A delicious moment occurred during a recent Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting, one discussing the board's findings that the MCSO has kept a second set of books on the estimated $80 million the MCSO's misspent in jail-enhancement funds.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio's interim chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, sat across from Supervisors Chairman Don Stapley. It's Sheridan who's taken over from Arpaio's top henchman, David Hendershott, while Hendershott's getting "investigated" by Arpaio's pal, Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu.
Stapley and the board demanded access to all the MCSO's records, as some of them are held in a computerized account called "Zone 2," from which the board is currently blocked.
Sheridan assured Stapley that the MCSO was doing everything in its power to cooperate with the Supes, "even though we are being threatened with [criminal prosecution]."
Without a blink, Stapley shot back, "I understand how that feels."
It was a rich riposte for Stapley, arrested twice on a trumped-up, multi-count indictments concocted by Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas as political payback. The charges were dropped, of course, but only after Stapley had to make two perp-walks.
As Sheridan suggested in the BOS meeting, all the MCSO's top brass must worry about indictments over this latest fiasco, in which money approved by county voters for a jails fund was misappropriated over a span of several years to pay for unrelated MCSO expenses — everything from yearly salaries to the sheriff's controversial immigration sweeps.
In a letter dated October 6 to Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, County Manager David Smith outlined a number of felonies under state law that MCSO staff may have committed as a result — everything from outright theft and destroying documents to forgery and running fraudulent schemes.
And now the U.S. Attorney's Office will have the power to investigate and prosecute the MCSO's state crimes, as well as federal ones. That's because, during the same BOS meeting, the Supes unanimously voted to deputize six assistant U.S. Attorneys from Burke's office as Special Deputy County Attorneys.
The idea was interim County Attorney Rick Romley's and came out of his discussions with Burke on the matter. The Supervisors rubber-stamped his decision with their vote.
In addition to the allegations spelled out in Smith's October letter, these six federal prosecutors will also be able to sniff out "any state-related charges that may arise in connection with the current federal investigation." This, according to the board's agenda item for the action.
I'm told that the six feds — some of whom are former deputy county attorneys — already have worked on the grand jury investigation of the MCSO. The evidence they glean from a probe into state lawbreaking by the MCSO can be used in the federal grand jury.
That there are a half-dozen of them shows the seriousness of the U.S. Attorney's probe, and Burke's office's clear intent to secure indictments.
The six include: Rachel Hernandez, executive U.S. Attorney; Patrick Cunningham, Burke's "criminal chief"; and John Lopez, chief of the financial crimes and public-integrity section.
In other words, this is serious.
Burke's office is targeting the MCSO in a high-profile way. And, recently, Burke has been more outspoken concerning the MCSO's nefarious deeds.
In an October 22 letter to Romley, Burke stated there was a "total lack of evidence" to back up the bogus RICO suit that Joe Arpaio and Andrew Thomas, ginned up against the county.
And in an October 5 letter to county Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Burke confirmed that allegations of wrongdoing in a leaked memo by MCSO Deputy Chief Frank Munnell were getting "fully investigated" by his office and the FBI.
When Burke was sworn in last year, I wondered openly whether he had the stones to be this state's Eliot Ness when it comes to cracking down on MCSO mob boss Joe Arpaio.
My doubts are somewhat allayed by this latest move. But there's still one concern — Romley will be exiting the County Attorney's Office on November 22, after the recent election results are certified by the board.
Could newcomer Bill Montgomery, the guy Arpaio helped get past Romley in the GOP primary with hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative TV ads and mailers targeting Romley, undo the cross-deputizing of these assistant U.S. Attorneys?
Romley told me that he doesn't think so, that in making Burke's law dogs deputy county prosecutors, he's conflicting out the investigation into the misspending of jail funds. The conflict exists because the County Attorney's Office advised county agencies following the jail fund's approval by the voters.
"Once you conflict it off, it's done. You're over," Romley said, meaning that if the County Attorney's Office declares a conflict of interest, it can't come back later and rescind the original decision.
Romley also stated that the deputizing of federal prosecutors will last as long as their investigation into the allegations. There's no time limit to their appointments as deputy county attorneys.