Maricopa County Craziness

Don Stapley Victory: Prosecutor Drops Remaining Criminal Charges


Don Stapley won.

Andrew Thomas and Joe Arpaio lost.

The Maricopa County Supervisor has been under a legal black cloud since December, when County Attorney Thomas slammed him with 118 felony counts of violating campaign finance law. But Thomas tossed the case to Yavapai County prosecutors after losing several key court battles, and a judge threw out 51 counts against Stapley in August.

Now the whole case is history:

The Yavapai County prosecutor in the case filed a  motion today to drop all remaining charges.

For Stapley (pictured at right), that means it's time to pop the cork on the champagne.

And for Andrew Thomas -- well, he intends to run for state Attorney General. You do the math.

True, the dismissal is being done "without prejudice," which means Stapley could be re-charged in the future. That seems unlikely, given the shape of the case at this point.

The problem for prosecutors is that Stapley was charged with failing to disclose various real estate deals and income in his campaign finance disclosure forms. Maricopa Judge Kenneth Fields (the one Thomas thinks can't be fair) ruled last month that the county failed to properly adopt a state law concerning campaign finances.

In other words, the law Stapley was accused of violating doesn't actually exist at the county level. Thomas' office hadn't done its homework.

After Fields made his ruling and tossed 51 counts, Yavapai County prosecutor Melvin Bowers sought help from the state Court of Appeals, hoping to reverse Fields' decision. A couple of days ago, that court sort of told Bowers to pound sand.

Bowers apparently figured the appellate court's ruling meant he had no real case at all.

Another interesting aspect to the case: Stapley's lawyers, including former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, argued that many other county officials -- like the sheriff -- had also failed to disclose every last source of income in campaign finance paperwork. (New Times pointed out that tidbit about Sheriff Arpaio just days after Stapley's indictment).

Another front against Stapley could open, theoretically: Arpaio's office claimed back in February that part of the case involved an "ongoing bribery investigation." If the sheriff's office has evidence of other crimes, though, who is going to prosecute that? Not Thomas, we figure, who's intends to run for state Attorney General and might not want to risk another loss with the same criminal defendant.

All in all, it seems like the Stapley case won't be a point of pride for Thomas in his bid for AG. He wants to show he's a fighter of public corruption, but he didn't get his man. (Maybe he can save his reputation on that front with the SCA case...) 

Ultimately, the Stapley prosecution was more than an exercise in futility. It deepened the divide between Thomas and other county officials in a huge way. Thomas insisted judges in the case were biased, especially Fields. Other Supervisors considered the indictment a major conflict of interest, since Thomas was also the Board of Supervisors' legal representative. Soon after Stapley was indicted, the Supervisors voted to strip Thomas of his power to handle the county's civil lawsuits -- a move that has so far been backed up by the court system.

County leadership has never been in such disarray, and much of the turmoil is related to the Stapley case. Not that things are likely to improve now that it's over.

For more info on the case, see the following New Times articles:

Stapley Indicted on 118 Criminal Counts

Offices of Conley Wolfswinkel Raided

Donors to Stapley defense fund interviewed by deputies


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


It's Time to Kick Andrew Thomas Off the Stapley Investigation

More on Arpaio's Own Finance Disclosure Forms 

Judge Wants Explanation for Leaked File

County Wants Prosecutor Held Liable for Leaked File

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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.