Governor yanks Arpaio's immigration funding

By Ray Stern

Much of the money for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration-enforcement efforts lately has poured out of a special pool of state money.

But New Times has learned that Governor Janet Napolitano's turning off the spigot.

In what appears to be a prelude to a major fight between Napolitano and Arpaio, the governor issued an executive order last week to develop a new task force--headed up by the state Department of Public Safety--to find and arrest tens of thousands of felons with outstanding warrants.

And, according to a letter from DPS Director Roger Vanderpool to Arpaio outlining the new effort, the task force will be funded with the money that Arpaio isn't getting anymore.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors voted just last week to renew an agreement between the DPS and the Sheriff's Office that would've allowed Arpaio to obtain $1 million in special funds for fiscal year 2009, which starts in July.

A review of receipts and requests for reimbursement from the Sheriff's Office shows that most of the money obtained last year was used to pay the salaries and overtime expenses of deputies involved in immigration enforcement. The state funds also were used to lease numerous vehicles from Fox Rent A Car and also to purchase radios and other equipment.

But the letter from Vanderpool explains that, although the county wants the agreement renewed, the state won't do it "because of limited resources."

Napolitano's been criticized for failing to take a stance on Arpaio's immigration sweeps, but it seems now that she's been quietly working on a plan to hit the sheriff where it hurts: in the pocketbook.

Whether the governor's tactic of escalation works politically remains to be seen. Recent polls show that most county residents still approve of Arpaio's methods, despite criticism that he's racially profiling practically anyone who's skin's brown as a potential illegal alien--notably American citizens.

Arpaio's also been lambasted for his failure to serve thousands of felony arrest warrants, choosing instead to expend a large amount of his office's resources on rounding up real and perceived illegal aliens.

Napolitano's executive order states that the new task force "will immediately deploy" detectives to go after the unserved felony warrants, "with priority on gang-related felonies and undocumented aliens with felony warrants."

Dennis Burke, the governor's chief of staff, tells New Times that Arpaio's go-it-alone attitude, combined with the need to round up fugitive felons, led to Napolitano's decision.

Sheriff's officials "were supposed to be sharing intel with us, they were supposed to be coordinating with us, and the Sheriff's Office was thinking it was just a blank check," Burke says.

Arpaio's flacks haven't immediately responded to New Times' request for an interview with the sheriff, or with any other knowledgeable MCSO official, about this evolving story. The fireworks should be starting anytime now...

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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.