Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution

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When Arpaio stood yet again for election in 2004, New Times' relationship with the sheriff was 12 years old.

Sheriff Arpaio hid nearly $790,000 in cold hard cash in three real estate investments that former New Times staff writer John Dougherty discovered in July 2004, in the middle of a heated primary election.

Arpaio stashed an indeterminate amount of cash in another six parcels of commercial and residential real estate.

With more than a million dollars invested, how could there not be questions?

Columnist Dougherty wondered how a public servant surviving on a $78,000 sheriff's salary and a government retirement check could afford such an investment portfolio.

It was not a pointless query. In 12 years overseeing (at the time) a $140 million law enforcement empire, Arpaio had never suffered a thorough audit by the county.

Perhaps the sheriff inherited a fortune from a distant relative.

A paper trail that should have been public would have reassured voters.

But the normal public real estate records maintained by the government were not available when it came to Sheriff Arpaio.

He used an arcane statute meant to conceal home addresses of law enforcement officials to shield his investments.

Sheriff Arpaio petitioned the court and obtained an order, but rather than merely delete his home address, he removed all the information about all his commercial properties. The redacted records covered such data as deeds, mortgages, affidavits of value, and conveyances of title.

"It's because of all the death threats," Arpaio explained to Dougherty in the summer of 2004. Of course, that's what America's toughest sheriff says about most things, though it hardly explains how hiding commercial real estate transactions created safety.

During the same time the sheriff's commercial property records were hidden from the public, his home address was there for anybody interested to see on the County Recorder's, county Elections Department and the Arizona Corporation Commission Web sites. The address was also on myriad other sites on the Internet.

To underscore just how far the sheriff had perverted the law, Dougherty included Arpaio's home address, which he had learned from the other Internet sites, at the end of the second item of his column.

There is another fascinating aspect to all this. There is a second arcane Arizona law that put us at odds with Sheriff Arpaio.

That law says you cannot publish a law enforcement officer's address on the World Wide Web. Yet it is perfectly legal to publish an officer's home address in your newspaper, or on a billboard. You can broadcast that address on radio or television.

Like every other news organization we are aware of, the content of our newspaper goes up on our Web site automatically. Now almost three years after the fact, this criminal law, a Class 5 felony, provided a tool for special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik to serve our organization with a total of three grand jury subpoenas.

Because we've been no less critical of County Attorney Andrew Thomas' policies than we have of Sheriff Arpaio's, the top prosecutor declared a conflict of interest and initially shipped out the alleged Class 5 felony to Pinal County, where it languished for nearly two years before it was punted back to Maricopa County.

At one point, prosecutors in Pinal County agreed that perhaps the best solution was for New Times to file a Constitutional challenge to the Web site statute.

Then the cockamamie card was played.

A Mexican drug cartel acting on behalf of the Minutemen through the intercession of a pro-immigration rights radio talk show host intended to assassinate Arpaio, according to a sheriff's office investigation detailed on the front page of the Sunday, October 7, edition of the Arizona Republic.

Now just think about this for a second. The Minutemen hate Mexicans sneaking across the border. They are even less fond if the Mexicans are smuggling drugs.

And we are supposed to believe that the Minutemen, seldom associated with unexplained stashes of bling, agreed to a $3 million assassination fee and put 50 percent down?

And that this was brokered by Elias Bermudez, a talk radio host, former mayor of Mexican border town San Luis Rio Colorado in Sonora, and an outspoken critic of Sheriff Arpaio — and, obviously, no fan of the Minutemen?

And a key linchpin in this comic book farce was a teenage girl in a prep school in Hartford, Connecticut, who was an exchange student at one point in San Luis. If the drug cartel needed to contact the Minutemen "for any reason," they could use a particular e-mail address . . . which, as the officers discovered, belonged to a kid in a private school.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey
Jim Larkin
Contact: Jim Larkin