Randy Pullen, a CPA who's running for state treasurer, is either a fool or a liar.
Not in general, mind you:
We're talking strictly about his role in a campaign-finance scandal that helped destroy the careers of three of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's top men.
Five years ago, Pullen became one of the most notable figures embroiled in a state criminal investigation of what was known as the "SCA Scandal." Evidence in the case indicated Pullen, then the chair of the State Republican Party, may have been aware that campaign-finance laws were being thwarted. He says he did nothing wrong.
But taking him at his word, the would-be treasurer comes off looking as gullible as a schoolkid -- hook-winked by his a political-consultant friend and the wily Sheriff's Office.
At the heart of the matter, as far as Pullen's involvement is concerned, was a suspicious donation of $105,000 to the state GOP in August of 2008.
The allegations investigated by the state concerned how the state GOP, headed by Pullen, conspired with Sheriff Arpaio's office to fund a smear-ad against Arpaio's 2008 opponent, Dan Saban, with money raised secretly from wealthy Arpaio supporters.
Arpaio and his top aides, Dave Hendershott and Larry Black, who doubled as the longtime sheriff's campaign workers, were eager to see Saban's name trashed with Saban's own court testimony from a failed defamation lawsuit against Arpaio. But they couldn't legally donate the cash they and their wealthy buddies raised to the Republican Party specifically for a pro-Arpaio ad -- that would be illegal earmarking of funds. So, after raising the money, the sheriff's men met with Pullen's friend, GOP political consultant Chris Baker, who acted as a go-between. Baker soon took an $80,000 check that Black had given him to the state Republican Party headquarters.
When Pullen received the check, he noticed two important things about it: One, it was by far the largest check he'd received for the party in that election cycle. And two, the check was from something called the "SCA," an "unincorporated association of individuals."
Big checks like that usually were not deposited until the party knew who was doing the donating, said the state Republican Party's finance director at that time, Amy Lynn Gordon. She informed state investigator Mike Edwards that Pullen told her -- over her objections -- to deposit the money immediately in the party's state account.
The day after the check came in, Pullen and another GOP official formed the independent-expenditure group that was behind the R-rated, anti-Saban TV ad. Three weeks later, Baker delivered another check from the mysterious "SCA," this one for $25,000.
Pullen soon had $78,000 transferred from the state GOP account to the new group. The state investigation concluded that the money was used to produce and run the anti-Saban ad. It aired for one day that October before being yanked because of public outrage. SCA money was also used by the state GOP for a controversial ad supporting former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, who was disbarred in 2011 for abusing his power.
After the anti-Saban ad ran, Democratic Party officials pulled the state GOP's election finance reports and saw that the GOP had accepted the large donations from an unnamed group, the "SCA." That's when the scheme began to unravel. The state elections department found the allegations compelling enough to refer to the state Attorney General's Office, which began an investigation.
Edwards, in an 800-plus-page report, concluded that when Pullen told state elections officials that the SCA funds were not earmarked for the anti-Saban ad, he'd lied. Not just a little lie, either, but possibly a criminal one.
Edwards wrote that Pullen and Hendershott's patsy, former MCSO Captain Joel Fox, had made "material misrepresentation(s) in a written document in a matter related to the business conducted by a political sub-division of the state, knowing such statement is false."
A subsequent, independent investigation of the SCA scandal by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu's office also concluded that members of the Arizona Republican Party and Arpaio's office had schemed to earmark the SCA funds for the anti-Saban ad.
Two Republican Party wonks backed up the "earmarking" accusation -- though one, Bruce Ash, did it indirectly. On the blog of Republican consultant Nathan Sproul, Ash wrote that the money for the ad "would not have been donated had the ad campaign not been run."
Former state GOP chairman Mike Hellon, told Edwards that when he asked Pullen why the ad was made, Pullen replied, "Because there were some supporters of Joe Arpaio who gave us some money and that is what they wanted us to do with it."
Hellon later told New Times he was "dumbfounded" by Pullen's statement and could scarcely believe that Pullen would be "dumb enough to say it and dumb enough to admit it to people."
During the second of two interviews with Pullen, the state investigator confronted Pullen with his predecessor's comments. Pullen responded that it was "not very likely" that he made such a statement to Hellon.
Terry Goddard, the Democratic Attorney General until the end of 2010, left office without charging Pullen or anyone else in the case with a crime. Pullen announced in November of 2010 that he wouldn't seek reelection as state GOP chairman. The incoming state AG, Republican Tom Horne, referred the case and other allegations against Arpaio's office to the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office, which decided ultimately to do nothing.
New Times had been unable to reach Pullen for the comprehensive 2011 article. But the treasurer candidate put his cell phone on his web site, and we surprised him on Tuesday with a phone call and trip down memory lane.
We reminded Pullen that the known facts of the case show that, at best, he'd been ignorant that Joel Fox -- who had signed the checks to the state GOP totaling $105,000 -- was a high-ranking commander for the MCSO.
A simple Google search would have turned up the name of Fox, a former head of the MCSO's SWAT team, in news articles. Pullen tells New Times that he'd asked GOP staffer Sean McCaffery to find out from Fox the names of the individual donors who made up the SCA. In one courtroom proceeding over the scandal, Baker testified that Pullen had asked him to ask Fox for the names of the donors. Baker claimed he lied to Pullen, telling him untruthfully that he'd attempted to contact Fox.
No proof exists, however, that Pullen asked anyone to ask Fox for the donors' names before the anti-Saban smear ad ran. After the ad aired and questions began swirling about who had funded it, Pullen sent a letter to "Mr. Fox" inquiring about the names behind the SCA. McCaffery gave Pullen Fox's phone number, and Pullen called and talked to Fox. But he admits he didn't ask Fox a basic question: "Who are you?"
Pullen claims that when he accepted Joel Fox's "SCA" checks, he didn't have a clue who was behind the large, arguably suspicious donation. It's clear he didn't try very hard to find out.
Pullen maintains he had no knowledge:
* that "Mr. Fox" was actually Captain Fox of the MCSO until after the ad aired;
* that Hendershott, Arpaio's de facto campaign manager, had coordinated the SCA fundraising;
* that his friend Baker had met repeatedly with Black and at least once with Hendershott;
* that Black had helped to create the anti-Saban ad;
* or that money from corporations was unlawfully mixed in with the pool of funds from the wealthy donors.
If you combine Baker's sworn statements on the case with Pullen's version of events, Pullen was blind to the fact that his consultant buddy was shining him on.
If Pullen's telling the truth, he's so naive that after failing to find out who was behind a random $80,000 donation, he accepted another $25,000 from the same, unnamed donor. He claims to have believed several promises that the names of the donors were forthcoming from Fox, who would later divulge the names only under threat of a $315,000 fine.
Pullen insists that nothing about his role in the SCA affair reflects poorly on his bid to become State Treasurer.
"Are we supposed to investigate every check we get?" Pullen says. "That's ridiculous."
New Times reminded Pullen that the story behind those checks was shady. At the least, for instance, the facts show that Baker was not up front with the state GOP because he didn't tell Pullen, (according to Pullen), that Hendershott and Black were behind the SCA.
Pullen refused to agree that anything about the donation was "shady."
But it was shady. Hendershott, Black and Fox lost their jobs over it. (A lengthy investigation concluded that Hendershott was responsible for other wrongdoing, as well.)
Now, Pullen cannot claim that he stopped Arpaio's men from carrying out their unscrupulous plan.
He can't say that when a huge check showed up to the state GOP on his watch, its source unidentified, he stood up for transparency in government and refused to accept it until he knew who was behind it.
Governor Jan Brewer's pick for the next State Treasurer is, at best, what con men would call an easy mark.
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Click here to read the state AG's investigative report on the SCA case. Pullen's interviews are in Document 2, pages 96-105, and Document 4, pages 127-135.
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