The most revealing part of Phoenix filmmaker Randy Murray's recent documentary The Joe Show was a strategy meeting during Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 2012 re-election campaign that included Arpaio, his top flack, Lisa Allen, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, and campaign manager Chad Willems.
The group huddled in the back of a Fountain Hills restaurant to discuss how to spin Joe's negatives -- the misspending of more than $100 million, the deaths in the jails, the scores of millions in lawsuit payouts -- for the public.
At some point, Arpaio's "birther" investigation came up. You know, the one in which President Barack Obama's birth certificate gets investigated by both the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's Cold Case Posse, a nonprofit organization, and MCSO Deputy Brian Mackiewicz, whom Arpaio flew to Hawaii as part of this snipe hunt, at a cost of nearly $10,000 to taxpayers.
Arpaio's March 2012 press conference -- in which the sheriff and the Cold Case Posse's "lead investigator," ex-used-car salesman Mike Zullo, declared Obama's birth certificate to be a forgery -- was in the planning stage when the scene was filmed.
At the mere mention of the birther investigation and the future press event, Allen and Willems practically rolled their eyes.
Willems called the birther probe "nuts."
Allen said the sheriff might as well go the press conference "in big ol' clown shoes." Arpaio shrugged, literally.
"There ain't gonna be no damage control," Arpaio promised Willems. "You'll get more money [in campaign contributions] than you'll know what to do with."
Wilier than the cartoon coyote, Arpaio had tapped into a nationwide right-wing anti-government, anti-Obama feeding frenzy with his birther probe and with his tirades against the U.S. Department of Justice, which was investigating him for abuse of power and other issues and is now suing him in federal court.
"The DOJ is a hot item everywhere," Joe told his flunkies.
See, whenever Arpaio's never-ending political campaign sends out an e-mail blast begging for loot from Obama-haters, it reels in contributions from retired, far-right ofays all over the country.
Willems essentially admitted as much in another scene from the film.
"Now, with Arpaio going to battle with Barack Obama," Willems said, "it's meant literally millions of dollars for his campaign."
As everybody knows, Arpaio was re-elected in 2012, but the investigation into Obama's birth certificate continues apace, according to both Arpaio and Cold Case Posse "commander" Zullo.
At the beginning of May, Arpaio mentioned the birther probe during a speech before a group of Silicon Valley conservatives.
Around the same time, he appeared on The Right Side, a conservative cable-access show in Mountain View, California. He told host Chris Pareja that the inquiry into Obama's birth certificate was going strong.
"I'm not done with that yet," Arpaio insisted. "People think I surrendered. No . . . I'm trying to find out who's behind it now. That's the key. You can always have a crime to investigate, but I think you would like to know who did it."
The sheriff said he was after whoever created this "forged, fraudulent document," meaning a computer scan of the president's long-form birth certificate, released by the White House in April 2011.
Arpaio's statements have paralleled assurances from Zullo during periodic interviews with Florida pastor/radio host Carl Gallups that new revelations concerning the Obama birth certificate are on the way.
Critics of birthers regularly mock Zullo's vague pronouncements on Gallups' show as never resulting in any "new" finds.
Why, even the information disclosed during Arpaio's two birther-themed press conferences in 2012 were a rehash of debunked conspiracy theories.
But during a February interview with Gallups, Zullo caused an Internet kerfuffle when he told Gallups' audience that there were now two investigations: the original birther one and an offshoot of the birther probe, this one a criminal investigation.
Moreover, the second investigation was using two MCSO detectives and, presumably, county money.
"I don't know how this is all going to play out," Zullo said. "I know that [in] the criminal investigation that we're working on now, Sheriff Arpaio has dedicated resources and two full-time Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detectives."
He added, "These are seasoned pros [who] are working this. These are the guys that go hunt down the really bad guys."
Zullo promised to release "universe-shattering" results of these investigations in March, a deadline Zullo since has extended indefinitely.
Blogger Mitch Martinson of arizonaspolitics.com was the first to query the MCSO on Zullo's claim, and the first to report that Sheriff's Office spokesman Brandon Jones kinda-sorta had confirmed it.
"We have two sheriff's detectives assigned to look into other issues surrounding the birth certificate," Jones told Martinson, in a blog item posted February 10. "However, they are not investigating the birth certificate issue itself."
Later, Jones walked back his comments to Martinson, sending the blogger an e-mail, which Martinson used in a screen shot to a follow-up post.
"Mitch, I was misinformed," Jones stated. "The detectives are not working on anything regarding the birth certificate. Not even surrounding. Mr. Zullo was incorrect: They are working on other serious cases not even related."
Who were these two detectives, what were they up to, and why is Zullo, a mere posse member, privy to it?
Based on information given to me by longtime sources, the two detectives mentioned are Brian Mackiewicz, the same deputy who made a taxpayer-funded run to Hawaii in May 2012, and Sergeant Travis Anglin, once a lieutenant with the notorious Maricopa Anti-Corruption Effort who was demoted after an MCSO investigation into his private security company and its use of MCSO detectives.
My sources -- one of whom is a former detective with the MCSO's Special Investigations Division and is well-acquainted with SID and those in it -- say Anglin and Mackiewicz were involved in an odd investigation dating back to October 2013.
Moreover, they say, the deputies have used as a confidential informant a notorious scammer in the Seattle area.
What have they been investigating? According to my sources, Mackiewicz, Anglin, and the informant are focused on U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow, the Justice Department, and a bizarre conspiracy theory that the DOJ and Snow have conspired to somehow "get" Joe Arpaio.
The person who purportedly convinced Arapio of this paranoid fantasy, the sources say, is computer fraudster Dennis L. Montgomery, the subject of a 2010 Playboy exposé titled "The Man Who Conned the Pentagon."
In that article, investigative reporter Aram Roston detailed how, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Montgomery snookered the CIA, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Air Force into believing he had software that could decode secret messages to terrorists, supposedly embedded in broadcasts of the Al Jazeera Media Network.
As crazy as this now sounds, Roston, using unsealed court documents, reported that eTreppid Technologies, the Nevada software company Montgomery co-owned, scored multimillion-dollar contracts for computer software touted by Montgomery.
In fact, Roston wrote, the United States went to Code Orange, the DHS' second-highest terror alert, in 2003 based on data supplied to the CIA by Montgomery.
International flights were delayed, sometimes canceled, because of Montgomery's work. Based on Montgomery's "intelligence gathering," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge told reporters at the time about the threat of "near-term attacks" that could "rival or exceed" those of 9/11.
"Montgomery calls the work he was doing noise filtering," Roston wrote. "He was churning out reams of data he called output. It consisted of latitudes and longitudes and flight numbers."
This data was given to then-CIA Director George Tenet, according to Roston, and "eventually ended up in the White House."
There was one big problem, Roston reported: "The communications Montgomery said he was decrypting apparently didn't exist."
Roston wrote that Montgomery's eTreppid colleagues questioned his computer skills. Company employees also claimed that Montgomery had faked demonstrations of weapons-recognition software for representatives of the U.S. military.
With the help of a "branch of the French intelligence services," the CIA finally got wise to Montgomery, realizing that there were no secret messages to bad guys in the Al Jazeera broadcasts.
Montgomery left eTreppid, wrote Roston, and went on to work for software companies backed by a wealthy heiress; to accuse Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons of taking a bribe (Gibbons later was cleared of wrongdoing); to lose big at a Rancho Mirage, California casino ($422,000 in one day); and to declare bankruptcy.
Now, Montgomery lives in Yarrow Point, Washington, a short drive from downtown Seattle. My sources report that MCSO detectives Anglin and Mackiewicz have spent a lot of time this year in Seattle with Montgomery, who, the sources say, has convinced the sheriff that he has information suggesting an anti-Arpaio conspiracy between Judge Snow and the DOJ.
These sources say there is no report number assigned to the case, that Arpaio himself is running it, and that the investigation has been financed with funds for confidential informants, RICO funds.
Montgomery has been assigned a "confidential informant number" or "control number," the identity of which is known only to Arpaio, a few MCSO brass, and those in Special Investigations, according to my sources, who claim Montgomery has been paid about $100,000 to date by the MCSO.
The situation gives Arpaio and the MCSO a degree of deniability because the department is allowed to keep the identities of confidential informants secret in most instances. Though there should be MCSO paperwork associated with such payments, it would show a payment to a control number, not a name.
The MCSO's official policy on "informant management" states that control numbers must be maintained in a confidential-informant log "monitored by the [Special Investigations Division] commander or his designee."
It further states that all informant files be kept in a "secured area within the SID." The policy notes that the MCSO "will protect these sources through all available and reasonable legal means."
Such "informant files" are retained as "permanent records" of SID, "unless the division commander determines that the records may be purged."
My sources say Mackiewicz has received, to date, $50,000 in overtime pay and Zullo has gotten about $5,000 in payments.
Zullo's role is unclear, though he currently is involved in the investigation, according to these sources, as well as the perpetual birther probe.
Additionally, they say the MCSO made about a $50,000 purchase of computer equipment for Montgomery sometime this year from a store in Washington state.
According to the MCSO's policy regarding "Undercover and Investigative Funds Accountability," an expenditure of up to $6,000 for undercover and investigative work can be approved by a division commander.
Anything over $6,000 must be approved by a bureau commander.
As for funds specifically paid to confidential informants, the reins are even tighter.
Payments to a CI of more than $300 must be approved by a division commander "prior to the expenditure of the funds," according to the MCSO's informant-management policy. The amount of money involved in detectives Anglin and Mackeiwicz's Seattle quest has raised red flags with MCSO accountants, I've been told.
These same MCSO accountants reportedly have expressed concern internally about the procurement of the computer equipment, excessive CI payments, the amount of overtime involved, and the money spent on airfare and stays in Seattle.
In several broadly worded public-records requests sent to the MCSO in February, I asked for any and all e-mails traded among the players involved, as well as any and all records regarding MCSO employees' trips to Seattle, payments of informant funds to Dennis Montgomery, and Mackiewicz's overtime requests.
In each case, I was advised by MCSO spokesman Jones that "this is an ongoing investigation . . . no records can be released at this time."
In March, I called Zullo at his home phone number. I asked him about the work he was said to be doing with Montgomery.
He claimed not to know what I was talking about. When I pressed him, he said all such inquiries should go through the MCSO.
"I have no comment to make, especially to the New Times," he told me before hanging up.
The opportunity to question Arpaio about the Montgomery caper came as he munched on cheese at a recent fundraiser for embattled Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne at the University Club in Phoenix.
I asked the sheriff about Montgomery and the work that my sources tell me he has done for the MCSO.
At first, he played dumb, asking if I meant County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
"No, Dennis Montgomery," I replied. "The computer guy in Seattle who is helping you investigate Judge Snow and the DOJ. You are investigating Snow and the DOJ, aren't you?"
As he hit the cheese platter again, Arpaio looked over his shoulder at me with a grin. But he said nothing.
I kept after him, asking why deputies Mackiewicz and Anglin had spent so much time in Seattle.
"I dunno, maybe they like the weather up there," he said over his shoulder, "or the snow crab."
True to form, the sheriff was cagey, but there was no denial.
The ex-Special Investigations source I know tells me that the joke around Arpaio's office is that Montgomery's referred to as "Snowden," after Edward Snowden, the American computer geek responsible for a massive 2013 leak of classified documents from the National Security Agency that exposed Orwellian surveillance programs run by the U.S. government.
"[Montgomery] says he worked for the CIA on a project called Hammer [and] collected data similar to Snowden's," the source says. "[Montgomery] claims he can prove there was a conspiracy between [U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder and Judge Snow . . . a conspiracy against Arpaio."
Montgomery, who is middle-aged and stocky with a shock of white hair, is no Snowden. Whatever you think of Snowden, at least the information he released generally has been confirmed as legitimate.
As with the gibberish Montgomery reportedly gave the CIA in the early 2000s, he has, according to my sources, produced many printouts for the MCSO that seem off point, with dates going back to 1999 and earlier.
Obviously, that's long before Arpaio took up the cause of illegal immigration, long before he was investigated or sued by the DOJ, and long before he became the subject of the ACLU's big racial profiling lawsuit Melendres v. Arpaio.
One source informs me that at least one underling told Arpaio recently that what Montgomery provided the MCSO is worthless, that Joe is getting played -- which caused the sheriff to erupt into a fit of anger.
When Montgomery was approached by a freelance reporter on behalf of New Times in April, he was nonplussed.
Montgomery came to the door of his Yarrow Point home, a cell phone at his ear, talking to someone about computer equipment.
The reporter identified himself, and Montgomery asked for a card, which the reporter presented.
"I really don't wanna talk to you," Montgomery said, ending his call.
"Okay, about Phoenix . . .," the reporter began.
"No comment," Montgomery shot back.
"Arizona . . .," the reporter started again.
"No comment," Montgomery repeated. "Who sent you up here?"
"Phoenix New Times," the reporter explained.
"Yeah," growled Montgomery.
"Have you done any work for Joe Arpaio?" the reporter asked.
"I, I, I have no comment," Montgomery said, moving away. "I'll call you later. I'll think about it."
Montgomery went back into his house and shut the door, ending the conversation on a mysterious note. As with Arpaio, there was no denial.
Is Dennis Montgomery Joe Arpaio's Snowden? I cannot say absolutely.
But it's not far-fetched to think that Arpaio would investigate any powerful public official. He continues to investigate the president. He and now-disbarred former County Attorney Andrew Thomas investigated Superior Court judges perceived to be thwarting their anti-undocumented-immigrant policies.
That is, it fits a pattern cultivated over his reign of more than 20 years.
Among Arpaio's bogus investigations have been:
• One targeting former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard for alleged bribery. The probe began in 2007 and didn't seem to end until Goddard left office.
• One that brought the 2008 indictment of then-county Supervisor Don Stapley on 118 criminal counts related to his allegedly not properly disclosing sources of income. All counts were dismissed ultimately.
• An infamous December 2009 RICO suit brought by Arpaio and Thomas against the entire Board of Supervisors, various county employees and certain Superior Court judges. Supposedly, they all were part of a conspiracy involving the county's new court tower. The suit was a disaster that finally got dismissed by Thomas himself.
• A probe resulting in the filing of false bribery charges in 2009 against former Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe. Arpaio and Thomas ginned up these charges as retaliation against Donahoe for adverse rulings and to make Donahoe vacate a hearing that Arpaio and Thomas didn't want to take place.
And now Judge Snow, who in 2013 found the MCSO guilty of racial profiling and assigned a monitor to make certain that Arpaio was obeying court orders on reforming and re-educating deputies so that the agency does not profile Latinos or any other minority again?
As for Holder, the DOJ remains engaged in a lawsuit accusing Arpaio of abuse of power and prejudiced policing.
At age 82, the sheriff faces the ignominy of ending his law enforcement career as a disgraced political colossus.
All -- in his mind -- because of Snow and the DOJ.
Why not attempt an investigation aimed at discrediting his perceived nemeses?
Though there never will be any pink handcuffs in Snow's or Holder's future, Arpaio's racist, wing-nut supporters would consider it an act of bravery that their hero is investigating federal officials getting in the way of keeping despised Latinos in their place.
Meaning more money in the sheriff's perpetual re-election kitty and proving that bogus investigations continue to pay off.
My dream, of course, is that Snow blows a gasket and perp-walks the aged autocrat. We'll see.