Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio won't say whether one of his deputy chiefs, Paul Chagolla, deserves to be investigated for allegedly threatening an Arizona Republic reporter two years ago.
Arpaio would only tell us yesterday that "it's not over" -- a reference to the still-unfolding scandal of mismanagement and allegedly criminal behavior by members of his command staff. He's right about that.
Arpaio got rid of two of his closest aides, Dave Hendershott and Larry Black, because of the findings in the six-month internal investigation conducted by the Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's office.
Chagolla, a protege of Hendershott's, remains one of Arpaio's top men.
Yet Babeu's investigative report details the comically insane suspicions that Chagolla and Hendershott claimed to have about Republic reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez -- and how they allegedly threatened numerous times to arrest her and put her child in CPS custody.
Last year, both the Republic and New Times reported how Wingett's name had appeared in Sheriff's Office documents related to the bug sweep. The full story, as we've learned, is much juicier. Chagolla, Wingett Sanchez, and Republic editor Randy Lovely declined comment for this article.
In her interview with Babeu's investigators, Lisa Allen, Arpaio's spokeswoman, described Chagolla as "clearly under the influence and thumb of David Hendershott," the latter being "about the scariest man I've ever met."
In early 2009, Hendershott told Wingett, reporter JJ Hensley and a Republic editor -- on the record -- that his office was investigating the sweep for electronic-listening devices mentioned in one of Wingett Sanchez's recent articles.
Wingett Sanchez called Maricopa County officials for comment. And then Hensley reportedly called Chagolla and let him know that the paper was on an article about the investigation. Hensley, Chagolla claims, told him that Wingett Sanchez had called county officials about the investigation and apologized because her article apparently played a role in launching it.
Astonishingly, Chagolla claimed to investigators that when Hendershott first told the reporters about the investigation, it was most likely a "fact finding meeting" for Hendershott. In others words, Chagolla believed Hendershott hadn't been telling reporters an interesting bit of news -- he'd been involving them in an investigation without their knowledge. And when Wingett Sanchez called the county -- well, this crack lawman figured that might be some kind of illegal tip-off.
He thought it fell "into the realm of aiding, alerting [county officials] so that they can discard potential evidence," he told investigators.
Chagolla told Hendershott and internal affairs chief Terry Young about his conversation with Hensley. We're sort of creeped out by the way Chagolla describes Hensley as some kind of snitch, later telling Babeu's investigators that Hensley sometimes helped him "understand, you know, what was happening in his newsroom."
A year later, after Arpaio had put Hendershott on adminstrative leave, Wingett complained to Lisa Allen that he and Chagolla repeatedly had threatened to arrest her over the incident.
"Next week, Yvonne, you're going to be arrested ... and your child is going to end up with Child Protective Services," they said, Wingett Sanchez told Allen, adding that she could barely speak about it without getting "emotional."
The threats to Wingett Sanchez came in person and, at least once, by telephone, Allen reported.
"She was always threatened that her child would end up in the hands of CPS, which was very upsetting to her," the report states.
Allen suggests that she received gobbledegook from Hendershott and Chagolla when she asked them to explain why they believed Wingett Sanchez had done anything wrong.
Hendershott "really believed that Yvonne had committed some sort of a crime. Seemed to me she was just doing her job as a reporter, but he thought it was a crime," Allen told investigators.
Allen tells New Times that she talked to Loretta Barkell, the agency's chief financial officer, about Wingett Sanchez's allegation. They decided it would be best if Allen reported what she'd heard to IA chief Terry Young.
"If it was true, someone had to be held accountable," Allen told us last night.
But no one's been held accountable, as far as we can tell.
After talking to Young, Allen also told Sheriff Arpaio about the threats to Wingett Sanchez.
Young contacted Wingett Sanchez and Hensley, who told him they wouldn't participate in the investigation.
Young's investigation apparently ended there. But it shouldn't have, because Chagolla can still be investigated without the reporters' assistance. Munnell Memo report investigators asked Chagolla briefly about the incident, and he claimed he never threatened Wingett with arrest or that he'd have her child put in CPS custody.
Our guess: Hensley's not a snitch, Wingett Sanchez isn't a liar, and Chagolla's off his rocker.
Serious doubts can be raised about Chagolla's mindset and statements to investigators here. Chagolla, a former spokesman for Arpaio's office, is well-known for his sometimes bizarre and unprofessional behavior.
Chagolla has a widespread reputation for getting nasty, a fact that Lisa Allen acknowledged after Chagolla was transferred from his post as media liaison and reassigned. "I think there are a lot of people in the media [who] are glad to see him go," Allen told us in 2008.
The kicker is that Arpaio's investigation into the supposed misuse of funds by county officials for two bug sweeps was corrupt from the start.
Babeu's investigators found that Hendershott had ordered underlings to doctor a search warrant as part of the bug-sweep probe. He wanted the County Supervisors' offices searched for evidence that the Supes had found and deactivated bugs planted by the Sheriff's Office. But Hendershott knew the MCSO had planted no bugs. Investigators wrote that they found Hendershott's illogical statements on the matter "astounding."
Knowing that the investigation was bogus, Hendershott announced to the media that county Supervisor Andy Kunasek had "stolen" county funds to the tune of $15,000 -- the cost of the bug sweeps. A grand jury rejected the investigation into Kunasek as a probable political hatchet job.
Kunasek later revealed part of a transcript from his interview with former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon -- which seems to prove that Hendershott and Aubuchon had tried to use the bug-sweep probe to extort Kunasek into approving their choice for a replacement county attorney.
Now Arpaio's got another choice to make: What to do with Chagolla?
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