies it contracts with to make sure only legal workers are being hired in the future.

Yeah, those pictures of the up-armored sheriff’s deputies strolling into the public library symbolize the overbearing tactics Arpaio uses to strengthen his political base.

But clearly, Mesa left the door wide open for another of Arpaio's stunts.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.