Maricopa County Craziness

Mary Rose Wilcox Case: "Utter Lack of Motive or Evidence" of Crimes, Gila County Attorney Concludes

Mary Rose Wilcox, one of five members of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, didn't disclose her business interests to the public like she should have, that much is clear.

But multiple felonies? No way, says Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores.

"With the utter lack of motive or evidence of any unlawful economic or political benefit from the financial disclosure omissions, a reasonable juror would conclude that these omissions were an oversight, rather than conduct knowingly perpetrated to deceive the public," Flores wrote in the letter we blogged about earlier today.

Flores' conclusions make it clear that while Wilcox should have disclosed more on the forms, her accusers had failed to show evidence of any criminal intent.

It's more evidence that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's former chief deputy, David Hendershott, and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas were blinded by their ambition -- gleefully twisting the facts just enough to obtain grand jury indictments and headlines, yet never coming up with a strong case.

The weakness of the case against Wilcox compared to the zeal that Thomas and Arpaio showed for it lends support to accusations that the law enforcers were simply out to nail their political enemies.

After the heavy-handed indictment of Don Stapley on failure-to-disclose charges in December of 2008, it became clear to many in the county that Arpaio, Hendershott and Thomas intended to use their police powers for political purposes. Predictions abounded that Wilcox would be the next target of the ironically named Mace Anti Corruption Enforcement task force, since Wilcox had long opposed the anti-illegal-immigrant policies of Thomas and Arpaio. Sure enough, in December of 2009, Wilcox was indicted on multiple felony charges.

Like the Stapley case, the offices of Arpaio and Thomas wanted the public to believe that they'd received a "tip" about misdeeds by Wilcox. In this case, the alleged tip was about a Phoenix magazine article about Wilcox's failure to disclose business loans on county forms.

We're pretty confident that the part in the sheriff's office report about a tip is bullshit. It seems far more likely that Hendershott and Lisa Aubuchon, Thomas' political attack-dog, cooked up the criminal case themselves after reading the Phoenix Mag article. Thomas and Arpaio also claimed both criminal cases against Stapley were started with tips, but evidence shows Aubuchon had worked on the Stapley case long before the preparation of any official report.

Both the first and second grand jury indicted Wilcox on having a conflict of interest because she voted on funding for Chicanos Por La Causa while also taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from the non-profit company's loan division, Prestamos. The indictments also charged her with perjury, forgery and false swearing in regard to her financial disclosure forms.

Thomas, as prosecutor, ran into trouble with his Stapley case in April of 2009, having been told by the Arizona Supreme Court that he had a conflict of interest. (Namely, that he couldn't be both a lawyer for Stapley, the County Supervisor, and prosecutor of Stapley, the alleged criminal.) Thomas sent both the Stapley and Wilcox cases to Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

Polk famously rained on the lawmen's parade with a public chastisement, claiming that Thomas and Arpaio were abusing their power to go after Stapley and Wilcox. The lawmen and their minions wanted Polk to issue subpoenas in the Wilcox case, but Polk told them she didn't have enough evidence to warrant a "fishing expedition" with subpoenas.

Ticked off and apparently wanting to please Arpaio, Thomas took the cases back. Then, in February of last year, a Pima County judge tossed the cases against Wilcox and Stapley because of that nagging conflict of interest Thomas had. After flouncing around for a few weeks, trying to hire ultra-expensive hotshot lawyers from Washington D.C. as special prosecutors, Thomas sent Flores the Stapley and Wilcox cases last March.

Flores' January 18 letter says she was aware of all the "tangential issues" related to the Wilcox case, but focused soley on the facts as they were presented to her. She and three of her most experience prosecutors reviewed more than 10,000 pages of investigative reports and other documents.

Her letter destroys the idea that Wilcox was in cahoots with Chicano Por La Causa to obtain loans in exchange for county funding. Flores agrees with our own analysis of the case last year: Wilcox was among the Supervisors who voted unanimously to allow federal funding to pass through the county to about 30 agencies, including Chicanos. At the same time, business loans for her restaurants were obtained in the same manner, and on the same terms, as any other business owner. In fact, she paid a slightly higher interest rate than she could have obtained if she'd used a typical bank, the Gila County review determined.

In other words, the facts of the loans and the votes had nothing to do with each other, and no evidence ever surfaced that Wilcox was trying to give special help to Chicanos Por La Causa, or that it was offering her any special deal. Since Wilcox had no substantial interest in the decision to award the pass-through funds to Chicanos, she had no duty to make known her interest in the public record, Flores states.

"The undertone (of the counts) is that Wilcox obtained the loans as a quid pro quo for voting funds to CPLC. There is no evidence to even suggest such a thing occurred," Flores writes.

Wilcox also didn't need to report some of her business loans on disclosure forms because they weren't personal loans, despite what Arpaio's office claims in its investigative report.

Wilcox and her husband had personally guaranteed the loans, but that doesn't mean they weren't business loans. They were -- a situation that "significantly impacts the analysis" of Wilcox's reporting obligations, the letter reads.

It's clear that Wilcox didn't disclose all of her business interests in some years. For instance, she failed to disclose a 2005 $450,000 loan from the Community Bank of Nevada on her 2006 financial form. She should have disclosed that, as well as others -- a fact made obvious by an amended disclosure form she filed after her indictment which included the missing info.

"However, there is no evidence that she somehow unlawfully benefited economically or politically" by not disclosing it, Flores writes.

Since a successful prosecution requires proof that Wilcox knowingly tried to defraud or deceive the public, something that can't be shown by existing evidence, it's "unlikely" the state could obtain a conviction, she writes.

Based on the insufficient evidence, Flores writes that she won't go forward with the case.

Wilcox is free at last. (And probably going to win a wrongful prosecution claim.)

We checked in with Stapley's office this morning. Stapley didn't get a nice letter from Flores today, which means he's not out of the cholla forest yet.

As for Thomas -- he's going to have to answer for his actions before the disciplinary judge for the State Bar. A new indictment of Wilcox might have helped his case. Now he's down one more thread on the rope he's holding onto.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.