For six months, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has ordered one of his employees to spy on a key member in the election campaign of Tom Bearup, the only announced candidate seeking to unseat Arpaio in 2000.
The wife of a deputy who has performed that surveillance has come forward, and her story, along with court documents, indicate that Bearup campaign worker Jim Cozzolino has been closely watched by deputies working out of the sheriff's enforcement-support division, which is overseen by Arpaio aide David Hendershott. New Times has been told that Hendershott's detectives have confiscated Cozzolino's trash to produce dossiers of information and may have illegally tapped Cozzolino's phone lines.
This news comes as Rick Romley says he's received information of his own that Arpaio has been using his deputies in possibly illegal ways to keep an eye on people Arpaio doesn't like. Citing a state law that punishes elected officials who direct their employees to snoop on citizens, Romley suggests that Arpaio may lose more than popularity if the evidence results in charges. He could lose his job.
In his autobiography, America's Toughest Sheriff, Arpaio relates his thrilling days surveilling suspects as a cop in Washington, D.C. Known as "Nickel Bag Joe" for his modest drug busts, Arpaio brags that he was a slick operator. In a predominantly African-American neighborhood, for example, Arpaio writes that he worked undercover by wearing dark shades and hiding behind trees.
Today, Arpaio's taste for tailing people--his political foes apparently included--is just one of several controversies that threaten his tenure. Under Arpaio, the sheriff's office has become mired in legal battles which promise only to escalate as new informants, emboldened by recent events, come forward.
Last week, five former deputies, complaining that their careers had been ruined after Arpaio suspected them of disloyalty, filed a notice of claim for $20 million against the sheriff.
County Attorney Rick Romley, meanwhile, said in a news conference last week that he has received new information to bolster reports that he and others have been the subject of politically motivated surveillance by Arpaio's office.
Romley also announced that he was giving up his criminal investigation of the death of inmate Scott Norberg and has asked U.S. Attorney Jose Rivera to take over the probe. Rivera's office had already been cooperating in two ongoing federal Department of Justice investigations. FBI agents have been gathering evidence that could lead to criminal indictments on civil rights charges in the deaths of inmates Norberg and Robert Butler. The FBI has also been investigating the charges of deputies that Arpaio and Hendershott have used gestapolike tactics to target deputies they considered disloyal.
Deputies tell New Times they've been feeding FBI agents evidence about Arpaio's treatment of employees, possible misuse of funds, Hendershott's overseeing of posse programs and money and illegal jail operations.
Still, Arpaio last week said he felt relieved.
Arpaio has long wanted Romley off the criminal investigation of the Norberg matter. "Finally, we will be treated fairly by a professional and impartial investigative agency," he said in a written statement.
If Arpaio feels some comfort that the feds are now in charge of the investigation, it may stem from his treatment by the last U.S. attorney for Arizona, Janet Napolitano. A two-year Department of Justice investigation found an unconstitutional pattern of inmate abuse and neglect in the county jails, yet Napolitano all but exonerated the sheriff in a press conference on Halloween, 1997. Arpaio bragged that the federal probe had caused him to change nothing about his jails.
Napolitano is now the state's attorney general, which answers the question why Romley didn't hand off his investigation to that office. (In court papers, Romley also pointed out that the sheriff's newest attorney, Ed Novak, is Napolitano's former law partner.)
Will the U.S. attorney's office repeat its last performance? Deputies say that so far, the FBI seems to be taking their claims seriously.
Recent news reports, relying on unnamed sources, say that in past years Arpaio may have ordered deputies to shadow people he didn't like.
FBI agents have been hearing about surveillance of political enemies by the sheriff's office.
In particular, lately they've found out about a fairly bizarre case of snooping that not only casts doubts on Arpaio's officers and their use of county resources, but also may indirectly damage candidate Tom Bearup, who hopes to unseat Arpaio in the 2000 election.
Shannon Koppinger tells New Times that her husband, Mark Koppinger, a deputy in Hendershott's enforcement-support bureau, has for months been surveilling a man named Jim Cozzolino, a suspect in a death-threat investigation. She says her husband has been taking Cozzolino's trash each week, compiling binders with documents he's found in the garbage and has told her that the sheriff's office has illegally tapped Cozzolino's phone.
Shannon Koppinger says she was unaware that Cozzolino is also a prominent member of Bearup's campaign to unseat Arpaio.
A search warrant affidavit filed by the sheriff's office confirms that Mark Koppinger has, indeed, confiscated Cozzolino's trash and that the sheriff's office used the warrant to obtain Cozzolino's phone records. The affidavit says that Arpaio's investigators considered Cozzolino a suspect in a death threat against the sheriff. It also indicates that Cozzolino has a considerable history of criminal arrests.
Bearup, who calls Cozzolino his "right-hand man," says Cozzolino, 46, had told him that in his early 20s he had been convicted of two burglaries and two forgeries that were reduced to misdemeanors and dismissed when Cozzolino sought law-enforcement certification.
There's no indication of those dismissals in the affidavit filed by Hendershott employee Rich Burden, who submitted the request for a search warrant on October 21, 1998, to Superior Court Judge Roger Kaufman. Instead, Burden lists Cozzolino's 17 arrests without explanation, even including Cozzolino's arrest, at age 16, for "driving without consent."
It's a damning list that, without explanation, makes it appear that the sheriff's office was after a hardened criminal: "Driving Without Consent 1968, Robbery 1971, Grand Theft Auto 1973, Forgery 1973, Burglary 1974, Forgery 1974, Forgery 1974, Forgery 1975, Forgery 1975, Burglary 1975, Burglary 1976, Attempted Arson 1976, Grand Theft Auto 1979, DUI 1982, Possession Marijuana 1982, Assault with a Deadly Weapon 1992, Welfare Fraud 1995."
Cozzolino turned over documents to New Times to show that most of the arrests did not result in convictions. The 1992 weapons charge, for example, occurred when Cozzolino was managing a hotel in Los Angeles and was shot at by robbery suspects; police reports indicate that Cozzolino returned fire, hitting one suspect. He initially was arrested but never was charged in that case.
Today, Cozzolino is certified as a law-enforcement officer and has a concealed-weapons permit, neither of which he could obtain if he were a convicted felon.
Offering records that show, for example, that the 1979 auto theft and 1995 welfare fraud charges were dismissed when Cozzolino proved he had been mistakenly arrested, Cozzolino acknowledged that the list nonetheless gives a terrible impression, and said he plans to resign from Bearup's campaign. He's angry, however, that he was targeted by the sheriff's office and has gone to the FBI to complain about the surveillance.
According to the affidavit the sheriff's office filed to get its search warrant, Cozzolino was suspected of making threats against Arpaio over sheriff's radio frequencies last May. The affidavit includes a transcript of the threats, which came in 14 separate transmissions over secured police radio frequencies on the night of May 11. A tape of the threats released by the sheriff's office does, in fact, sound like Jim Cozzolino.
Cozzolino denies making the threats. He does admit that he sent unfriendly e-mail messages to the sheriff. One of them is quoted in the affidavit:
"Hey, BOZO NOSE, Let see, you have a puppy posse, a pussy posse . . . you should start a Dick Posse . . . and you can be the BIG DICK you are in charge. Your an idiot . . . and a waste of tax payers money."
Cozzolino says it's no secret that he dislikes Arpaio. And he confirms what the affidavit reports: that after five months of training to become a member of the sheriff's posse, Cozzolino was asked to leave the program last year. Cozzolino says that when he joined he offered a complete list of his arrests and convictions and was told that because of the court dismissals, his background would not prevent him from becoming a posse member. Five months later, however, another posse supervisor told Cozzolino he had been kicked out.
Cozzolino says it wasn't made clear to him whether he was ejected for his background or for his support of Bearup.
Burden's affidavit lists the posse expulsion as a possible motive for the death threats, and says that while Cozzolino was in the posse some police radios went missing.
On September 2, someone called Arpaio at home. According to the affidavit, Arpaio believes that whoever made that call also made the radio death threats.
Burden asked Judge Kaufman to approve a search warrant so the sheriff's office could learn Cozzolino's phone number and get records of whether Cozzolino had made the September 2 call. Two days after Kaufman granted the search warrant, Burden informed the court that he had obtained the phone number and call log from US West.
If Burden found evidence that Cozzolino had made the call, however, no arrest in the case has been made. (And it's hard to believe that if the sheriff's office did find evidence that Cozzolino had made the threats, they would not have arrested him immediately, scoring a media coup that would have embarrassed Bearup.)
In the affidavit, Burden wrote that he knew where Cozzolino lived because he had sent Deputy Mark Koppinger to take Cozzolino's trash. "Several pieces of mail . . . were found in the trash can, which was out in front of the address . . . addressed to James Cozzolino."
The affidavit gives the impression that Cozzolino's trash was confiscated one time simply to confirm his address.
But Shannon Koppinger says her husband continued to take Cozzolino's trash through at least December, when she saw her husband stuffing binders with documents that he found in Cozzolino's garbage. Shannon and her husband separated in December. She says that in a recent phone conversation, her husband indicated that the confiscation has continued into March. She says he also told her that the sheriff's office was illegally tapping Cozzolino's phone.
Reached at home, Mark Koppinger deferred questions to Hendershott.
Neither Hendershott nor Arpaio could be reached for comment.
The sheriff's office sought no further warrants from Judge Kaufman regarding Cozzolino's home or phone number. If wire-tapping has been done by deputies, the sheriff's office apparently did not seek a court order from Kaufman.
Bearup says Shannon Koppinger's story doesn't surprise him. Already convinced that he's been tailed by deputies, Bearup thinks Cozzolino has been surveilled so Hendershott and Arpaio can get intelligence about Bearup's political activities.
Rick Romley says he's also received new information that such political surveillance is going on, and he specifically mentioned illegal wiretapping when he discussed it last week with New Times. Romley says he's turning over evidence of the surveillance both to U.S. Attorney Jose Rivera and state Attorney General Janet Napolitano.
"If these allegations are true, whether there's illegal wiretaps or whether there's anything improper, it's not just necessarily a violation of the civil rights laws. It could be a violation of the criminal laws here. But probably more importantly there's a statute on the books--it's called an 'accusation'--that if an elected official performs malfeasance or misfeasance of office, improperly using office, it calls for the removal of that elected official," Romley says.
If it can be shown that Arpaio improperly instructed his deputies to perform political surveillance using county resources, Arpaio could be out of a job.
Romley himself may have been a target of such surveillance. Bearup says that when he was still a trusted aide to Arpaio, the sheriff instructed him to obtain a list of Romley's contributors in the 1996 campaign. Sources tell New Times that Arpaio then had deputies, on county time, call Romley's supporters to question them in an intimidating manner about why they were supporting Romley.
Romley himself wouldn't comment on the specific nature of the evidence that he has turned over to Rivera and Napolitano.
Mark Koppinger and Rich Burden operate out of David Hendershott's notorious enforcement-support bureau, which has been the subject of much of the FBI's investigation, according to sources who have been interviewed by agents.
Deputy spokesman Steve Barnes and other sheriff's employees tell New Times that Hendershott uses the enforcement-support bureau to handle Arpaio's dirty work. Deputies who have been accused of gestapolike pogroms to oust deputies the sheriff suspects of disloyalty have come out of, or been rewarded with, posts in enforcement-support, they say.
Enforcement-support is also the bureau Arpaio has turned to in recent months for what have become increasingly bizarre publicity stunts. It's also the bureau that handles the posse programs and oversees its raising of pink underwear money. The sheriff's office has refused to disclose records of that money, which Arpaio brags totals more than $1 million, and won't say what it's been used for.
Besides heading up the Cozzolino investigation, Burden is also the enforcement-support deputy who has tried, unsuccessfully, to gather enough evidence to convince prosecutors to charge letter carrier Wayne Bates with intentionally pepper spraying two dogs. In a taped interview, Burden appeared to admit that his work was more political than law enforcement-related. Not seeming to realize that his tape recorder was on, Burden told a potential expert witness that he doubted he would ever find enough evidence to charge Bates, "but I'm going to keep digging and you know why, I'm mandated and the sheriff doesn't want me to drop this, wants me to keep going even if we can't get prosecution. You know why? Sheriff's getting sued for three million dollars," by Bates.
Shannon Koppinger says her husband Mark took a job with the enforcement-support division with the promise that he'd eventually be rewarded with a post in the tactical operations unit.
Koppinger says her husband participated in a five-member "threat assessment squad" that followed up on threats allegedly made against Arpaio, which is why he was given the assignment to investigate Cozzolino.
But she says his first assignment in Hendershott's special squad was to handle a case that, she says, Sheriff Arpaio believed had high publicity possibilities. Mark Koppinger was assigned the case of Ryan Laughlin, the teenager who claimed he knew of a satanic coven which was killing cats in Ahwatukee. Shannon claims her husband continually told Laughlin that he would be protected in the investigation, but that when the probe had turned up no leads, Arpaio pressured Koppinger and Burden to arrest someone so that Arpaio could go to the press. The investigators capitulated and targeted Laughlin himself, she says.
Ryan's father, Jerry Laughlin, corroborates Shannon Koppinger's story. Laughlin confirms that Mark Koppinger and Burden promised his son that he would be used to help catch the cat killers, and that he wouldn't be the subject of an investigation himself. "All along I felt that they were spending an inordinate amount of human resources chasing the cat thing. But I know Sheriff Joe's politics," Laughlin says.
"Koppinger told me he was new in that group [enforcement-support]. And that he happened to get the call on this cat thing," he adds. "Throughout the process they [Koppinger and Burden] were continually reassuring Ryan that he wouldn't be hurt, that he wouldn't be prosecuted. We didn't know anything had changed until they served the search warrant."
The same day that Burden applied for the Cozzolino search warrant--October 21--he also asked Judge Kaufman for a warrant to search the Laughlin house. A month later Arpaio presented evidence that Ryan Laughlin himself was the killer of cats, and even identified the minor. Law enforcers usually do not identify accused minors.
Jerry Laughlin says he and his son were stunned by the betrayal. "Koppinger came across very sincere. He had me convinced that he really cared about Ryan."
Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: email@example.com
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.