This is the story of how love aided and abetted a criminal conspiracy.
Larry Black and Joel Fox both are high-ranking lawmen with more than 20 years at the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Along with Sheriff Joe Arpaio's number two, Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Deputy Chief Black is a part of the MCSO's inner circle. He is a former deputy who retired four years ago to collect his pension, then immediately was rehired by Arpaio as a civilian. He met his younger friend and subordinate, Captain Fox, in the 1990s while they were assigned to the Lake Patrol.
Black is an avid ice-hockey player who once managed security at Phoenix International Raceway. Both are married with children.
They've been through a lot together, such as the time they helped rescue Boy Scouts stuck in a flooded wash near Sunflower in 1998. Three troop members drowned, but two Scouts and a parent were pulled to safety.
In 2005, Fox was a new SWAT commander on the night two deputies got shot in Mesa (one was Sean Pearce, son of state Senator Russell Pearce). After the incident, Black was accused of adjusting the ranks and duties of subordinates (including putting Fox in charge of the Sheriff's Office SWAT team) based on their political work for Arpaio.
Black denied the allegation, even though 140 sworn officers and supervisors were shifted around in a mass transfer almost unheard of in other agencies — with the sheriff's loyalists moving up and supporters of his rival that year, Dan Saban, going down. Fox had been among the deputies who filed nominating petitions for Arpaio's campaign.
In Joe's Law, an autobiography about Arpaio published in May 2008, the sheriff's hired author describes how Arpaio sent a group of 100 deputies and posse members to New Orleans in 2005 to help with the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
"Word [was] New Orleans was sealed off, so Chief Black and Captain Joel Fox headed out first, driving in his 4x4 from Phoenix," the book states. Joe's Law goes on to describe how Black made a deal with a Louisiana sheriff to get the convoy into New Orleans in return for the use of a helicopter flown in by posse member Doug Fulton, son of Valley developer Ira Fulton.
A few weeks later, the same team went back to the Gulf region to help the victims of Hurricane Rita, and Arpaio couldn't have been prouder of his troops.
Yet in e-mails obtained by New Times, Fox and Black mention how something happened on the trips that doesn't seem related to safeguarding New Orleans from looters. It was something that Fox says changed their lives and that Fox wants Black to experience again.
Months after the trips, the two expressed their emotions in writing.
"I think you know how I have felt since yesterday," Black writes to Fox on Saturday, April 8, 2006, in an e-mail titled "battles." "I have not thought or done anything but go over in my head how all of this got all out of w[h]ack.
"I want to live like Louisiana every day, and I will not stop trying, but I am not perfect or even close, so it takes constant effort even in the face of defeat," Black goes on. "Battles or perceived battles with you hit my heart and not my mind, which means I don't think first, which causes things to get worse."
Fox replies a few hours later that he's been in "turmoil" since they last spoke. Black isn't the same man he was in Louisiana, Fox complains.
"You see, I got to see you in your Glory, when you were Free. I got to see the real Larry, being Larry, and enjoying it like nothing has ever been enjoyed before," Fox writes. "I hope you don't misunderstand what I mean by the 'real Larry.' Of course you are real, all the time. I mean the way you felt in Louisiana. The freedom I speak of is the freedom you enjoyed for that two weeks. The 'real' Larry is free. I see you going farther and farther away from that freedom, and it breaks my heart.
"No matter what happens, no matter what it looks like when the battle is over, I will be here with you, loving you. I will sharpen your sword, mend your armor, show you a few new tricks, and heal your wounds."
The e-mails, found by investigators on Cox Communications servers and on a computer registered to the Sheriff's Office in Fox's home, span years and express sentiments that go beyond mere friendship. The writers often sound like love-struck teenagers.
"Now say, for example (and I know this is not true) the [B]ible said to stop loving you, then I would NOT stop loving you," Fox wrote to Black in 2007. "So my love for you is more important to me than the Bible. And if you punched me in the mouth and knocked me down, I would get back up and chase after you to find out why. Because my love for you is more important than my pride. This also is why I don't care what people say about us."