Before Don Stapley’s Indictment, There Was the Land Deal

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Ultimately, the lawyers decided against calling Stapley as a witness. (They ended up focusing on another theory: the presence in the courtroom of the father of a former client of Judge Burke's.)

But it's interesting to note the timeline: Just three weeks after the telephone conference in which Cohen noted that "much of" Stapley's savings were invested with Wolfswinkel, sheriff's deputies showed up at the clerk of the board of supervisors, seeking Stapley's financial disclosure statements.

Those statements proved not only the center; they were literally the entire case against Stapley.

And here's another bit of strange timing.

The same week that sheriff's deputies pulled Stapley's disclosure forms, Beus and his partner, Paul Gilbert, threw a fundraiser for Andrew Thomas at Gilbert's home.

The people contributing the maximum amount to Thomas' campaign include Beus, Gilbert, a host of lawyers from the firm that handled their case against Wolfswinkel, and at least three other investors who were burned by Judge Burke's verdict.

So let's review.

Judge Burke unceremoniously tossed out the $171 million verdict against Conley Wolfswinkel.

The losers in that decision believed that Don Stapley may have been a factor. And, they were actively raising money for Andrew Thomas — even as Thomas began to develop the case that would indict Stapley on 118 counts.

And here's the icing on the cake.

When Thomas held a press conference to announce the charges against Stapley, he made Wolfswinkel Exhibit A. Never mind that Wolfswinkel was accused of no wrongdoing in his dealings with Stapley. The press release from Thomas actually trumpets Wolfswinkel's involvement — and his past — in the very first paragraph. So it's not just the timing of the indictment that's odd; the emphasis on Wolfswinkel is odd, too.

Perhaps Thomas has a good answer for all this. But it's impossible to say what it could be; he didn't respond to several messages seeking comment.

The question of who triggered Thomas and Arpaio's investigation would be less important if the charges against Stapley weren't so petty. In essence, the supervisor is facing 118 criminal counts — most of them felonies — for failing to disclose his business' real estate dealings. In most places, that would earn you a slap on the wrist, not years in prison.

And so the question is, why would Thomas throw the book at Stapley for an infraction that half the officials in the county have probably committed at one point or another?

Indeed, even Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a mistake or two on his forms. My investigation of county records shows that Arpaio:

• Failed to disclose his acquisition of two commercial properties in April 1995. Arpaio paid $250,000 cash and later had the court seal documents related to their acquisition. (New Times writer John Dougherty first reported the acquisition in this newspaper; Arpaio never listed it on his public disclosure forms.)

• Failed to disclose the April 1996 sale of a rental property on Indian School Road in Phoenix.

• Failed to disclose the November 2000 purchase of a Fountain Hills condo. County records show Arpaio again paid cash. He disclosed the sale of the condo on his forms covering the year 2001, but never listed the purchase on his year 2000 forms.

Lisa Allen MacPherson, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office, e-mailed me in December to say that Arpaio "has and is complying with regulations regarding Arizona financial disclosure statements."

That's hardly a convincing rebuttal. But Arpaio undoubtedly has nothing to worry about. He and Thomas are a team, and — whether it's investigating Attorney General Terry Goddard, siccing an "independent" prosecutor on New Times, or fighting the Board of Supervisors, they're going to do it together.

Thomas has been willing to fight just about anyone over anything. Even now, after he indicted one of their own, he's threatened the board of supervisors over their audacity to ask a lawyer for advice. (The supervisors, to their credit, ignored Thomas and hired his archenemy, former county attorney and fellow Republican Rick Romley, to do the job.)

But there's no way Thomas is going to take on Sheriff Joe, no matter how many mistakes he's made in his disclosure forms.

Not even, I suspect, if Leo Beus begged him to do it.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske