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The Case Against Don Stapley -- Here's What the Sheriff Claims to Have

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We've now got the paperwork that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office filed in order to arrest Don Stapley -- again. And one thing is now incredibly clear: At this point, this is a publicity stunt, not a legitimate criminal case.

No charges have been filed against Stapley. There's no indictment, no direct complaint, not even a grand jury. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio simply went rogue. (Kind of reminds us of the way his goons arrested New Times' owners...) 

The way this typically works: the sheriff gives paperwork from its "investigation" to a prosecutor, so the prosecutor can decide whether the charges have merit. The sheriff didn't do that. Instead, he ordered Stapley's arrest, then provided some potentially damning paperwork detailing 90 potential felonies to the court as an "addendum."

Suffice to say, an "addendum" has no legal standing. As Stapley's lawyer, Paul Charlton, told my colleague Ray Stern this afternoon, the allegations will "die on the vine" unless some prosecutor steps forward to file an indictment or a direct complaint. Literally, today's circus means nothing unless Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas or the special prosecutor on the previous case against Stapley, Mel Bowers, decides to follow up. From what we hear, none of them are interested.

Honestly, we can't imagine any smart prosecutor will want to touch this thing now. The "probable cause" that the sheriff used to arrest Stapley is literally unheard of for a complicated white collar case like this. (It's typically used to arrest defendants who are a danger to the community or a flight risk -- Stapley, obviously, is neither.) It simply smacks of sour grapes. Prosecutor Bowers, after all, dropped a previous case the sheriff filed against Stapley on Friday. "I think it's vindictive," Charlton said this afternoon. "The sheriff is going to have to justify [his actions]."

That said, the Sheriff's Office did present some interesting new allegations in the paperwork.

We hate to fall for this kind of stunt, but it's worth parsing out what the guy has supposedly done. Did the sheriff have a real case that he botched by jumping the gun and going with a media stunt rather than taking the time to present his case? Stranger things have happened.

For the record, Charlton calls the allegations "wholly specious." Here's what we could piece together this afternoon.

THE ALLEGATION: Stapley defrauded Mortgages Limited by failing to disclose a previous bankruptcy in loan documents.
THE CONTEXT: Now, this is pretty funny, because, as New Times' John Dickerson reported last year, Mortgages Limited has been accused of some pretty serious fraud of its own. (The Phoenix firm filed for bankruptcy in June 2008, soon after its CEO committed suicide.)

THE ALLEGATION: Stapley lied on two other loan applications, overstating his assets and understating the size of his mortgage. He subsequently defaulted on one of the loans.
THE CONTEXT: Not good, but not exactly earth shattering. How many people who overstated their assets during the real estate boom are getting hauled off in handcuffs as they report for work? We're still thinking ...

THE ALLEGATION: Stapley used his campaign funds for personal gain, then failed to report that on his official campaign finance reports.
THE CONTEXT: This one, if true, could be sticky. The sheriff's addendum claims that Stapley loaned himself $8,000 from a campaign account, paying the account back seven days later. He also apparently transferred some money from an LLC he controlled, into his campaign account. The sheriff suggests it's a fraudulent scheme and perjury; we'd like to see specifics about how campaign finance law applies here before judging Stapley's alleged transfers.

THE ALLEGATION: Stapley regularly failed to report six-figure shareholder payments from a real estate company he controls on his tax returns.
THE CONTEXT: We'd love to know what the IRS thinks about this. We suspect they, and the federal agents who prosecute tax fraud, would be the right agency to sort this one out. Not that we don't trust the sheriff's office with complicated financial matters or anything ...

THE ALLEGATION: Stapley raised $140,000 to run for vice president of the National Association of Counties. The sheriff's implication seems to be that he didn't need any donations -- he was, they say, running unopposed. They write that their analysis shows that he used the funds "for personal purposes, thus constituting personal gain."
THE CONTEXT: Frankly, this would be the biggie as far as we're concerned. Did Stapley set up a fake campaign fund in order to accept money from people doing business with the county -- so he wouldn't be required to follow the usual campaign limits and disclosure? If so, that's really, really sleazy.
The sheriff's office claims that Stapley took some fat contributions. Their partial list includes:
* $25,000 from the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona
* $10,000 from Edward J. Robson, chairman of developer Robson Communities
* $5,000 from developer Westcor/Meridian
* $10,000 from lobbyist/PR firm Goodman Schwartz
* $5,000 from the Arizona Rock Products Association
* $5,000 from DeRito Partners, which developed the Mesa Riverview
* $5,000 from Cox Communications
* $1,000 from Pinnacle West

There are more names on the list; we hope to follow up on this tomorrow. We'll let you know what we find out and whether there's any evidence anyone got any special treatment from the county. Certainly, the sheriff never goes as far as alleging any connection.

In the mean time, though, it's kind of heartening that most media outlets have seen this for what it is: A mad overreach by a crazy old man. Sure, some of the allegations against Stapley may actually have merit, but today's arrest distracted from the truth more than it helped anyone get to the bottom of it.

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