Joe Arpaio's Goon Squad Blasted by Chicanos Por La Causa, MCSO Fishing Expedition Under Way

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Chicanos Por La Causa officials and their supporters held a press conference today to blast the MCSO's recent day-long raid on CPLC's headquarters in Phoenix. CPLC CEO Edmundo Hidalgo and attorney Danny Ortega, Board Chair of the National Council of La Raza, were joined by the leaders of organizations such as Valle Del Sol, Friendly House, and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in the parking lot of the CPLC complex.

There, 24 hours before, about 20 MCSO deputies confiscated computers and files related to CPLC and its relationship with Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who is the subject of an indictment ginned up by Sheriff Joe and his willing accomplice Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. According to Hidalgo and others present, MCSO gendarmes confiscated far more than was under the purview of their subpoena in what's obviously a fishing expedition on the part of Arpaio and Thomas.

"They took copies of hard drives," explained Hidalgo, "of e-mails of any document that provides any possible conversation between CPLC and the Wilcoxes. It was not limited to just those individuals who worked in our small business lending. They accessed every e-mail that all 800 employees have sent over the last six to twelve months. So the information that was gathered, we believe that was way beyond...the scope of the warrant."

Indeed, Jose Martinez, CPLC's VP of strategic initiatives told me after the presser that the MCSO made off with seven computer hard drives, including a backup of CPLC's entire e-mail system, which included anything present in any employees e-mail files, as well as "anything deleted in the last couple of weeks or so."

Chief Operating Officer Argie Gomez explained that the MCSO was on the property from about 9 a.m. to around 3 p.m., disrupting the CPLC's entire operation for the day, and intimidating CPLC employees.

"They asked us not to move [from the offices]," she related. "They wanted us to stay confined within the building. There's a factor of intimidation there."

During the press conference proper, NCLR board chair Ortega explained that CPLC is one of NCLR's "oldest and most trusted affiliates," and that NCLR helps fund CPLC. Indeed, I suspect that in going after CPLC, the MCSO's bigger fish is NCLR itself. That would make the "investigation," if you can call it that, a national story and fodder for wing-nut nativists from sea to shining sea.

Asked whether or not he believed Mary Rose Wilcox had violated the law in not disclosing a potential conflict of interest, CPLC honcho Hidalgo stated that he was not an expert in county procedures, and so could not say.

"What I can tell you," he said, "is that on our end Mary Rose and [her husband] Earl Wilcox are eligible borrowers."

As to the specifics of the three loans to Wilcox from CPLC's lending arm Prestamos totaling $177,500 (according to the CPLC), Hidalgo explained that the first loan $7,500, taken out in November of 2000, carried a 12 percent interest rate. The second, dated July 2005 for $50,000, was at eight percent interest. The third, for $120,000, was for eight and a half percent.

The CPLC insists the first two loans have been paid back in full. The third is still outstanding. Obviously, the interest rates quoted do not indicate a sweetheart deal. By its own admission, CPLC has been granted more that $1 million by the county for "outreach services to minority populations with HIV AIDS." I suppose if the Wilcoxes had been given cash by CPLC or allowed a loan at some incredibly low interest rate, the MCSO might have something. As it is, all they've got is some case about Wilcox not doing her paperwork properly.

Hidalgo also pointed out that the MCSO could have simply asked for the docs or hit CPLC's lawyers with a subpoena without raiding the place. Sure, but the MCSO is all about retaliation, retribution, and heavy-handed tactics: The iron hand in a lead glove.

Interestingly, when I asked Hidalgo afterwards if CPLC had any suspicion a raid on their property was imminent, he said that one news outlet seemed to know something was coming: ABC 15.

"Channel 15," said Hidalgo,"about three weeks ago through another interview, they had commented that this was coming down, but they didn't give us a timeline. They knew ahead of everybody that this investigation was going on."

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