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SCA Frontman Joel Fox: From Lake Patrol to Deep Water

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"You have an immaculate record. Some guys don't trust an immaculate record. I do. I have an immaculate record." -- Captain Ellerby, from The Departed.

We recalled this quote while looking recently at the 200-page personnel file of Captain Joel Fox. Fox, as regular readers of this blog know, is the main man behind the once-mysterious -- and now criminally suspicious -- "SCA" fund that apparently financed political smear ads. His file shows that the veteran law officer is thought of very highly by his superiors. Apart from a few minor fender-benders early in his 20-year career with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the file is, well, immaculate.

And we don't trust it. Not after what this honor-roll-student of a captain has apparently done to help manipulate the 2008 election. This SCA deal stinks like a dead javelina.

Some local officials think it's possible that Fox and others associated with the SCA broke the law. Mike Edwards, an investigator with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, wrote in a March 2009 search warrant affidavit that Fox was in felony violation of a law prohibiting certain kinds of campaign contributions.. That was for starters. Edwards, as Sarah Fenske detailed in her September 1 article, wrote in the affidavit that he was looking for evidence of fraud and money laundering, as well. His actions, Edwards wrote, show "a pattern of disregard for election law."

Fox's file, however, shows no hint of ethical dysfunction -- it contains mostly high praise. It shows Fox has been team player and leader at the sheriff's office for many years.

Fox began his career in 1989 and showed early promise as a deputy. He helped catch a serial burglar at the First Water trailhead in the Superstition Mountains and once helped a suicidal man surrender peacefully. His service in the agency's lake patrol division was rated as excellent.

A few months after being promoted to sergeant in May of 1996, Fox launched a new series of DUI roadblocks in the county's water recreation areas. Three years later, he was awarded a life-saving medal for his efforts in trying to save members of a Boy Scout troop whose vehicle had become stuck in a flooded wash near Sunflower. As Fox tried to back his 4x4 truck into the wash using a winch, the Boy Scouts' SUV overturned. Three of the troop members drowned.

Fox made lieutenant in 1999 and was assigned to oversee the agency's patrol bureau as a division commander. When Larry Black -- also in the sheriff's high command -- began writing Fox's evaluations, Fox began receiving the highest marks of "outstanding." Black thinks Fox is the bomb.

When Fox was promoted to captain in April of 2004 after scoring 100 percent in his oral board testing process, Black wrote "this true reflection of his abilities and his work product is displayed in all of his assignments." Black recommended Fox for a raise that July.

The report, as we read it, doesn't clear up exactly how or when Fox was put in charge of the agency's SWAT team, as detailed in a 2005 East Valley Tribune article. But it does show that six months after the 2004 election that put Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his fourth term of office, Fox was approved for a "performance-based salary advancement." At that point, his pay was boosted to $42.24 an hour.

In one 2007 appraisal, Black notes that Fox is the commander of the special enforcement division overseeing motorcycle officers, extraditions, aviation, mounted units, the special assignment unit, school resource and field training officers.

Fox received a commendation in June of 2007 for helping to make dignitaries from Honduras feel welcome during an official visit (which was apparently paid for with county RICO funds). Fox, as aviation division commander, helped put on a Hollywood-scale demonstration for the visitors, who included Honduran Vice Secretary of Security Jorge Rodas. During the mock "officer down" event, which included the use of a canine, fake sniper and smoke grenades, deputies stepped out on the skids of a hovering helicopter and rappelled to the ground.

Well entrenched in the highest echelons of the agency by the mid-2000s, Fox helped collect -- and, indirectly, he says, file -- nominating petitions for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's re-election campaign in 2004, and records show he worked with Black on political committees and the SCA. Chris Baker, a Republican political consultant, told the state investigator he met Black and Fox at a restaurant in the summer of 2008 to talk about the SCA, which Fox reportedly revealed was an acronym that stood for Sheriff's Command Association.

In the most recent evaluation in the file, completed in July of 2008, Deputy Chief Dave Trombi wrote of Fox:

Captain Fox oversees several units within the bureau. Joel is and has been one of the premier captains within this office for many years now. His ability to break down and analyze problems is truly inspiring to many who depend on him for solutions. I can always rely on Joel for the plain truth when turning over a problem for resolution. In addition to his problem-solving skills Captain Fox is a truly caring person when dealing with office employees and citizens alike.

As the captain of his divisions, Joel is looked upon as a mentor and sounding board for up and coming supervisors. His ability to direct others without thinking for "them" is instrumental in leadership development.

Recently Captain Fox revamped the accounting procedure for his extradition unit. Prior to this there were some issues regarding monthly reporting. Joel was able to quickly turn this problem around and in doing so made the monthly task for finance a much easier process.

I would close by saying that Joel is someone I never hesitate to call upon for the most difficult of tasks. I admire his thinking and ethics both personally and professionally. I look forward to working with Captain Fox for years to come.

Fox is a stellar law officer, his file shows. But he's also the guy wrote the following comment on our blog back in February about the $105,000 SCA contribution to the Republican Party:

None of the money came from Arpaio,or Hendershott or Arpaio's campaign, or anyone associated with Arpaio's campaign, nor did it come from any corporation or labor organization or any other illegal contributor. It was all private funds, solicited over a period of about 2 years.

Fox's bosses may admire his ethics. But with the evidence now showing that some of the money did, in fact, come from Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott and corporations, Fox's comment is just one of several reasons we find nothing to admire about the captain's ethics in the SCA scandal.

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