Would-be Corruption Activist Charged With Fraud in Bench-Advertising Scheme

A local reverend who runs a Web site alleging government corruption has been indicted on 17 counts of fraud in an advertising ripoff.

Over the last three years, John Stone (pictured), 52, persuaded several area business owners to fund missing-children advertisement on benches outside stores, says the Maricopa County Attorney's office..  

Authorities say Stone would approach business representatives and sell the advertising space for $700 to $1,800, telling them he'd put pictures of missing kids on them. Yet in the "overwhelming majority of the cases investigated," no advertising was ever put on a bench. And in the few cases where it was, Stone apparently had no authority to put the benches in front of the stores.

When we tried to call Stone for comment, his voice mail referred us to his wife's anti-corruption Web site, Articles on the site allege dirt on federal judges, the County Attorney's Office, and the probation department (with which Stone is familiar because of a past conviction). The tone of the Stone family Web site gave us pause for a minute. One document from the probation department orders Stone to shut down the Web site in apparent conflict with the First Amendment. Could it be that authorities are now railroading Stone with this alleged advertising fraud to shut him up?

It doesn't look like it.

In the short time we spent perusing, it became obvious the prolific Stone, (author of a 2000 true-crime book) doesn't have the goods on the officials he's targeting. For instance, the site says of Maricopa County pro-tem Judge David Fletcher:

Fletcher admits that he took a pay-off to rig and conduct the August 13, 2008 illegal hearing. Fletcher claims he committed the crimes to further a 3-year cover-up to prevent the arrests and prosecutions of Maricopa County officials, State and Federal Judges, Kent and Kristina Harding, and many others.

No evidence is presented that Fletcher ever said or wrote such a confession. Another entry is written as though the author was U.S. District Court Judge Mary Murguia.

One interesting thing, though: Stone claims a couple of men fired shots at his car a few days ago, and authorities are doing nothing about it because of his activism.

Whatever's going on in that case, though, it seems separate from the bench-advertising accusation. Stone allegedly left a long trail of victims, one of whom took the time to create an anti-Stone Web site. That site claims Stone made $28,000 in the scam in just six months, though that could not be confirmed.

New Times likes to write about possible government corruption whenever possible, but Stone's claims don't clear the bar.

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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.