Maricopa County Craziness

Don Stapley Case Dropped by Gila County Prosecutor; Thomas and Aubuchon "Abdicated" Roles as Fair Prosecutors


Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley has escaped a second criminal case leveled at him by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.


Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores has decided not to charge Stapley for his alleged wrongdoing in a case that new records show was manufactured in part for the media attention.

Two years ago, following an indictment of Stapley on his failure to disclose various business relationships on financial forms, Arpaio's office made it known it was checking into other allegations against Stapley.

After Arpaio's Maricopa Anti-Corruption Enforcement team raided the Tempe office of a business associate of Stapley's, Conley Wolfswinkel, in January 2009, Arpaio claimed in a press release that Stapley was implicated in a "bribery" scheme.

Nothing ever came of the bribery allegation, but the MACE investigators did cobble together a case based loosely on business deals between Wolfswinkel and Stapley, as well as on fund-raising Stapley did during his effort to become president of the National Association of Counties.

In a letter to Maricopa County Bill Montgomery (see below), Flores called the behavior of Thomas and the former deputy county attorney he used in politically charged cases, Lisa Aubuchon, "egregious."

Flores wrote that the conduct alleged against Stapley can't be proven, and that anyone who's finanicial life was "sifted through in minute detail" might appear to have committed some "unknowing wrong-doing.

"The vast record is littered with behavior so egregious ... that a reasonable person's sense of fairness, honesty, and integrity would be offended," she wrote. "It seems unlikely that any other elected official in Maricopa County has had their personal life subjected to this level of scrutiny.

"Importantly, the prior prosecutors [Aubuchon and Thomas] in this matter abdicated their roles as ministers of justice and their conduct was so egregious that we are unwilling to even attempt to justify it."

The news obviously gives a boost to the lawsuit by Stapley against the county, even though taxpayers would have to shell out the $15 million he wants if he wins.

"Finally, the long nightmare is over," Stapley said in a written statement.

As past news stories and the newly release records from an internal investigation of Arpaio's office shows, Stapley was mistreated by the biased sheriff and former county attorney.

Thomas and Aubuchon worked up the financial-disclosure case against him in 2007, apparently coming up with it themselves. Stapley was indicted by a grand jury in December  2008 with 117 misdemeanors and felonies. But it turned out Stapley wasn't legally required to fill out the forms. It also turned out that the misdemeanors, upon which the felonies were based, had been filed even though the statute of limitations on the counts had expired.

Thomas gave the Stapley investigations to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to avoid being sanctioned by a judge for having a conflict of interest in the cases. (Lawyers from Thomas' office had once advised Stapley on how to fill out his financial disclosure forms.)


When the disclosure case fell apart on Friday, May 18, 2009, because of Thomas' lack of understanding about the law, Arpaio ordered the arrest of Stapley that Monday on the second case.

Yet Polk had told him the previous week that the second Stapley case wasn't ready to move forward. A report by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's office into misconduct inside the MCSO shows that oneMACE supervisor, Lieutenant Rich Burden, also felt the case was too weak for an arrest.

The legal community was shocked at the arrest, which had no prosecutorial backing and appeared to have been conducted solely to satisfy Arpaio's ego.

Later, Polk told Arpaio she disagreed with his decision to arrest Stapley and he went off on her, declaring that he had probable cause for the arrest and no one could tell him differently. Arpaio and Thomas took back the case from Polk and later gave it to Flores.

The inability to nail Stapley is the kicker to a long line of tainted, failed MACE cases. Arpaio and Thomas also lost in their efforts to prosecute supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Andy Kunasek and Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. Last year, they canceled a ludicrous RICO suit against county leaders. Then, Thomas quit his job as county attorney and failed to beat Tom Horne in the race for state Attorney General. Thomas is now facing possible disbarment in a discipline hearing set for this fall on the matter.

UPDATE: Here's the letter from Flores. Arpaio, Thomas, and Aubuchon, who don't come off looking very good in it. But then, neither does Stapley:

Flores Stapley Let

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern