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The Feds Proved Themselves a Cage of Cowardly Lions in the Arpaio Investigation

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A few of the most well-known victims of Thomas and Arpaio's threats, intimidation, and frame-ups include county supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox, county workers Sandi Wilson and Susan Schuerman, ex-Superior Court judges Barbara Mundell and Anna Baca, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, civil rights activist Sal Reza, former state Attorney General Terry Goddard, and Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin.

And yet, none of these men and women rate a mention by Scheel in her letter. The only victim she deigns to discuss is former Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe, whom Thomas, his accomplice ex-Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon, Hendershott, and Arpaio conspired to falsely charge with bribery. This, because they anticipated Donahoe would rule against them in a hearing in his court.

Why did Scheel feel the need to rationalize federal inaction on Donahoe, while ignoring all the rest?

Because Arizona Supreme Court Presiding Disciplinary Judge William O'Neil — writing earlier this year on behalf of the panel that disbarred Thomas and Aubuchon and suspended Thomas' pawn, former Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander — concluded that Thomas and Aubuchon had committed perjury by bringing a false criminal complaint against Donahoe.

Moreover, O'Neil found that Aubuchon and Thomas, in conspiring to deprive Donahoe of his rights, were guilty of 18 USC Section 241.

"Were this a criminal case, we are confident that the evidence would establish this conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt," O'Neil wrote.

Also, O'Neil made it abundantly clear that Hendershott and Arpaio were part of this conspiracy. O'Neil noted that Hendershott told others it was Arpaio's idea to charge Donahoe.

And yet Scheel states in her missive that the U.S. Attorney's Office "cannot bear the heavy burden of proof necessary to obtain a criminal conviction" of this passel of rogue prosecutors and cops.

Thing is, if Scheel really believes this, why will neither she nor anyone else at the federal office appear before the press and the public to answer questions about its decisions?

Remember, Scheel dropped her bomb with a three-paragraph press release just before the Labor Day weekend began, and even the office flack has been forbidden to answer press inquiries about the decision.

Scheel's letter to Montgomery only surfaced after the fact; it was not part of the Friday release, which broadly stated that the U.S. Attorney's Office was "closing its investigation into allegations of criminal conduct by current and former members of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office."

The simple answer to the question posed above is that the feds' move to end this four-year probe, which began under the George W. Bush administration, is indefensible.

Recently appointed U.S. Attorney John Leonardo recused himself from the Arpaio probe last month, which probably is why Scheel, who had been acting U.S. Attorney until her new boss was sworn in, became the bearer of bad news.

Why did Leonardo recuse himself?

In 2010, when Leonardo still was a Pima County judge, he ruled on bogus charges brought against Supervisor Wilcox, finding that County Attorney Thomas had formed an "alliance with the Maricopa County Sheriff who misused the power of his office to target members of the [Board of Supervisors] for criminal investigation."

Which, obviously, sounds like a violation of 18 USC Section 241.

Former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, when presented with similar abuse-of-power allegations against Sheriff Arpaio in 2009 by Channel 5's Morgan Loew, said, "I would go to a grand jury."

The Republican continued, "I would work very closely with the civil rights criminal division in Washington, D.C. And, based on the information that I have, I would seek an indictment."

Chad Snow, co-founder of Citizens for a Better Arizona, the group responsible for recalling ex-state Senate President Russell Pearce and which now is targeting Arpaio in the November election, noted that numerous other current and former law enforcement officials publicly have accused Arpaio and Thomas of wrongdoing.

"Every other finder of fact or law enforcement professional who has looked at Arpaio's actions has concluded that there is ample evidence of criminality," he explained on the eve of a CBA demonstration in front of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix over the federal inaction. "What did all of those people see that Ann Birmingham Scheel didn't?"

Indeed, Scheel's announcement sends a dangerous message to all prosecutors and law enforcement: Trample the Constitution at will, and there will be no criminal consequences for your actions.

"If I did something wrong, there would be indictments floating all over the place," Arpaio stated at a press conference after the announcement, where he thanked the feds for ending the investigation. "The bottom line is that we were cleared."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons