Mesa Officials Knew of Possible Fraud Two Years Before Sheriff's Raid, Tipster Says in Affidavit | Valley Fever | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona


Mesa Officials Knew of Possible Fraud Two Years Before Sheriff's Raid, Tipster Says in Affidavit

By Ray Stern A search warrant affidavit released by the Maricopa County Superior Court concerning last Thursday's raid by deputies on Mesa government buildings alleges: *Two years prior to the raid, a former Mesa employee and his supervisors suspected undocumented workers on the city's cleaning staff were committing identity fraud...
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By Ray Stern

A search warrant affidavit released by the Maricopa County Superior Court concerning last Thursday's raid by deputies on Mesa government buildings alleges:

*Two years prior to the raid, a former Mesa employee and his supervisors suspected undocumented workers on the city's cleaning staff were committing identity fraud.

*Wade Pew, a Mesa police lieutenant, met two Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detectives and a Mesa Municipal Security employee Chuck Wilson as they were reviewing janitor identification documents at a city building on June 3. He asked what was going on. One of the detectives told Pew they were conducting an investigation into alleged identity theft, and that Wilson had tipped them off.

*On June 10, Wilson told a detective to contact Pew if they needed anything else concerning their investigation. The detective doesn't mention in his report that he contacted Pew after that date.

*Sheriff's detectives verifying the IDs of workers believed as early as July that numerous employees of the cleaning company -- including some who worked at Mesa government buildings -- had used bogus Social Security numbers to get their jobs. The affidavit doesn't mention why the sheriff's office waited until October 16 to conduct the raid.

Granted, the search warrant affidavit was written by a sheriff's detective, named in the affidavit as S. Monroe, and only reveals one side of the story. An article in the Arizona Republic today reports that Mesa police Assistant Chief Mike Denney can't yet say whether "anything in that affidavit is or is not factual."

But if the claims in the affidavit are true, it looks like another low point in the histories of both Mesa and the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office investigation began on May 21, the day Wilson called a tipline to report the suspected document fraud.

One of Wilson's jobs at the city was to issue badges for contract workers, such as the janitors at Management Cleaning Controls, who cleaned offices in City Hall and the public library. The previous day, on May 20, a supervisor with the company asked him to have a badge issued to a new female employee. But her Arizona ID looked fake to Wilson, and a check to the state Motor Vehicles Division showed it was, indeed, fake.

Wilson told the supervisor he couldn't accept the ID and sent them away. They came back in two hours with another bogus ID for the new employee, and he refused them again. Wilson says he then contacted Lieutenant Pew and told them what happened.

"Chuck was told by Lt. Pew that he would contact (the company) and let them deal with the employees," Monroe's affidavit states.

The next day, Wilson called the sheriff's tipline. In a news conference last week, Sheriff Joe Arpaio put the blame squarely on Pew's shoulders.

But city officials claim that on the same day Wilson called the tipline, Pew and another city official met with a representative of the company to discuss the concerns. Dennis Ray, Mesa facilities maintenance director, then sent a follow-up letter on June 4 to the company about the problem. The company assured Mesa its workers were legal, says city spokesman Steve Wright.

Had the city verified in June that all the cleaning company's employees were authorized to work in this country, Arpaio's raid would have been fruitless.

Why the city didn't take substantive action isn't clear. If undocumented workers had access to Mesa City Hall or other sensitive areas, that would be a security problem. As of Wednesday, Wright still could not fully explain who had access, and where. Workers whose badges gave them entry to City Hall, which houses the mayor and city council members' offices, may have needed background checks, he says.

Dennis Ray did not return a phone call on Wednesday. City officials aren't letting the media talk to Pew, either. Police announced yesterday they'd investigate the sheriff's office allegations against Pew. An e-mail message sent to Wilson on Wednesday wasn't answered.

Wilson's motivation for tattling on his employer also isn't entirely clear. The affidavit has him telling Detective Monroe that, "approximately two years ago he noticed and notified his supervisor that employees with MCC Acquisition Company, LLC, were presenting false/forged documents to receive a city of Mesa contract worker badge, which allowed access to city of Mesa buildings."

Perhaps the May 20 incident awakened indignation in Wilson to the document fraud he believed he had seen for two years. At the time, though, Wilson was also being disciplined for an August 2007 e-mail prank (detailed in my October 18 post).

On May 29, Wilson provided the sheriff's detectives with a list of names of employees who had been issued badges, along with the alien number from the employees' green cards, the affidavit states. Five days later, Lieutenant Pew saw the detectives and Wilson at Mesa's Municipal Security Building going through documents, and asked if he could help with anything.

"Detective Brockman told Lt. Pew that we were conducting an investigation in reference to identity theft. Lt. Pew then asked how we had received the information, at which time Lt. Pew was told that we had received a message on our tip line from Chuck," Monroe wrote in the affidavit.

What Pew did with this information, if that's really how it went down, isn't yet known. It stands to reason that a curious person might want to find out what the hell was going on. But the affidavit gives no indication of what Pew may have done after that.

On June 9, Wilson appeared before the police department's disciplinary board over the e-mail incident. He said he regretted the incident and admitted it showed poor judgment, a Mesa internal affairs report states. The board voted to fire him, though he stayed on the job until September.

Wilson called Detective Monroe a day later, on June 10, and asked him to call Pew if he needed anything else.

Over the next few weeks, the detectives finished their scrutiny of the Social Security numbers and had apparently finished their investigation by August 7, the affidavit shows. They'd found that of 350 employees at Management Cleaning Controls, 276 had Social Security numbers that appeared to be bad. Wilson had given the detectives the names of 25 employees who worked in Mesa buildings -- the affidavit states that 22 of those did not have valid Social Security numbers.

The sheriff's office kept their investigation quiet, and Mesa remained clueless. Early on October 16, 30 deputies and 30 posse members with Arpaio's office rolled into Mesa to stage their raid. Just after 1 a.m., a Mesa police officer saw three marked K-9 SUVs from the sheriff's office parked at Pioneer Park, near City Hall. The officer approached six deputies standing near a park bench.

"I asked them what they were doing and one of the deputies told me they were conducting K-9 training," the officer later wrote in a report released by Mesa police. The officer contacted sheriff's office supervisor Lieutenant Joe Sousa, who reportedly told him the deputies didn't need any help from Mesa police.

The massive nighttime operation netted just three suspected illegal immigrants working at Mesa buildings that night, all at the library. Deputies served a search warrant on the company's Phoenix office, copied hard drives of computers, seized records and arrested 13 other employees at their homes.

As no doubt intended, the raid received wide publicity. The most high-profile stories appeared in the New York Times which covered the raid among its daily reports. The sheriff must have been interested to see the article was written by Paul Giblin, one of the East Valley Tribune reporters who worked on series of stories published in July that were critical of Arpaio.

Whether Arpaio manages to win a fifth term in two weeks or loses to his opponent, Dan Saban, this stunt will surely be remembered as a pivotal event in relations between the sheriff's office and other government entities.

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