Maricopa County Sheriff's Captain Joel Fox testified earlier this week before the grand jury probing the SCA campaign finance scandal -- triggering speculation that an indictment in the case could come as early as next month.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and, typically, the subject of a probe doesn't make an appearance. But the law allows a subject to request to testify. It appears that Fox invoked that right in this case.
Given his extremely long -- and extremely convoluted -- commentary on this Web site, we can only imagine Fox had plenty to say.
The SCA investigation stems from a shadowy bank account linked to attack ads on Dan Saban and Tim Nelson, the Democrats challenging Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his close ally, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, in the fall of 2007. (You can read the complete back story here.)
The Arizona Republican Party paid for the ads, which were so slimy they set off a chorus of protests -- and had to be yanked off the air after just a few broadcasts. But when the party filed its campaign-finance report, it failed to report a full set of donors, stating only that it had received $105,000 in contributions from an entity called "SCA."
Since there was no political committee registered under that name, Party Chairman Randy Pullen was forced to admit that his only contact was Sheriff's Captain Joel Fox -- a public supporter of Arpaio's and the commander of his SWAT team.
If the donation from Fox was earmarked for the anti-Saban ad, that would be a clear violation of Arizona law.
It took months (and a ruling from Administrative Law Judge Thomas Shedden), but Fox eventually coughed up his donor list. At that point, it became clear why he'd fought so hard to keep the names secret: The donors included half a dozen top officials in the sheriff's department, including Chief Deputy David Hendershott. Also implicated: developer Steve Ellman, a longtime friend of Arpaio's and member of his volunteer "posse."
(For more on the circumstances leading up to the donations, see Ray Stern's blog post here -- which includes the new revelation that the donors hatched their plan on a fishing trip. Seriously, we can't make this stuff up.)
Even more problematic: At least one of the checks was earmarked for Arpaio's reelection, with a note reading, "Vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio," in the memo field. Two others came from limited liability companies, in clear violation of Arizona law.
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As New Times first reported in September, all those apparent violations become the subject of a serious investigation on the part of the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Documents the court unsealed at our request revealed that Fox's home had been raided -- and that a grand jury had convened.
Based on what Stern is reporting from his conversation with Grant Woods, the attorney representing Ellman and the fund's other wealthy donors, it appears that donors are being treated as witnesses, not suspects. That leaves Fox -- and potentially other sheriff's officers -- as the targets of the investigation.
Will the grand jury buy Fox's defense? Or will we see indictments some time in the new year?
Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, declined to comment, citing the secrecy of grand jury matters. As for Captain Fox, he didn't respond to an email seeking comment -- but we're sure he'll pop up in the comment section in due time.