Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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"[El Mirage] just needed some help in certain areas, and one of those areas had to do with sex crimes," Holmes told Babeu's investigators in January 2011. "And what we did is, we started moving many of those cases into the county system."

Soon after Arpaio's office took charge, in early 2006, detectives in his tiny sex-crimes unit were dismayed to learn that a number of open cases would be dumped on them and that they'd be on call for new El Mirage sex-abuse cases.

The detectives were refused requests for more manpower.

Arpaio had other plans for his resources. In January 2006, sex-crimes sergeants Bruce Tucker and Kim Seagraves were summoned to Chief Deputy Hendershott's office. There, they found out that they would be investigating former county School Superintendent Sandra Dowling.

The inclusion of Seagraves in the case later would affect the way Arpaio's office dealt with the sex-crimes scandal, stalling the internal probe into the matter for more than a year.

On January 25, 2006, the county's deputy budget director, Brian Hushek, told Seagraves what the county wanted: Dowling "begging on her hands and knees" to have the Board of Supervisors help her out of her legal trouble, Seagraves told Babeu's investigators.

That night, dozens of sheriff's deputies raided Dowling's home and her county offices, carting off boxes of documents that would require heavy manpower to pore over in the coming months. Arpaio's office, naturally, tipped off the news media to the raid.

Tucker told Babeu's detectives that, when the case kicked off, "I thought this was nothing more than mismanagement [that included] a beef with somebody."

But he and others assigned to the Dowling investigation were pressed to come up with evidence that could be used for charges.

Arpaio, as New Times explained in "Joe Knew," is a consummate micro-manager of high-profile cases that will get him in the news. In later public-corruption cases that would be discredited, Arpaio reviewed a search warrant personally and demanded that more headline-grabbing material be added. The sheriff sat in on numerous strategy meetings for cases involving county officials and suggested tactics to be used in investigations, according to his own command staff.

In the Dowling case, Tucker explained to Babeu's investigators, Arpaio pressured him repeatedly to come up with a case against Keith and Tim Bee, who owned school-bus company Bee Line Transportation, which had a contract with the Maricopa school district overseen at one time by Dowling. In 2006, Tim Bee was the Republican majority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Tucker found absolutely no evidence of any crime, though.

Arpaio "kept asking me, 'Well, where are we? Are we going to get charges on the Bees?' And I said, 'No. I mean I'm working on it, but I don't see anything here,'" Tucker said to Babeu's office.

This clearly frustrated Arpaio, Tucker said.

"Then, kind of jokingly one day, [Arpaio] said, 'Well, if you get charges on them, I'll take you out . . . You get charges on Bee, I'll take you out to a steak dinner.'"

Tucker said this made him believe the Dowling case could be politically motivated.

Tucker and up to 10 deputies at a time toiled on the Dowling matter for months, eventually submitting charges to then-Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who filed 25 felony charges against Dowling in November 2006.

No criminal allegation ever was lodged against the Bees. New Times called Tim Bee, now associate vice president for government relations at the University of Arizona, and his brother, Keith, responded. The brothers didn't have any relationship with Arpaio and couldn't imagine why the sheriff would be so intent on charging them, Keith Bee says.

"I would have real concern" if Tucker's story were true, Bee says. "That's amazing!"

It should be noted that there's no record of Arpaio's offering to buy anyone a steak dinner for solving rape and molestation cases.

The Dowling charges were trumped up. Maricopa Superior Court Judge Edward Burke, concerned with the shoddy investigation by the Sheriff's Office, ruled that 10 of the charges must be reheard by a grand jury, which hadn't received all the pertinent facts in the original grand jury hearings. None of the charges was refiled.

The 10 charges had to do with the most serious allegation — that Dowling had stolen $1.8 million in public funds.

Dowling hadn't stolen the money. Rather, the Board of Supervisors was concerned that the funds, which all went to Dowling's school district, had been transferred without its authority.

Every charge against Dowling was dropped except one, a misdemeanor: hiring a relative at the school district. She pleaded guilty to the charge.

Dowling filed the first of several lawsuits against the county in December 2008 — causing the Sheriff's Office to hold off on the internal investigation into the sex-crimes fiasco out of concern that it put Dowling investigator Seagraves' reputation on the line. The former schools superintendent and the county settled three of her lawsuits in November 2009.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern