Pinal County Assessor Lewis Paul Larkin Nabbed for Suspected DUI Following Citizen's Complaint; Had County Car Taken Away in 2009

Lewis Paul Larkin, the elected county assessor from Pinal County, was arrested on suspicion of DUI last night following a citizen's complaint to a county Web site.

Here's what the complaint said:

The Pinal County Assessor frequents the Kokopelli Moon Saloon everyday (Monday - Fri) around 3 p.m. until around 5 p.m. then, inebriated, he gets into his late model silver Dodge Dakota and drives home. Why does the Pinal County Sheriff turn a blind on this?

After receiving the tip, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office sent a squad car to the Florence bar at about 5 p.m. last night, says Tim Gaffney, spokesman for Sheriff Paul Babeu.

"Sure enough, his vehicle was in the parking lot," Gaffney says. He couldn't confirm, however, whether the Dakota was Larkin's county vehicle.

Larkin, 67, had his government vehicle privileges revoked for a year in 2009 after an earlier tip to the county that he'd driven his car after drinking beer at a restaurant. New Times covered that incident in a blog post just over a year ago and reported that he should have gotten his car back last January.

Larkin wasn't under surveillance for very long. He left the eatery after 5 p.m., got in a 2008 Dodge Dakota and headed westbound on Highway 287 towards Christensen Road in Coolidge. The deputy pulled him over after seeing the car weave across the roadway, Gaffney says.

A news release sent out this morning by Gaffney states that "Larkin smelled heavily of an alcoholic beverage and had watery bloodshot eyes. He admitted to drinking three vodka/tonics."

After failing a field sobriety test, Larkin blew a .099 in a breath test. The legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers is .08.

Larkin, a Democrat, has been Pinal's assessor since he was first elected to the office way back in 1984. He defeated Republican Ron Reinagel in the 2008 election.

There's not as much to assess in Pinal since the economic slow-down, so Larkin apparently has plenty of time on his hands. Maybe he comes to work earlier than us, but it must be nice to hit the vodka tonics at three o'clock.

The citizen's complaint states that Larkin also enjoys going to Shorty's in Coolidge, and that his drinking after work is an ongoing issue. The complainer, self-described as a member of the public, says he or she saw Larkin at Kokopelli's last Thursday.

As mentioned, the tipster believed Sheriff Babeu was helping to cover up Larkin's alleged mischief. It would appear that this was the only fact the tipster got wrong.

However, we've gotta add that we find this bust a bit disconcerting. Can we say for sure that Sheriff Babeu, a Republican, didn't submit the tip on the assessor? No, we can't. On the other hand, would it have been prudent for Babeu to ignore the tip because he thought that yahoos like us might question his motives?

Either way, this was an unusual DUI arrest.

UPDATE: Gaffney and Heather Murphy, Pinal County spokeswoman, confirm for New Times that Larkin the Dodge Dakota was not Larkin's county vehicle. The assessor was allowed to use his taxpayer-funded Ford Expedition again starting in January of 2010, but told he could no longer take it home or use it for any non-county business.

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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.