An eccentric billionaire secreting thumb drives of sensitive info through airport security in his socks.
Handwritten receipts for cash payments to Maricopa County Sheriff's Office confidential informant #1437, a.k.a. Dennis Montgomery, whose e-mail alias, "David Webb," also is fictional super-spy Jason Bourne's birth name.
And multiple timelines tying together former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a multi-million-dollar government computer system code-named "the HAMMER" in a bizarre conspiracy, which only the most paranoid of minds would buy.
These are a few of the details from MCSO records related to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's cloak-and-dagger operation in Seattle, where three investigators under Arpaio's command partnered with an ex-CIA subcontractor on an operation that sought to expose the CIA's harvesting of the personal information of 150,000 county residents, or detail an absurd, nonexistent plot to take down Sheriff Joe, or both.
The records have been entered as exhibits in the ongoing federal contempt trial of Arpaio and four of his current and former underlings. Recently they were made public by the plaintiffs in the underlying civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio, after federal Judge G. Murray Snow told the parties in open court that the documents could be released to the press.
With testimony in the trial crawling to a conclusion this week, and Arpaio's Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo largely invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, one might think this third-rate caper, which has cost Maricopa County taxpayers a minimum of $250,000, is all played out.
But with a likely criminal contempt referral to the U.S. Attorney on Arpaio and his chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, yet to come, the related e-mails, internal memos, and reports offer a window into the state of mind of Arpaio and his crew when it comes to Melendres and Judge Snow, along the lines of the previously revealed, Arpaio-typed-out smoking-gun memo in the case.
For instance in a document titled "Elmer's Case Summary," Arpaio's all-purpose factotum, Detective Brian Mackiewicz, offers an almost-30 page description of Montgomery and how the MCSO became involved in the Seattle operation.
"Elmer" was one code name given to Montgomery by Zullo and Mackiewicz during the course of the investigation, referring to the famously goofy Warner Brothers cartoon character of the same first name.
The pair's other code name for Montgomery was "Oz": apt, considering that both Arpaio and his chief deputy ultimately agreed that what this wizard gave them was "junk."
Mackiewicz's report details the Seattle probe's origins in Arpaio's ludicrous investigation of President Barack Obama's birth certificate, a case both Mackiewicz and Zullo worked.
Shortly after the pair's 2012 excursion to Hawaii as part of the birth-certificate probe, Mackiewicz writes that Zullo was approached by then-billionaire Tim Blixseth, who had been introduced to Zullo by professional conspiracy-theorist Jerome Corsi, an infamous promoter of the idea that Obama is not a natural-born citizen of the United States and therefore ineligible to be president. (Note: Again, this info is according to the Mackiewicz report. Others have pointed out that the Hawaii trip was in May 2012. So take this with a grain of salt.)
"Elmer's case summary" states that in "April 2012," Zullo, Blixseth, Blixseth's attorney Michael Flynn and Mackiewicz met at MCSO headquarters, where Blixseth "provided some information in reference to what he believed was criminal activity being committed by his ex-wife."
But the MCSO declined to investigate the matter, and the billionaire was advised to take his tale to the feds. Blixseth remained in contact with Zullo, occasionally asking Zullo for an update on the birth-certificate investigation.
Then, in October 2013, according to the report, Blixseth phoned Zullo to tell him "he had some information he wanted to turn over to the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office pertaining to National Security concerns and violations of privacy concerning approximately 151,000 residents of Maricopa County."
Blixseth's source? An ex-CIA employee "who had developed software being used to collect computer data containing private information on millions of unsuspecting American citizens."
This ex-CIA contractor wanted whistle-blower status, the report states, and the alleged computer sleuth also wanted to share info with Zullo on "the investigation regarding the Obama PDF birth certificate."
Blixseth's mystery man was none other than Dennis Montgomery. Upon learning the name, Zullo did some research and found "disparaging information" about Montgomery "in the form of news articles alleging Montgomery had swindled the United States government out of millions of dollars developing bogus software while working as a contractor for the government."
Zullo contacted Montgomery, who explained away negative stories about him by contending that "the CIA planted a hit piece in the newspaper to destroy his reputation because he would not turn his software over to the government."
Montgomery also had an explanation for an arrest "in Nevada for failing to pay off a casino marker for approximately one million dollars," telling Zullo that he was set up by Blixseth's ex-wife.
Additionally, Montgomery's big fish tales involved his developing software "to assist the CIA and the National Security Agency in deciphering secret coded messages digitally embedded in video clips released by [the] Al Jazeera news agency."
If the Al Jazeera line sounds familiar, that's because it had been reported in one of those "disparaging" news articles, alleging that Montgomery had helped pull the wool over the government's eyes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Interestingly, Montgomery "also told Zullo" that he had "developed other software and a multi-million-dollar computer system known as `The Hammer' located in a government facility in Fort Washington, Maryland for the CIA."
According to Montgomery, the feds "routinely accessed attorney-client-privileged communications from private law firms within Maricopa County," and Montgomery told Zullo that "he had information showing the servers of the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office had been breached by the CIA," and that "the servers of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office...as well as the State Attorney General's Office had been breached."
Montgomery supposedly told Zullo that,
"...no one was safe and there was no way to prevent the government intrusion. He explained to Zullo that the software he developed had the ability to breech a highly protected computer server and be undetected for as long as an hour and a half. Once the computer was breached the software took control, without detection of the intrusion by the computer system firewalls, and deceptively assumed the credentials as the `System [Administrator].' Once in the computer the software would then `harvested' or downloaded millions of data files. He claimed this could be done at will and was routinely being performed."
Zullo informed Arpaio about Montgomery's story, and a meeting was arranged with Blixseth, Arpaio, Zullo, and Mackiewicz.
The report then veers into the sort of territory better reserved for a rerun of the classic spy parody Get Smart:
In October 2013, Timothy Blixseth flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Investigator Zullo picked Blixseth up at the airport and drove him to the meeting with Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Investigator Zullo relayed while in route to the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office Headquarters, Blixseth reached into his sock and retrieved three computer thumb drives. Blixseth told Zullo the information on the drives was beyond comprehension and a threat to every American citizen. He also told Zullo, that Montgomery had evidence of [tampering] on President Obama' s Birth Certificate.
According to Mackiewicz, the thumb-drives in Blixseth's socks had those 150,000-plus names of alleged Maricopa County victims of identity theft.
Arpaio dispatched Zullo and Mackiewicz to Seattle to interview Montgomery. Montgomery became the MCSO's confidential informant, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There's more in the document about meetings with the state Attorney General's Office, then under AG Tom Horne, a political ally of the sheriff's; about Montgomery's history with the Nevada firm eTreppid, owned by the immensely wealthy Warren Trepp, one-time trader for junk-bond king Michael Milken; and about Montgomery's allegations against former Republican Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons.
There also are tales of people getting tortured by government contractors and members of the U.S. military getting executed with CIA personnel present. What this has to do with a sheriff in Maricopa County is anyone's guess.
Blixseth now is a former billionaire, and according to recent news reports, has been cooling his heels in federal custody in Helena, Montana, on federal, civil-contempt charges.
During his testimony in October, Mackiewicz stated that the case summary was written by him and Zullo together and that it was an overview of how the case was proceeding at the time.
Though the case summary makes no reference to Snow, a trove of e-mails and other documents do.
Some, like Arpaio's smoking-gun memo from December 2013, already have been made public and discussed in New Times articles. Others have been covered in testimony but not released till now.
In a January 2014 e-mail from "David Webb," Montgomery's alias, to Zullo, Montgomery speaks cryptically of the anti-Arpaio conspiracy, noting that "Covington [is] now included," a reference to Covington and Burling, the law firm partnered with the ACLU in representing the plaintiffs in Melendres.
"Seems the only people not talking to the Judge G. Murray Snow was Sheriff Arpaio and his attorneys," writes Montgomery in the same communication. "This kind un ex parte [sic] communications should never have been allowed."
Covington was part of the supposed conspiracy detailed in timelines created by Montgomery, which Detective Mackiewicz kept in his investigative file on the Seattle operation.
Timelines titled "Joe Arpaio Brief" and "Whistleblower Chronicles" suggest collusion between the U.S. Department of Justice and Snow — and maintain that Snow's assignment to the Melendres case was "not random."
Actually, it was Arpaio who objected to the first judge in Melendres, federal Judge Mary Murguia, who recused herself after Arpaio's attorney filed a motion claiming Murguia was biased and had a conflict of interest in the case.
There also are references in the timelines to breached servers, U.S. Department of Justice wiretaps, and a boogeyman of right-wing fantasies, ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
Former Phoenix Mayor and Arpaio-foe Phil Gordon's name is sprinkled throughout, and mention is made of investigative work done by Montgomery on Obama's birth certificate.
There even is a reference in one document to The Fogbow, an online forum committed to debunking the shibboleths of the so-called "birther" crowd.
All-in-all, juicy, paranoid stuff.
Other e-mails illustrate the Seattle investigation's hothouse atmosphere of delusion and weirdness. In one January e-mail to Zullo, Montgomery states that Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul's information had been "harvested" four times in the past by federal authorities.
A January 2014 e-mail purportedly from Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron anticipates the sort of criticisms that the MCSO eventually would have of Montgomery.
Cameron discusses promises allegedly made by Montgomery to the newsman, promises that Montgomery did not keep, according to the e-mail.
"In January you admitted you never intended to produce what you'd promised because of the potential criminal charges," it reads. "Face it, you have been lying about a lot of things."
By December 2014, Zullo was writing similar e-mails to Montgomery, accusing Montgomery of trying to "fool" him, and of "Making up e-mails as you went along."
Between kvetching about his lack of funds and his health issues, Montgomery makes some interesting accusations of his own, like one where he accuses the MCSO of investigating Snow.
"MCSO pursued sensitive information against Judge Snow and we both know it," writes Montgomery to Zullo on December 16, 2014. "In fact you produced some of it to the DC judge in August."
The "DC judge" may be federal Judge Royce Lamberth, whom MCSO investigators approached seeking guidance on the material produced by Montgomery.
Other released documents deal with the Seattle investigation's finances, such as memos on the federal money used, sometimes inappropriately, to fund the project, and handwritten receipts of some of the cash payments to Montgomery from the MCSO, previously reported to have totaled $120,000 during the year-plus that the investigation was under way.
And this is not all. Rather it is but a portion of what has been released so far. Documents that the defense and Zullo sought to shield from public scrutiny still are to come.
As reported in an update to a previous blog, Zullo was deposed by the plaintiffs on Monday, but he mostly took the Fifth, according to my sources. Plaintiffs probably will seek to have the court draw "adverse inferences" from Zullo's invocation of his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
He remains the plaintiffs' last witness, but it is unclear, given his deposition, if he will be called to testify when court resumes today.
The defense has suggested that it has at least two witnesses remaining: Captain Russ Skinner of the MCSO's court compliance office, and Chief Deputy Sheridan, who has been suffering from back problems that may preclude him from testifying.
Snow's court is scheduled to re-convene at 9 a.m. today.
For live Tweets during breaks in the contempt hearings, follow @StephenLemons or search #ArpaioContempt on Twitter.
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