Secret Recording Reveals Strategy and "Fun" at Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Staff Meeting in '09

If you read only part of the four large PDFs from the SCA investigative report we posted last night, make sure it's the 65-page transcript of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's July 27, 2009 staff meeting.

We mentioned a couple of the amusing parts of the transcript in posts this morning, but the rest of it is just rich. You're a fly on the wall in a fun-filled strategy meeting as Arpaio's command staff cracks wise and manages their political games. It's not just a hectic time for these uber-political law officers -- "we are at full thermonuclear -- the missiles have launched," according to David Hendershott. "We're taking incoming, they're taking incoming, and there's no turning back."

 At the time of the meeting, Arpaio's office was neck deep in the SCA money-laundering scandal, the racial-profiling lawsuit by the ACLU, the fight with county leaders and many other problems that will sound familiar to county observers.

As they plan, Arpaio and his commanders dish on everyone from former County Attorney Andrew Thomas ("idiot," says Hendershott) to Terry Goddard ("dickhead," says Director Larry Black) to County Manager David Smith ("gonna choke him till he dies," says Hendershott) to former county attorney Rick Romley, (a "nutcase," says Arpaio.)

The transcript starts on page 54 of the fourth PDF, which is 153 pages long. It opens with Frank Munnell, author of the legendary Munnell Memo that surfaced last year, chatting with fellow staffers as his hidden recorder rolls. 

Not everyone has arrived yet, and Munnell complains about being drawn into the firestorm erupting over the SCA scandal.

Chief Scott Freeman states that Hendershott asked him to donate to the SCA fund as Black probes him. To us, that's more evidence that Hendershott was intimately involved with the SCA from the get-go, despite Captain Joel Fox's claim that "it was my idea, my fund, and my decision of how to spend it." As we mentioned yesterday, Hendershott also met with Karen Osborne, director of county elections, to discuss how corporate donations worked. Some of the fat cats who donated to the fund used their corporate accounts.

Freeman tells Munnell that Hendershott told him the money wouldn't be used for Arpaio's re-election campaign, but rather to help deputies. That's the same BS story Fox has been dragging around town for the last couple of years -- we sure don't buy it. Munnell tells Freeman that's not what Hendershott told him, implying Hendershott was more direct about the money aiding Arpaio.

It seems like both Freeman and Director Larry Black, who comes to the meeting later, suspect that Munnell is taping. That would make sense, because everyone knew Munnell was pissed and helping the federal and state investigators. (Munnell's wife actually called Hendershott to let him know her husband was ratting everyone out, according to the report.)

Lisa Allen, the sheriff's spokeswoman, was told by Larry Black to erase anything related to the ad funded by the SCA, according to Munnell. It was a case of "witness tampering," Munnell tells Freeman.

When Allen comes into the room, Munnell asks her if she got rid of everything like Black told her to.

"Yeah," she replies.

Allen goes on to say that she only removed "two things from Larry that had nothing to do with nothing."

But when Munnell presses her, she admits the items were related to the "whole campaign."

When Black shows up at the meeting, things begin to get interesting. As Munnell mentioned in his memo, Black becomes furious at Munnell for raising questions about the SCA scheme.

"Okay, Frank, I won't put you through that fucking wall right now because we're up here. You want to take care of it downstairs I got no problem with it," Black says.

"Go ahead and threaten, go ahead and threaten me," Munnell tells him.

"You, you piece of shit."

"Don't call me a piece of shit."

"Yeah, piece of shit."

Then Black spurts out that releasing the names of the SCA donors, which the sheriff's office was still hiding at the time, would be a felony. That's really quite a joke, we think, considering that the county was preparing to fine Joel Fox $315,000 for not producing the donors' names.

Black's cover story seems to be weakened, however, when he tells Munnell that he wasn't told everything "because it was better for you not to be involved." Gee, sounds like Black's talking about a black-ops mission or something. But why would it be better if Munnell wasn't so "involved" if this campaign fund was on the up-and-up?

Finally, the Big Boss rolls in. And he seems to know what his lines are supposed to be. When Munnell tells him he was talking about that "stupid fund thing," Arpaio responds curtly.

"You didn't donate to me," Arpaio says.

Munnell says the donation was to "support" Arpaio.

"That's bullshit," says Arpaio. "I don't know nothing about this shit."

Black tells Munnell that the sheriff's office would have "done this ad" (referring to the salacious Dan Saban ad funded by the SCA) whether we had got the money or not."

When someone else joins the meeting, Munnell tells the new person that he's been chatting with "the biggest liar on the planet," an apparent reference to Black.

The meeting begins in earnest. It's clear that Arpaio is no dottering old fool -- he's deeply involved in the strategy and knows what's going on. Hendershott acts as his consigliere, filling in bits of knowledge about the law and minutiae of the county feud. They cover a smorgasbord of issues.

Randomly, talk turns to a Desert Eagle .50-caliber, semi-auto handgun Hendershott has brought to the meeting. Arpaio later jokes that Hendershott might need it to protect himself from County Manager David Smith, because Hendershott filed a bar complaint against Smith.

Hendershott says he thinks some correspondence between Smith and some lawyers will be the county manager's undoing: "...we have him right there and we're going to choke him till he dies."

"The rate you're going he could die tomorrow," Arpaio says.

Arpaio gives a pep talk about how long he's been around, and how everyone needs to face the current challenges -- and have fun, too.

"So, um, we'll give them the fight. We'll have some fun. You having fun, David?" Arpaio asks his chief deputy.

"I hate to admit it, but yes," Hendershott answers.

The group reminisces about how the feud with the county started -- it was former Attorney General Terry Goddard's fault for handling the case against former state treasurer David Petersen, they conclude.

Then-county attorney Andrew Thomas has been "hiding under his desk" lately, says Hendershott.

Black throws out a funny line, saying that if Arpaio's office was too quiet, the public might accuse the office of being too much like the movie, "Weekend at Bernie's."

There's more talk about Thomas' political strategies, which Arpaio's advisors say consist of avoiding Arpaio.

Hendershott predicts that then-schools superintendent Tom Horne will get "wiped out" before the 2010 election because of some scandal, (which turned out to be no big deal.)

"Corn?" Arpaio asks, ever the wise guy.

The laughs continue as the group talks about the Shangri-la nudist resort in the north Valley and how one might go about spying on a girl in a hotel room, as an ESPN reporter was spied on the week before the staff meeting.

We've already written about Arpaio talking about sheep.

The transcript would be just plain hilarious -- except for whiff of corruption.

As the rest of the PDF documents show, federal agents investigated the sheriff's office along with the AG's office under Goddard. Horne's office told us today that it was deferring the case entirely to the feds.

It'll be fascinating to see who gets the last laugh.

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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.