Maricopa County Craziness

Hard Drives and Paperwork Collected in Chicanos Por La Causa Raid; Case Based on Phoenix Magazine Article

Deputies seized general computer equipment at Chicanos Por La Causa's Phoenix headquarters, in addition to paperwork related to an indicted County Supervisor, records show.

 Search warrant returns reviewed by New Times back up claims by the social service agency's representatives of a fishing expedition by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. But the seizures, as listed, weren't beyond the scope of the search warrant. Signed by University Lakes Justice of the Peace John Ore, it allowed the deputies to seize just about anything resembling computer equipment in addition to items related to Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.

Deputies took hard drives from the computers of six employees, including Alicia Nunez, acting vice-president of accounting (according to a 2008 list of employees), John Ramirez of the economic development division, and Teresa Miranda, a loan officer. Deputies also obtained a one-terabyte hard drive containing all of the agency's e-mail data.

The search warrant documents also explain that the criminal case against Wilcox began with a tip on May 12, 2009, to the Sheriff's Office that accused the longtime Supervisor of a conflict of interest.

The tipster, (who wasn't named in the documents), referenced allegations detailed in a Phoenix Magazine article published in March 2008, the search warrant records state.

The article by former New Times writer Terry Greene Sterling, A Rose By Any Name, covers the same issues raised in the indictment and search warrant, though the Sheriff's Office discovered two other, much larger loans received by Wilcox, besides those Sterling wrote about.

Sterling's article mentions that Wilcox voted on 16 different contracts that gave Chicanos Por La Causa more than $1 million in funding for its services, and quotes prominent Valley attorney Michael Manning (who counts New Times among his clients, we should disclose):

And Manning, who as a young prosecutor sent Charlie Keating to prison and then went on in private practice to win legal battles against former Governor Fife Symington and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, says it appears Mary Rose Wilcox should have disclosed the loans and should not have voted on CPLC matters.

"At a minimum this is the type of financial relationship that needs to be disclosed before a vote on a grant or contract," he says. "It's a matter of public ethics.

"Whether she used the money for a restaurant, a lemonade stand or a political consulting firm, it's a personal debt and therefore should have been disclosed," he adds.

Manning told Sterling the matter should be investigated, and Sterling called County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office:

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office, when told of the loans in general terms, would not comment unless it received a written complaint and launched an investigation, says Mike Scerbo, spokesman for the county attorney's office.

The search warrant documents, signed by a deputy, don't mention any involvement by Thomas' office. After the unidentified person made the complaint, deputies read the Sterling article and used public records to find out Wilcox's voting record on Chicanos Por La Causa contracts and whether she'd disclosed the loans publicly.

Wilcox received $297,500 in loans, the search warrant documents state. Three loans totaling $177,500 were made from 2000 to 2006, when Wilcox was voting with the other supervisors to give money to Chicanos Por La Causa. (We still think some of the charges related to these votes are beyond the statute of limitations...) In 2008, the Chicanos group lent an additional $120,000 to the Wilcoxes' business, Grant Park Enterprises, the records state. Chicanos Por La Causa officials mentioned only three loans in their news conference on Friday.

The county had been battling for weeks against the Sheriff's Office over money at the time of the alleged complaint against Wilcox. On May 19, Wilcox and the other supervisors adopted a $2.1 billion budget that was criticized by Thomas and Sheriff Arpaio. The Wilcox investigation was launched just as the Sheriff's Office was ramping up its investigation into planned construction of the new court building, and records requests made by the Sheriff's Office on May 11 and 12 referenced Wilcox. Did a member of the general public make the May 12 complaint against Wilcox or was the idea hatched by sheriff's deputies? As with the Stapley case, the use of an anonymous tipster is itself suspicious in this highly political game.

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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.