GANG OF THIEVES
Just how dumb does Sheriff Joe Arpaio think the voters of Maricopa County are?
Granted, he's counted on the majority of them being so enraptured with his cult of personality, Tent City, the pink underwear, the tank, and more recently, his Hispanic-hunting escapades, that they've re-elected him four times — despite years of corruption and malfeasance.
The cruelty to inmates? The violations of citizens' civil rights? The deaths in his jails, which have cost county taxpayers more than $42 million in lawsuit settlements and costs? That's never seemed to matter to 50-plus percent of the electorate. Indeed, many voters have practically applauded all of it by marking their ballots for good ol' Sheriff Joe.
So will headlines advising potential voters that Arpaio's regime has "misspent" $100 million over the past eight years, hiding this de facto embezzlement with several sets of secret "shadow systems," affect results in 2012, when an 80-year-old Arpaio is expected to run for an unprecedented sixth term?
Apparently, Arpaio believes he's got you just where he wants you.
So much so that when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors met recently to discuss this $100 million catastrophe, Arpaio was off in Mesa, basking in the attention of the Fourth Estate, as he raided a mom-and-pop dry cleaner, looking for "illegals."
His boys in beige nabbed six folks suspected of working for a living without the proper ID. Makes you feel a bunch safer, don't it?
Arpaio sent his top flunky, interim Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, to face the Supes, while he peacocked it before the cameras.
In some ways, it was the ultimate insult, both to the board and to county residents.
That's because the Sheriff's Office has been using voter-protected money over the years to foot the bill for such pet projects as his anti-immigrant sweeps and raids, as well as the now-defunct Maricopa County Anti-Corruption Effort, better known as MACE.
MACE was the insane, police-state retribution squad that pursued vendettas against county Supervisors, judges, and county employees. Its "investigations" resulted in the laughable RICO suit that former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Arpaio brought against their enemies, one they ultimately had to abandon in disgrace.
The shambles that resulted from Arpaio and Thomas' ginning up criminal charges against Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, as well as county Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe and others will cost the county stacks of cash, because all of Arpaio's victims are suing for millions.
But back to the $100 million in question.
The MCSO siphoned off this moolah from two sources: first, a detention fund approved by the voters and funded by a sales tax for the purposes of financing the construction, maintenance, and operation of new adult and juvenile jail facilities; and second, an inmate-services account funded by sales to inmates from the jail canteen and the cost of collect calls inmates make from the jails.
The second fund was to be spent exclusively for programs to assist inmates and improve their conditions, which, admittedly, seems ridiculous for an organization like the MCSO, which prides itself on feeding its inmates — 70 percent of whom have not been convicted — food not fit for human consumption.
The use of the money from these two sources is restricted by state statute. Nevertheless, what Arpaio and his gang of thieves did was use it as slush fund to pay the salaries of deputies and detention officers reassigned to positions not covered by the mandates of the accounts themselves.
The MCSO robbed $84.7 million from the detention fund. From inmate services, the MCSO ripped off $14.8 million. All of which now has to be paid back.
Remember that lame-o TLC show Police Women of Maricopa County? If so, you may recall one of the MCSO officers featured in the series, Kelly Bocardo, known for her bragging about handing out an "ass-beating" to anyone who needed it.
The butch Bocardo was one of hundreds of officers and deputies whose paychecks were, at one time or another, funded with the pilfered cash. In Bocardo's case, it was all to gain some positive press for the MCSO.
And who could forget Lieutenant Joe Sousa, aggro, knuckle-dragging commander of the human-smuggling unit? Remember the bulging veins of this idiot's neck at an April 2009 press conference with his fellow MCSO deputies where he told those critical of his boss (including elected officials) to "shut up!"?
According to the county, this non-credit to his badge was also cut a check using restricted funds on at least one occasion.
It's important to note, as Supervisor Don Stapley did during the recent Supervisors meeting, that the board had to subpoena Arpaio to get the 70-plus boxes of MCSO documents that revealed much of this mess. Arpaio fought the subpoena and relented only after a judge ordered him to do fork over the records.
That fight cost the county another $100,000 in legal fees. Chump change to Joe and his Mafia-like MCSO cohorts.
County bean counters have dug into other MCSO corruption, raising questions about outside bank accounts, the misuse of county credit cards, and shady extradition trip expenses.
The county now is putting into place safeguards, a new payroll system, and other measures. Already, the county has restricted the use of the credit cards, and the board wants more auditing in the future of the MCSO's budget. However, supervisors acknowledged that even the best audit may not ferret out instances of systematic deceit.
That Arpaio's gang violated state statutes, particularly those that restrict the above-mentioned funds for specific uses, is self-evident.
Asked point-blank by Stapley who was responsible for the $100 million fiasco, Sheridan (the guy filling in for ex-Chief Deputy David Hendershott) hemmed and hawed.
"It's a very complex issue," he replied. "I don't think there was any one individual responsible for it."
Sheridan contended that a system set up for other purposes eventually became the way the MCSO was keeping track of which fund was paying for what. He admitted the system was not up to the task, and he asserted that the fault was complacency, not intentional wrongdoing.
Supervisor Wilcox, for one, was not appeased by Sheridan's wishy-washy answer.
"Eight years have gone by," she said of the abuses, which date back to 2003. "And there's no excuse . . . We deal with complex systems all the time. If we had run the county the way you say this was run . . . we would be in a mess."
Save for remarks by Wilcox and Stapley, both of whom faced since-dismissed criminal charges brought on by MACE probes, there was precious little outrage from the board.
Chairman Andy Kunasek praised the "change of leadership" at the MCSO (meaning Hendershott, currently on paid leave pending the release of the "Munnell Memo" investigation, on which Arpaio continues to stonewall) and called Sheridan "a breath of fresh air."
(For more on Arpaio and the Munnell Memo, see "Munnell Memo Report Complete," Valley Fever blog, April 13.)
Kunasek wants to let bygones by bygones and play nicey-nice with the sheriff. In vague references to Hendershott, he seemed ready to lay the blame at the big man's feet.
"I don't think it was just a misfortunate mistake or an oversight in the past," he remarked. "But I think those people will be dealt with if there was any intentional misconduct."
Indeed, in a letter last year from County Manager David Smith to U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke and then-County Attorney Rick Romley, Smith outlined several state criminal statutes that may have been violated during the MCSO's raids on the detention fund and the inmate-services fund.
These include misappropriating restricted funds, hiding public records, theft, forgery, fraudulent schemes and practices, and tampering with public records.
Romley and the board later cross-deputized six Assistant U.S. Attorneys from Burke's office as deputy county attorneys so that they could investigate violations of state statutes. Romley's office was conflicted because it represented both the board and the sheriff.
I would like to have faith that the feds will finally do something about this and other scandals and abuses of power in Mari-Kafka County. However, Burke has to answer to his masters at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. And that's where things get political.
The feds have been slower than pack of Brazilian sloths on their various civil and criminal investigations of Arpaio's office. And next year's presidential election will add another monkey wrench.
Obama administration hacks, frightened by the echo of their own footsteps, do not want Arpaio to be an issue — even a minor one — in 2012. That's because an attack on Arpaio will be spun by the right as an attack on immigration enforcement. And woe be it to any Democrat perceived as lax on the undocumented.
Hendershott's a convenient fall guy, but everyone in the upper echelon of the MCSO should be on the hook for this one, Sheridan included. After all, the guy was in charge of the jails before Hendershott was suspended and he was handed Hendy's position.
Should Arpaio, or a handpicked successor, run for sheriff in 2012, it's a majority of voters who have to get ticked off, at long last, with all of Arpaio's costly shenanigans. You can't count on the feds to even go after the low-hanging fruit on this one.
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Look at it this way. Let's say you lent your car to your neighbor so he could go the Circle K to buy some beer. But he disappears, rides your vehicle into the ground during a cross-country excursion, and uses one of your credit cards that he found in the glove compartment to pay for gas, his meals, his liquor, and a penthouse suite in Las Vegas.
Would you punch him out and call the cops or hand him the keys to your other car once he stops back in town and knocks on your door?
Get wise, people!
Otherwise, you'll have no one to blame once Joe Arpaio fleeces you — yet again.