Joe Arpaio Spying on County Lawyers? Would Anyone Be Surprised?

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What's one to make of the recent back and forth between Maricopa County and sheriff's office lawyers regarding allegations of spying by the MCSO?

The claims came to light in a recent item by Arizona Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett for the Rep's "Political Insider" blog. The post details a September 10 letter from legal hounds Julie Pace and David Selden, regarding infamous MCSO Commander Bob Rampy, who, they say, has been spotted outside the county's IT building in an unmarked SUV keeping an eye on them.

"Commander Rampy," states the Pace-Selden letter to MCSO attorneys at Ogletree Deakins, "has been observed on numerous occasions parked across from the Chambers building watching [Office of Enterprise Technology] employees from his unmarked SUV with radio and satellite equipment on the roof. On one occasion he was also observed watching legal counsel Julie Pace and Heidi Nunn-Gilman as they left a meeting with OET."

You can read the letter for yourself, here. In it Pace and Selden want to know if Rampy is intercepting mobile phone calls, eavesdropping on conversations in the IT building, taking down license plate numbers, etc.

After all, this is the MCSO we're talking about. And Rampy is the guy who back in March attempted to seize a cache of MCSO e-mails retained by the county, e-mails that were the subject of a federal subpoena and at issue in the racial-profiling lawsuit Melendres vs. Arpaio.

Thankfully, county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick stood in Rampy's way, along with the help of a news crew from KPHO. Rampy and the MCSO got bupkis.

Pace, Selden and Nunn-Gilman represent the county in a lawsuit brought by the MCSO over control of the IT department, you see. So their concerns regarding Rampy are valid, particularly in light of his previous bad behavior.

Of course, Arpaio's attack schnauzers over at Ogletree Deakins don't see it that way. So they fired off a letter in reply to the Pace-Selden inquiry, calling it "intentionally offensive and knowingly false." 

The Ogletree-ers deny that Rampy's been spying on the lawyers or the IT department, and advise the county that it's on notice to retain all correspondence with the media, "including but not limited to, the Arizona Republic."

(You can view the Ogletree Deakins letter,here.)

The missive signed by OD counsel Kerry Martin also alleges that the Pace-Selden correspondence "was designed for no other purpose than to harass, intimidate, and defame a material witness."

Defame Bob Rampy? Sheesh, he can handle that all by himself.

Martin didn't return my call for comment, but he told Wingett that Rampy "has an office in that very building...He belongs there - he's a county employee. It's a joke."

But county spokeswoman Gerchick maintains that Rampy does not have an office in the Chambers building.

"According to county records," she wrote me in an e-mail, "Bob Rampy uses an address of 102 W. Madison Street.  We understand that some of his staff has offices at the Chambers building, but our understanding is that Rampy does not. The County sent the letter because it was strange that he was seen parked outside of that building in a surveillance vehicle on the street. If he had an office at the Chambers building, why would he not be parked in the employee parking lot?"

Indeed, in my colleague Sarah Fenske's March 8 piece on the high noon showdown between Gerchick and Rampy, Fenske noted an e-mail from Rampy to the county advising them, "I will be over at your facility at 2 p.m. today to take possession of MCSO property."

Why would he state that he'd be "over there" if his office was already in that building?

Interestingly, Wingett offers a link on her blog post to a photo of the alleged MCSO spy van. Where did she get this pic taken in July of 2009? Gerchick told me she got it from the MCSO.

"It's my understanding," said Gerchick. "That the photo that appeared in the Republic was from the sheriff's office."

I called up Wingett, but like all good reporters, she declined to discuss her source for the photo.

If she did score it from the sheriff's office, that would be an unusual turn for the MCSO, considering the fact that the agency mentioned her, somewhat ominously, in a file regarding the MCSO's investigation of county Supervisor Andy Kunasek, obtained by the Republic in July.

But hey, odder things have occurred. Particularly when the KGB-wannabes at the MCSO are involved.

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