Maricopa County Craziness

More Fallout From Sheriff Arpaio and Andrew Thomas Corruption: Potential Multi-Million-Dollar Settlement Going to Developer Conley Wolfswinkel and Family

The costs keep climbing for the corrupt acts of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

Late last month, the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $1.27 million to a former judge smeared with bogus criminal charges, plus another $250,000 to former county Schools Superintendent Sandra Dowling, another of Arpaio's political enemies. The settlements were part of $3.6 million paid out to various victims of Thomas and Arpaio's schemes.

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., the Supes will convene in executive session to review a potential settlement for Valley developer Conley Wolfswinkel and his family, the targets of a bad search warrant that Arpaio exploited for publicity. Wolfswinkel's been asking for $5 million, having originally demanded $10 million, so this potential settlement could be the largest of the lot.

See also: Conley Wolfswinkel, Smeared by Andrew Thomas in Stapley Investigation, Files Notice of Claim with Maricopa County

The five-member panel will decide whether or not to approve the settlement following the executive session, county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick tells us.

Wolfswinkel was once key to the allegations drummed up by Thomas and Arpaio against former County Supervisor Don Stapley.

The former East Valley Supervisor's problems began soon after Arpaio and Thomas formed an anti-corruption task force that became a tool for the pair's law-abusing political games.

Though Thomas had a blatant conflict of interest -- in that he was both the lawyer for Stapley (and the rest of the Board), and the prosecutor of Stapley -- the sheriff and county attorney moved forward with an investigation that saw Stapley indicted in December of 2008 on 118 misdemeanor and felony counts for failing to make full disclosures on campaign forms.

One of those omitted disclosures included a land deal involving Wolfswinkel, who was convicted in the early 1990s of writing $200 million in bad checks as part of a large-scale deal. Based on testimony by Stapley's bookkeeper about a seemingly shady land deal between Stapley and Wolfswinkel's company, a search warrant was executed in January of 2009 on the company's Tempe office.

Little about the raid resembled normal law enforcement.

A high-ranking sheriff's official, Deputy Chief Bill Knight, would state in a later internal investigation that Arpaio -- who claims he didn't get involved in the nitty-gritty details of the discredited anti-corruption investigations -- review the search warrant personally as it was being drafted and made suggestions that had the effect of sensationalizing it.

Knight questioned Arpaio about his suggested additions, bluntly asking if this were a search warrant or a news release. He soon found out it was both: the Wolfswinkel search warrant was attached to a news release sent out to the news media at the time of the raid. A news chopper began flying overhead and reporters showed up to the office as the raid was being carried out.

Arpaio's deputies didn't even glance at most of the evidence they boxed up and took out of the office, lawyers later proved.

The search warrant had been based on loose evidence from the beginning. When the bookkeeper was re-interviewed, her new testimony about the timing of events in the Stapley-Wolfswinkel deal made it seem rather un-suspicious. A judged later ruled the search warrant lacked probable cause.

The "reckless disregard for the lawful rights" of the Wolfwinkels hurt the development company's reputation and caused it to lose business, a 2010 lawsuit alleges. The company incurred six-digit legal fees to fight the public smear.

Wolfswinkel was also named in the ill-conceived federal racketeering lawsuit that Arpaio and Thomas launched against their enemies, (which also went nowhere.)

The Supervisors could reject the settlement offer, whatever it is. Gerchick says the county won't reveal the number before the executive session.

UPDATE: Click here to find out how much the bill for Thomas and Arpaio's illicit antics has risen.

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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.