Longform

Head on a skewer: Joe Arpaio was so obsessed with getting a hard-charging New Times writer prosecuted that he badgered Andy Thomas into making a fool of himself

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Stolze, who died of heart failure in December 2006, played it as straight as his stellar reputation suggested he would.

In a report on his interview with Ava Arpaio, he wrote, "It should be noted that towards the end of this interview, Mr. Lebowitz wrote something on a piece of paper and attempted to show it to Mrs. Arpaio. This note was taken by deputy county attorney Lucca before Mrs. Arpaio could see it, and she informed Mr. Lebowitz, 'We're not going to prompt the witness.'"

Interviewed after his wife, the self-described "toughest sheriff in America" told Stolze that his staff immediately had placed extra patrols around his residence after Dougherty's column.

The investigator asked why Arpaio had taken so long to officially lodge his complaint.

"I was in a Catch-22, if you want to use that phrase," the sheriff said. "It was a political year, and I was being blasted every week with slander and threatening news articles by Dougherty. I knew there would be a new county attorney coming in, and I felt that if I reported it during the election year that would be the first allegation — that I was doing this to shut the mouth of the reporter.

"The other reason was that I wasn't sure that [Rick Romley] would pursue it, and number three, if he did, he may have held it anyway for the new county attorney to take office."

Arpaio conceded that he wasn't as worried about his home address being available on the Internet as he was about its being on the New Times Web site.

"I'm more concerned about the New Times and the mindset of Dougherty knowing that this could be a threat to me," he said. "Also, when you look at the clientele of the New Times, those are people that have the propensity to do harm to this sheriff."

Arpaio then launched into a riff:

"Everybody knows me around this world, there's no doubt about that. I go back to being the director of Mexico and South America with the federal drug enforcement. I go back to Turkey, the Middle East, being head of that operation . . . People still remember me from my drug background, but they sure remember me from my sheriff's background, and I do get a lot of nasty, nasty television and commentary from foreign countries. So my name, my address being on this World Wide Web makes me very, very concerned."

Before the Incident Review Board met on August 9, 2005, Ron Lebowitz submitted his own take on the case: "It could be argued that Dougherty, when reviewing the very words that he chose to use when writing the July 1, 2004, and July 8, 2004, articles in particular, wanted to frighten the Sheriff, and Mrs. Arpaio, i.e. to make them fearful of life and limb by releasing the Sheriff's home address on the New Times Web site."

Then, according to Lebowitz, Dougherty would be happy "pursuant to his own scheme, by getting away with it, thereby obtaining a petty in-your-face sense of satisfaction, a component [of] his hubris."

The County Attorney's Office allowed Lebowitz to make a verbal pitch at the August 9 Incident Review Board meeting. But the board didn't buy it, and that left Andy Thomas in a tough spot between his senior staff and an irate Joe Arpaio.

A few weeks later, Thomas asked Pinal County Attorney Carter Olson to take over the case.


Ron Lebowitz immediately went to work on Olson, writing to him on September 12, 2005: "The Dougherty matter, for reasons which should be obvious, is something deeply felt and closely followed by the Sheriff."

He first met with County Attorney Olson in mid-November 2005, and shortly thereafter he sent a memo that foreshadowed what would happen once Dennis Wilenchik came onboard in July 2007 and demanded access to everything but the proverbial kitchen sink from New Times.

Lebowitz suggested that Olson issue subpoenas to New Times management "to appear before an investigative grand jury to collect the evidence considered necessary."

The attorney contacted the Pinal County Attorney by letter and phone incessantly, writing in early 2006 that the Arpaios "are experiencing a form of tension stemming from pent-up frustration and anxiety due to what appears to be a lack of activity in the Dougherty matter . . . A failure to go forward would convey the very worst of messages which we are certain you would never embrace."

In May 2006, County Attorney Olson and one of his prosecutors met with Lebowitz and longtime Arpaio public-relations chief Lisa Allen at the Mesa Hilton coffee shop.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin