Getting rid of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his fellow brigands may prove more difficult than ousting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power.
At least Mubarak, in the wake of massive protests, has agreed to relinquish his dictatorial hold within six months' time, ending 30 years of autocratic rule.
But Arpaio's goin' nowhere. He plans to run for re-election in 2012, when he'll be turning 80. He's amassed a fortune to help him win, with $2.8 million in cash on hand, as of his last campaign finance filing.
True, the elections that have kept Arpaio the jefe of Maricopa County, lo, these 18 years are fairer than the rigged referendums that have given cover to Mubarak's dictatorship.
So maybe it's not sporting to compare Mubarak's massive police-state apparatus to Arpaio's iron rule within the confines of this county. Still, the differences tend to be those of degree.
Arpaio's tenure in office has meant the targeting of his political enemies, the arrest and harassment of journalists (specifically the 2007 arrests of Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and VVM CEO Jim Larkin), and the trumping up of charges against those who oppose him.
Not to mention the deaths and injuries to jail detainees, which have cost the county more than $43 million in payouts, as well as the MCSO's massive internal corruption and abuses of power that've been the subject of several state and federal probes, some ongoing.
The apparent failure of these probes demonstrates the impotence of federal and state law enforcement to hold accountable a rogue sheriff like Arpaio.
Before this past Christmas, the rumor mill was in overdrive, and grand jury indictments were expected any week. But the federal grand jury looking into the MCSO for criminal abuse of power violations continues to be eerily silent.
The U.S. Department of Justice's two-year-long civil rights investigation into the MCSO's illegal and unconstitutional sweeps of Hispanic communities remains active.
But it's doubtful that the Obama administration will have the political will to ask a judge to do something so dramatic as putting the MCSO into receivership.
Lately, Arpaio has been cooperating with the DOJ's probe. Put your bets on a consent decree of some kind, wherein Arpaio agrees to a list of "suggestions" put forth by DOJ lawyers.
Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard left office last year without bringing indictments in the Sheriff's Command Association scandal. That's the one in which Joe's underlings created an illegal slush fund to smear Arpaio's 2008 Democratic opponent, Dan Saban, with a sleazy TV ad.
Why the AG's Office lacked the intestinal fortitude to go after this low-hanging fruit remains a colossal, annoying puzzler.
In September, MCSO Deputy Chief Frank Munnell's leaked bombshell memo to Arpaio outlined numerous incidents of alleged criminal wrongdoing, malfeasance, abuse of power, and outright corruption on the part of MCSO Chief Deputy David Hendershott, MCSO director Larry Black, and Captain Joel Fox.
All three are on paid leave pending the outcome of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's administrative investigation into the allegations. Babeu's spokesman recently told my colleague Ray Stern that a report on that investigation is coming soon — perhaps this week or next.
But even if Babeu acquires enough stones to suggest that Hendershott and the others be fired, it will not salt the leeches that continue to bleed this county white.
Witness the joint notice of claim filed on behalf of Arpaio's former fellow Sith Lord and ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Thomas' fired and disgraced attack pooch, ex-Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, and the aforementioned MCSO chief-deputy-on-leave, Hendershott.
This trio of terribles had to go all the way to Montana to find an attorney to submit this whiny, self-serving document, which seeks a total of $60 million from the county to make these bloodsuckers go away.
That's irony on a grand scale, like some Broadway musical in which the protagonist gets away with multiple homicides. (Sweeney Todd, anyone?)
Before Thomas resigned to run for Arizona attorney general — a bid thankfully brought to a halt by his rival in the GOP primary, current Attorney General Tom Horne — Thomas, along with Arpaio, Hendershott, Aubuchon, and then-Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander, were at war with the Board of Supervisors, the local judiciary, and anyone who crossed them.
As part of this war, Thomas, et al., ginned up charges against county supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, as well as against Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, all of which were later thrown out.
In 2009, in a classic jump-the-shark moment, Thomas and Arpaio filed a risible RICO suit against the supervisors, various county employees, and several Superior Court judges, alleging that they were scheming to block Arpaio and Thomas' investigations into the building of a new court tower.
Thomas and Arpaio later dismissed the suit and turned the file over to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke reviewed it and wrote a letter to then-County Attorney Rick Romley, stating that there was a "total lack of evidence" to justify the action.
As a result of such machinations on the part of the Thomas-Arpaio axis, their various victims have filed lawsuits and notices of claims totaling at least $56 million.
Now, three of those responsible for the debacle want $60 million? For what, engaging in a costly, asinine, and wholly unnecessary vendetta against public servants who refused to kowtow to their demands?
Too bad we don't tar and feather scoundrels anymore, because if anyone deserves a bucket of hot pitch and truckload of chicken plumage, it's Hendershott, Thomas, and Aubuchon.
Ditto Alexander, though she wasn't part of this latest $60 million insult.
Throw Arpaio in there for good measure, because he should be on the hook for this pricey travesty.
For details of this crowd's misdeeds, check the report released in December by State Bar of Arizona independent counsel John Gleason, who recommended disbarment for both Aubuchon and Thomas. Or the formal 33-count complaint filed against Aubuchon, Thomas, and Alexander, submitted by Gleason at the beginning of February.
Both documents show that Aubuchon and Thomas misled the court, violated attorney-client privilege, and brought charges against individuals simply to embarrass or burden them while knowing there was no probable cause or evidence of wrongdoing.
In the case of Stapley, they brought a 118-count indictment against him, though they knew 44 were beyond the statute of limitations.
The RICO suit? Gleason says there was nothing there, either.
"Rather," he writes, "Aubuchon and Thomas drafted the RICO complaint based not on facts but on their personal animosity toward all the defendants."
Alexander went along for the ride, though she knew the case lacked merit.
Thomas and Aubuchon wanted Judge Donahoe to recuse himself from an upcoming hearing, so, along with Hendershott's help, they charged Donahoe with bribery, aware that there was zero evidence.
Gleason says Hendershott told others that it was Arpaio's idea to charge the judge.
Some of the Bar complaints involve allegations of criminal conduct on the parts of Thomas and Aubuchon, accusing them of perjury and violating federal statute by charging Donahoe "with a crime unsupported by any evidence."
Though Arpaio and Hendershott are not lawyers and, therefore, not the subject of Gleason's complaints, both were involved in allegations regarding the RICO suit and the Donahoe charges.
And yet to read Thomas, Aubuchon, and Hendershott's $60 million notice of claim against the county, you'd think these three were the targets of the rampage they inflicted on others.
Aubuchon kvetches that she's had to cash out her state retirement fund to support her family. She's also having trouble starting a law practice because of the threat of disbarment.
Hendershott cries, "I can't sleep at night. I need medical attention on an ongoing basis." He wonders why he and others "have to go through all this suffering just to do our jobs and enforce the law."
Thomas believes that "standing up to corruption in Maricopa County" led to his defeat at the hands of Horne in the GOP primary. And he continues "to suffer grave injuries from the doing the right thing while he was county prosecutor."
Even if I believed half of this bull, each of them would deserve their lot and then some. These ne'er-do-wells — along with Arpaio, Black, Fox, and the entire command staff of the MCSO should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The public needs some relief from this gang of thieves before they make off with every last dime in our county's kitty, eluding justice in the process.