Victims Wonder Why Arpaio Let Sex-Abuse Cases Languish

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The State Bar of Arizona, whose disciplinary panel scrutinized Thomas and Aubuchon's role in MACE cases, is considering whether they should be disbarred.

Arpaio, Thomas, and their former employees remain under investigation by federal authorities on allegations of abuse of power, most of which have to do with their conduct as the heads of MACE.

Before MACE, Thomas and Arpaio didn't always see eye to eye, especially on illegal immigration.

Thomas had campaigned on the issue before getting elected in 2004. But in August 2005, following the passage of an Arizona law that made it a state crime to smuggle immigrants, Arpaio told the Arizona Republic, "I want the authority to lock up smugglers, but I am not going to lock up illegals hanging around street corners. I'm not going to waste my resources going after a guy in a truck when he picks up five illegals to go trim palm trees."

However, seeing that Thomas had public support for his anti-illegal-immigrant ideas, Arpaio changed his stance. Thomas interpreted the 2005 law to mean that average illegal immigrants — not just smugglers — could be charged with conspiracy to smuggle themselves into the country.

Arpaio allied with Thomas and began hunting all undocumented Mexicans. By mid-2006, Arpaio was using hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members to arrest illegal immigrants, who then would be charged with conspiracy by Thomas.

No other Arizona county sheriff or county attorney felt this tack was appropriate. (New County Attorney Bill Montgomery has continued to accept such cases.)

In July 2007, Arpaio set up a hotline that citizens could use to tattle on illegal immigrants.

By then, Arpaio had diverted a massive amount of his office's resources toward busting illegal immigrants.

In another far cry from the four or five detectives assigned to investigate sex crimes countywide, Arpaio's office ultimately put 100 deputies through weeks of training to become cross-certified federal immigration agents. The deputies then proceeded to do exactly what Arpaio said in 2005 he wouldn't do — bust average migrants.

Undocumented housecleaners and landscapers driving pickups with cracked windshields became a priority. In September 2007, dozens of deputies and detectives were assigned to a sting that resulted in the arrest of 18 undocumented street-corner tamale vendors.

In the same month, Arpaio began the first of his immigrant roundups, which he called "crime sweeps." That October, just before the contract between El Mirage and the Sheriff's Office ended, Arpaio sent 100 deputies and posse members to the town for a sweep that netted eight illegal immigrants.

Also around that time, Arpaio dedicated numerous deputies and about $300,000 in public funds for a three-episode reality show called Smile . . . You're Under Arrest, starring him and his agency.

Meanwhile, hundreds of rape and child-molestation cases got scant attention from Arpaio's handful of sex-crimes deputies.

About two years after the Sheriff's Office took over in El Mirage, the town decided to "take back" the police department.

The idea was to have the MCSO relinquish control by late spring 2008. But hearing that his services no longer were wanted in El Mirage, Arpaio pulled the plug on the cooperative agreement in October 2007.

Following that, during a sex-crimes unit staff meeting, Lieutenant Hank Brandimarte told Sergeant Kim Seagraves that all El Mirage cases would be returned to the town, whether they were finished or not, according to Mary Ward and James Weege's letter.

The sex-crimes detectives were given a "short time frame" in which to summarize what had been done on the outstanding cases and what still needed to be done.

"After the cases were [put together for transfer back], they sat on a conference table at MCSO for about a month, with no one working them," Ward and Weege wrote.

Finally, the boxes of reports were driven to El Mirage.

A few weeks later, Arpaio's executive chief, Scott Freeman, got a call from Mike Frazier, who'd been hired as the new police chief in the West Valley town.

"Hey, what I got was a bunch of crap," Freeman recalled Frazier saying, according to the Babeu report.

As Frazier remembers it, his language was even more colorful. He and his staff were stunned when they reviewed the cases.

"You could look at them and tell no work had been done," he says.

MCSO Captain Steve Whitney, Brandimarte's supervisor, offered to take back the poorly investigated cases, but Frazier declined, preferring to have his own office review them. Frazier and his department soon realized that though some of the cases weren't solid, many others were.

"A lot of people had continued to be victims," Frazier says.

Frazier sent a written complaint to Arpaio.

MCSO officials soon realized they had a major situation on their hands.

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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