Maricopa County Craziness

Sheriff Joe Arpaio Could Face Arrest Warrant Thanks to Supervisors' Subpoena

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is demanding documents from Sheriff Joe Arpaio related to a possible misappropriation of detention funds -- and if he doesn't comply, a county spokeswoman tells New Times, Arpaio could be found in contempt of court or even face arrest.

The supervisors have been demanding the information from Arpaio since March, but have yet to get a "substantive" response, says spokeswoman Cari Gerchick.

The information requested centers on staffing issues, and "numerous inconsistencies" identified by county management, according to a memo obtained by New Times. In several cases, county staff learned that Sheriff's Office employees are being diverted from patrol to inmate transport. In other instances, more troublingly, employees are being paid through the county detention fund -- when they're actually assigned to Human Smuggling or the sheriff's anti-corruption task force.

Why this matters? The detention fund gets its money from a special sales tax -- one-fifth of one cent -- approved by voters in 1998 and renewed in 2002. By law, these funds may not be spent on anything other than jail construction, maintenance, and operations.

If Arpaio used detention funds for other expenses, his office could be forced to repay it. And that could add up.

A memo from Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson suggests that the expenses have been sizable -- and show that it's mainly Arpaio's pet projects that have benefited.

The sheriff's list of people assigned to the human-smuggling unit appears to include six paid for out of detention funds. That's $436,288 in salary and benefits, Wilson writes. (You can read her complete memo here.)

Another $714,262 in salary and benefits charged to the detention fund apparently covers officers working to enforce Prop 100, Wilson writes. (That's the proposition pushed by Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas to deny bail to illegal immigrants.)

Finally, Wilson writes that some members of the sheriff's notoriously ineffective anti-corruption task force, MACE, are also being paid through detention-fund dollars. Rather than serve the jails, that task force has targeted Arpaio's political enemies.

The back story on how the county learned about the MACE connection is interesting. As Gerchick explains, last June and December, numerous county workers received home visits from sheriff's employees, questioning them as part of an ill-defined investigation into "corruption." Apparently, some county workers took note of who was questioning them, and someone in county management later ran those names through the county's human-resources files. Voila! At least two of the anti-corruption investigators are apparently being paid by detention fund dollars.

So in this case, Arpaio's goons were questioning county workers about breaking the law -- when their very assignment to that unit may have itself broken the law. Talk about hubris!

All told, Wilson's memo suggests that the Sheriff's Office may be on the hook for well over $1 million. And there's another $15 million or so in play on the issue of security/transport workers instead being assigned to patrol.

But in the short term, the sheriff's biggest problem may be his own lack of compliance with county demands for information.

The supervisors have previously used their subpoena powers only sparingly -- and as best we can tell, never on the county's powerful sheriff. (Last April, they subpoenaed records from Treasurer Charles "Hos" Hoskins after he resisted opening his books. And, before that, they gave the same treatment to former School Superintendent Sandra Dowling.)

But they clearly have the right to do so under the law -- and, should Arpaio resist, he could face big problems. The law gives them "all the powers conferred by law upon courts of record," which means they could hold Arpaio in contempt and apparently even issue a civil warrant for his arrest -- forcibly bringing him to a "proceeding" to answer their questions.

The supervisors aren't screwing around. They've set a deadline of May 7 for Arpaio to comply.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske