On the morning of April 3, 2019, FBI agent Mikaila Hughes set out to meet "The Godfather," a retired FBI agent with information on the $350,000 bounty gang members had put on her head.
Or at least that's what she told her husband, Justin Hughes, deputy chief of the Goodyear Police Department.
The meeting would end with a frantic kidnapping investigation, revelations of infidelity and corruption, and the firing of Goodyear's police chief, Jerry Geier.
The dramatic string of events that unfolded that day came to light last month during Geier's appeal of his termination. He was fired in December for repeatedly lying to investigators and covering up misconduct from his officers. The city manager upheld Geier's termination on April 10.
As Harold Merkow, the hearing officer for Geier's appeal put it, Geier's "dishonesty during the investigation are unfathomable actions and are a corruption of what police work is all about."
Stunning Disclosures at Geier's Appeal
Prior to Geier's hearing, the city had been tight-lipped about why it fired its police chief. Records on the investigation that led to Geier's firing — and the frenzied series of events that took place last April — all had been kept under wraps until last week.
The records and testimony from three high-ranking Goodyear police officers at the March 3 and 4 hearing bring to light a series of highly questionable decisions from Goodyear's top cops, as well as Geier's deceitful attempts to minimize the situation later in conversations with City Manager Dan Cotterman.
Of particular concern to investigators was how several officers with Goodyear's Neighborhood Enforcement Team drove out of jurisdiction into Phoenix on April 3, 2019, to search for Mikaila after her husband, the deputy chief, told his fellow employees in a panic that he thought she was in serious trouble. Goodyear police spent time and resources, even pinging Mikaila's phone and calling in the Phoenix Fire Department to open up a sewer grate where they believed the phone was located, all in a mad hunt for Mikaila. (Phoenix New Times is referring to Mikaila and Justin Hughes by their first names to avoid confusion.)
But Mikaila wasn't missing. She was meeting with a confidential informant she had cheated on her husband with, and who allegedly was blackmailing her with revenge porn photos.
"The deputy chief of a police department, whose wife is an FBI agent who everyone thinks may have been kidnapped or killed, turns out is just meeting up with a confidential informant she'd been having an affair with to discuss potential revenge porn pictures? Yeah. That's an embarrassing look," said Justin Pierce, the attorney fighting Geier's appeal. "No wonder that later in the day, as it became clear what was going on, Chief Geier wanted to walk back from that."
The involvement of Goodyear police in the marital and workplace problems of Mikaila Hughes began with a frantic phone call on the afternoon of April 3 from her husband, Justin, to Sergeant Jason Mattie, the supervisor of the city's Neighborhood Enforcement Team. The deputy chief told Mattie he was just heading back to Goodyear after leaving a church in Surprise, and asked if they could meet.
"He asked if I could meet him at Litchfield and Glendale at a Circle K," Mattie recalled during the hearing on March 4. "I said okay, asked him what was going on, and he said, 'I'll tell you when you get here.' Then he said, 'No, just meet me at my house, I'll tell you everything.'"
So Mattie went to his house. There, Justin told him, "We gotta go, we gotta go," Mattie recalled. "And I was like, whoa, slow down, what's going on?"
Justin told Mattie he believed that his wife possibly had been kidnapped or killed. According to independent investigator Don Conrad's report on Geier, Justin believed Mikaila had been harmed by gang members who had issued death threats against her and placed a $350,000 bounty on her.
That morning, when Mikaila told Justin about her meeting with "The Godfather" to get information on the threat, Justin was immediately concerned for her safety and asked her to keep in touch while she was at the meeting. When a phone tracking app showed Mikaila's phone had been stationary for some time and she hadn't responded to his phone calls, Justin called Mattie in a panic.
"He sounded not himself," Mattie recalled. "He sounded like he was in crisis."
Mattie said they needed to tell someone above them, so they drove to the Goodyear Police Department and met with Sergeant Jason Bayer, who runs the Professional Standards Unit. Mattie says he may have involved Lieutenant Jeff Mercy as well, a member of the Special Assignments Unit.
Mattie tried to get a hold of Geier — he called him six times and sent him a text asking Geier to "call him ASAP," but the chief did not immediately respond. Santiago Rodriguez, who is currently Goodyear's acting police chief, was also nearby. He testified that he saw Justin heading into the conference room outside Geier's office looking "distraught."
Inside the room, Justin told Mattie he wanted him to take a team out to Phoenix and try to locate his wife. They involved Lieutenant Joe Pacello, head of the Criminal Investigations Division, whom Mattie testified told them to go "because her phone was pinging at 32nd and Cactus."
Eventually, at 4:21 p.m., Geier and Mattie spoke on the phone for six minutes. What Geier said is the subject of dispute: Geier claims he told Mattie he didn't want the NET team driving into Phoenix, and said he thought that either Phoenix Police or the FBI should be involved, not Goodyear PD. Mattie, however, claims he only went to Phoenix because he had Geier's approval. Whatever the case, when Geier later heard what the NET team had been up to, he did not discipline or investigate anyone for allegedly going against his orders.
After the meeting, at 4:57 p.m., Rodriguez called FBI agent Mike Caputo, assistant special agent in charge at Phoenix's FBI field office, and put him on the phone with Justin. The two sat in the same room while the deputy chief talked to Caputo for 40 minutes.
It's unclear what Justin talked to Caputo about. It wasn't explained during Geier's appeal hearing, nor was it mentioned in the records on Geier's firing obtained by New Times.
At about 5 p.m., Geier left work to attend a dinner honoring city employees, leaving Rodriguez in charge. Meanwhile, Mattie and a handful of NET members were en route to Phoenix to search for Mikaila.
Once in Phoenix, Goodyear detectives searched local establishments near where Mikaila's phone was pinging on a phone tracking app, but didn't find her.
That's when Bayer "dispatched an actual ping," Mattie said, and they believed her phone was pinging in a gutter.
"At that point, I believed we had a valid kidnapping," Mattie said. "I called Phoenix Fire and had them pull the manhole up so we could try to find her phone, cause in my head I was picturing she got kidnapped or killed and they tossed her phone."
While Mattie searched the gutter, Mikaila's phone began pinging in a neighborhood to the west. So they drove to the house where her phone appeared to be. That's when another detective spotted Mikaila's truck pulling into a Shell gas station.
Caught in a Lie
Mattie drove toward Mikaila and pulled up next to her so she could see it was him. She pulled over. Mattie asked her what had happened.
"She immediately started lying to me," Mattie said. "I could tell — the story just sounded so bogus. I said, 'Hey, I know what's going on,' and she eventually divulged that she was meeting a confidential informant and she had hid her phone in the women's bathroom stall."
As it turns out, Mikaila had not been meeting with a retired FBI agent, but rather, had met with a confidential informant with whom she had had an affair, Mattie and others said at the hearing.
Rodriguez's testimony indicates that he and Geier already knew that Mikaila was under investigation by the FBI, and that she had been placed on administrative leave for having an inappropriate relationship with the confidential informant prior to the incident involving her husband. Geier testified that he also believed Mikaila was being criminally investigated.
"Geier thought it was a conflict of interest and put our two departments in a bad spot," Rodriguez said at the hearing. It's unclear from hearing testimony and records obtained by New Times when Mikaila's husband or Mattie became aware of the internal investigation involving Mikaila.
Regardless, knowing that Mikaila was safe, the Goodyear police officers halted their operation and returned to Goodyear. But Goodyear's involvement with the FBI agent didn't end there. Several Goodyear officers, including Mattie, met with Mikaila at a Wildflower Bread Company on Litchfield and McDowell roads that night.
While there, Mattie asked for the gun he believed she had on her. Though the FBI had already taken her gun and badge away, she had acquired another gun from a Goodyear officer, according to the testimony of Mattie and Rodriguez.
Pacello, their lieutenant, had "asked for it back so he could give it back to the rightful owner," Mattie testified.
Rodriguez said the gun belonged to Lieutenant Mercy. Officers also retrieved a phone from a trash bin in a nearby park, but further details about it were not provided by hearing testimony or documents obtained by New Times.
"I just remember that she was distraught, possibly even suicidal, she had a mental health issue, and she had a weapon that belonged to one of our other officers," Rodriguez said at the hearing.
Her deputy chief husband wasn't doing too well, either. According to Mattie, his fellow officers were so concerned about Justin that they considered having NET team members work in shifts to monitor him "so he didn't harm himself."
The following day, Justin, who was on family and medical leave at the time, returned to Goodyear police headquarters because he had received an email from someone he didn't recognize, Conrad's report on Geier states. The next three lines of the report are redacted. Then, Conrad wrote that "[Justin] Hughes wanted GYPD to undertake an investigation of the CI for extortion or harassment related to [REDACTED]."
Rodriguez, Mattie, and Geier all opposed further involvement, and it seems GPD's meddling in their deputy chief's marital affairs ended there.
The repercussions of that day didn't end there, though: The events of April 3 all came out during an independent investigation into Geier, which was sparked by an ethics complaint filed by the Goodyear police union. While most of the union's complaints were tossed out, Geier's repeated untruthfulness regarding the NET team's excursion to Phoenix on April 3 was one of the main reasons for his firing.
Neither Justin nor Mikaila responded to phone calls and emails seeking comment. An email to Mikaila's FBI email address bounced back. Her FBI phone number now goes to the voicemail of another agent.
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New Times asked the FBI about the allegations involving Mikaila and the confidential informant, whether she was still under criminal and internal investigation, and whether she still worked for the FBI. Jill McCabe, a spokesperson for the FBI's Phoenix field office, would only say in reply that "The Privacy Act prohibits us from commenting on personnel matters."
Justin Hughes, subpoenaed initially by Geier's attorney, was supposed to testify at Geier's hearing. But at the last minute, the lawyer changed his mind and Justin's testimony was canceled.
The details of the city's investigation into Justin Hughes, who has been on leave since October, have yet to be revealed, as Justin remains on extended medical leave and cannot be fired until he has finished. That means the full records about his involvement cannot yet be released, either.
(Update: County records show Mikaila and Justin Hughes were divorced in February 2020.)