Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Command Staff is Caught Up in a Serious Criminal Investigation, Newly Released Documents Show | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Command Staff is Caught Up in a Serious Criminal Investigation, Newly Released Documents Show

Five months ago, investigators with the Arizona Attorney General's Office raided the home of one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's favored commanders — seizing computers, cell phones, bank records, and other documents. This week, thanks to the work of this newspaper's attorneys, information about that raid has finally been revealed. That...
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Five months ago, investigators with the Arizona Attorney General's Office raided the home of one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's favored commanders — seizing computers, cell phones, bank records, and other documents.

This week, thanks to the work of this newspaper's attorneys, information about that raid has finally been revealed. That information includes the evidence that investigators presented to Pinal County Judge Robert Carter Olson in order to get a search warrant. It contains some stunning new details, including the hitherto undisclosed role of a campaign consultant in connecting high-ranking sheriff's officers to the Arizona Republican Party.

And, perhaps more importantly, it's allowed New Times to confirm something that our readers and political observers have long suspected: Captain Joel Fox, his colleagues on the sheriff's command staff, and the wealthy donors to their SCA fund are under criminal investigation. And it's serious.

Documents suggest that a grand jury has been impaneled on the case. And things may be finally reaching a conclusion. The AG wrote in one motion to the court that "very few witnesses remain to be interviewed."

The AG is looking at the possibility that Fox and his cohorts have committed felonies including fraud schemes and practices by willful concealment, making prohibited political contributions, and money laundering, records show.

The case is ongoing.

"Is it your avowal that this is still an active investigation?" Judge Olson asked the assistant attorney general on the case, Todd Lawson, in a court hearing Monday.

"It certainly is," Lawson replied.

As we know now, Captain Fox opened the SCA bank account in October 2006 and quickly drew contributions from his fellow commanders at the MCSO, who donated via direct deposit from their county paychecks. Fox also got contributions from a half-dozen wealthy businessman — one of whom, Steve Ellman, is a friend of the sheriff's.

Fox has protested that the money wasn't earmarked for anything in particular, but the money trail shows that soon after Fox donated $80,000 to the state Republican Party, the party wired $78,000 to a company that produced a vicious ad attacking Sheriff Arpaio's opponent, Dan Saban. (Fox later gave the GOP a second check from the SCA, which financed ads for Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and County Supervisor Fulton Brock.)

Then Fox spent nine months refusing to name his donors, in violation of state law.

Investigators at the Attorney General's Office clearly believe Fox and his fellow commanders raised the money to help Arpaio — and to hold onto their jobs. That, they believe, is what the obvious money-laundering scheme was designed to conceal.

"Based on prior Sheriff Department elections and the animosity between the two candidates, it is probable that at least several of the SCA contributors would have lost their positions within the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office if Dan Saban had been elected sheriff," Special Agent Mike Edwards wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.

If the sheriff's officers did, in fact, engage in money laundering, they must have done so with the complicity of the Arizona Republican Party.

Edwards notes in his affidavit that both Captain Fox and the chairman of the Republican Party, Randy Pullen, insisted to a lawyer hired by the county that the funds were not earmarked to help Arpaio.

Subpoenaed bank records, Edwards notes, shows those statements are false — "a material misrepresentation in a written document in a matter related to the business conducted by a political subdivision of the State, knowing such statement is false."

In other words, Edwards believes that not only did Fox break the law — Arizona Republican Chairman Randy Pullen broke it, too.

Isn't about time that someone in the Republican Party got mad about this?

And what about the Sheriff's Office? Among the items seized from Fox's home in March was his work computer. Even if Arpaio doesn't care that one of his commanders is laundering money or lying to the county's designated lawyer or hiding illegal corporate contributions, surely he should care that Fox can't even hang on to his county-owned computer.

But how can they take this seriously? A half-dozen of the department's top commanders are implicated. Chief Deputy David Hendershott is running around threatening everyone from Mary Rose Wilcox to the Arizona Republic with an "investigation," yet his paw prints are all over this.

Hendershott peddled the same dirt that ended up in the SCA-funded ad. And he was one of the first donors to the secret fund.

No wonder Arpaio insists on looking the other way.

It's not just Joel Fox. Nearly Arpaio's entire command staff has been compromised.

Democracy is supposed to be transparent. That's one of its most important tenets — the thing that keeps it alive.

Yet Sheriff Arpaio's command staff and its attorneys have fought for nearly 10 months to keep the secrets of the SCA fund under wraps. New Times had no choice but to intervene with attorneys.

And so Michael Meehan, an attorney from Tucson, crafted a brief, and Steve Suskin, our longtime in-house counsel, drove to Florence on Monday. That's what it took to get Pinal County Superior Court Judge Olson to unseal the search warrant executed on Captain Fox's home and the affidavit filed by Special Agent Edwards. The public also gained access to back-and-forth motions filed by the AG's Office and Fox's lawyer, Dennis Wilenchik, as Wilenchik fought to get Fox's computers back.

The Attorney General's Office, to its credit, did not oppose our request.

In fact, it'd actually suggested the materials be unsealed earlier, in August, the newly released records show. The AG was unsuccessful at the time. Wilenchik, who'd previously opposed the release in filings to the court, did not object at the hearing Monday.

"We were happy to see that the Attorney General's Office, after months of secret investigations, agreed with us that the public was entitled to know what its representatives have been doing in this case," Suskin told me.

Indeed, the public's right to know what government is up to is a major reason New Times intervened. I'm thrilled about that.

But for me, this is more personal.

I left the Republican Party over those awful SCA-funded ads. I was horrified when they ran. I was even more horrified when, in October 2008, it became clear that Chairman Pullen had accepted a massive contribution from Captain Fox, then turned around and spent a massive amount of money on the ad attacking Arpaio's opponent. "There is a cancer on the Republican Party," I wrote at the time. "And I'm not going to stand by to watch it metastasize."

The more I learn about this scandal, the more I know that decision was 100 percent the right one.

Thanks to the released documents, we know that Fox was lying through his teeth when he said he never intended that donations be used for a political purpose. (Chris Baker, the Scottsdale political consultant who ferried the first $80,000 check from Fox to the GOP, told investigators that he met with Fox and Sheriff's Office Director Larry Black and that they told him the group "wanted to become more politically active.")

We now know that the checks were always earmarked for Arpaio. (One of them even said "Vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio" in the memo field; Fox told a friend over e-mail that the wealthy donors came out of Sheriff Arpaio's volunteer posses.)

And, most sickeningly, we know now that they thought the whole thing was funny.

They have apparently violated numerous campaign-finance laws. They've lied and obfuscated and fooled the electorate into thinking that the anti-Saban ad had nothing to do with the Sheriff's Office.

But they didn't care.

After I compared this to Watergate last October, and talked about the sickening "cancer" on the party I used to love, a friend of Joel Fox's sent him an e-mail saying he "made the New Times and must be in trouble," according to investigator Edwards' affidavit.

Fox assured the friend it was all overblown, Edwards wrote. Then Fox added another thought.

"Joel Fox states that he kind of likes being compared to G. Gordon Liddy," Edwards wrote.

This is one of the men leading the sheriff's command staff: A guy who's pleased to be compared to a thug.

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