Joe's Spies

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.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega