Maricopa County Craziness

Bill Montgomery, Arpaio-Backed Candidate for County Attorney, Highly Critical of Sheriff and Andrew Thomas

Bill Montgomery, the candidate for Maricopa County Attorney backed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, strongly questions Sheriff Joe Arpaio's mental fitness and leadership ability in a secret tape made by county officials.

New Times broke part of this story yesterday based on second-hand comments from the county official who made the recording, Don Stapley's executive assistant, Susan Schuerman. The tape was made during Montgomery's meeting with Stapley earlier this month, when Montgomery was hoping to convince the Board of Supervisors to appoint him as interim county attorney if Andrew Thomas decided to resign. (Thomas later did resign from the post so he could run for state attorney general).

County officials released the tape today -- and it's even juicier than was first billed. We've included the 38-minute audio file on this post for your listening pleasure.

Besides reflecting on Arpaio's many senior moments, Montgomery told Stapley he believed the infamous court-tower investigation launched by Sheriff Arpaio's office may have been orchestrated by Arpaio's money-conscious staff.

To Stapley, the Republican candidate made himself out to be a real Arpaio critic.

But, as we learned, Montgomery later teamed up with Arpaio in hopes of giving a boost to his campaign. Montgomery mailed a letter from Arpaio to the sheriff's supporters a couple of weeks ago, in which Arpaio praises the candidate and pledges to help him get elected.

We sort of feel bad for Montgomery in this situation -- no one likes to have a private conversation recorded without their knowledge. Yet getting beyond the ethics (and politics) of why the tape was made, Montgomery does come off looking fairly two-faced.

He's willing to take every cent Arpaio can raise for him, yet described the sheriff to Stapley as kind of a dottering old fool.

He also said he's not thrilled with Thomas' monolithic focus on illegal immigration. Yet that focus, of course, is shared by Arpaio.

Montgomery told Stapley that Thomas' focus on illegal immigration has been "harmful to the community" and that it was very "self-serving" of Thomas to run on the "single issue" of immigration.

Thomas "viciously attacked" Hispanics to the detriment of the community and local politics, he said, adding that he hoped to "eliminate what has been an ethnic and racial divide" for officials.

Montgomery sounds darned reasonable on this issue -- but at this point, it's hard to know what he really thinks. Was he just saying stuff he thought Stapley wanted to hear?

The discussion on Arpaio's mental health comes in the first couple of minutes on the tape.

Montgomery related how he'd been talking about serious issues during a meeting with Arpaio when the conversation suddenly turned to "stories about his family, past Valentine's Days, that sort of thing."

An aide popped in to prompt the sheriff out of his daydreaming, and "it was a little bit like -- I don't want to disparage him -- but a little bit like someone coming into a nursing home and saying visiting hours are over now."


He said the experience "led me to this conclusion -- and I'm sharing this in confidence..."

"Sure," Stapley encouraged him, knowing the tape was being made.

Montgomery then said he thought the investigation into the planned construction of the court tower was probably not the sheriff's idea, but that of Arpaio's staffers who wanted the construction money to offset budget cuts.

"Manipulating is too strong a term, but it was something akin to that," he said.

He suggested that David Hendershott, the sheriff's chief deputy, was behind the move.

"I don't see everything that he is doing as something that he's coming up with on his own," Montgomery said. "Telling Hendershott 'no' is something that's going to have be done."

The court tower investigation resulted in a federal RICO lawsuit filed by Arpaio and Thomas against county officials, local lawyers and judges. But the lawsuit had to be dismissed in order for Thomas to make a credible run for county attorney, Montgomery speculated.

He pointed out that, during the news conference in which Thomas and Arpaio announced they were dropping the lawsuit, Thomas didn't stand next to the sheriff as he usually does during statements to the press.

Montgomery told Stapley that he would have given Thomas the same advice: "Don't stand next to the sheriff, or you'll look like Deputy Dawg."

Near the end of the tape, the conversation touched on Arpaio's possible run for governor.

Montgomery said he wasn't sure "how well he would hold up," and related another story about Arpaio's deteriorating speaking ability.

We couldn't reach Montgomery on his mobile phone yesterday or today.

Arpaio told the Republic that he would support Montgomery no matter what the "hype."

Heck, if Montgomery's assessment is correct, Arpaio will forget about the Montgomery tape by next week -- and probably send him a Valentine's Day card.

Click here for the .wav file of the recording (38 minutes).

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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.