The Feds Proved Themselves a Cage of Cowardly Lions in the Arpaio Investigation

At the conclusion of her four-page letter to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, explaining the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office's rationale for dropping its criminal investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio's and ex-County Attorney Andrew Thomas' offices, Ann Birmingham Scheel offered an incredibly lame summation of four years of inaction and incompetence by federal authorities.

"[If] there is one lesson to be drawn from the arrests, investigations, and lawsuits of the past few years," the assistant U.S. attorney wrote, "it is that prosecutors, in seeking justice, must exercise their charging discretion with great care."

Lovely sentiment, Ann. And we're glad to see that your office is tiptoeing through the legal niceties — leaving Arpaio, if he sees fit, to sink his fangs into more innocent victims.

But I, and others, are drawing another conclusion from your cowardly letter, and the craven way your office announced that it was washing its hands of its long probe into Arpaio and Thomas' blatant and unconstitutional abuses of power.

That is, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, and the Justice Department are worthless at holding accountable law enforcement agencies run amok. They cannot be trusted to protect us when local tyrants — no better than mobsters — operate illegally under the color of law to harass, intimidate, falsely charge, arrest, and imprison anybody from undocumented corn vendors to judges to county supervisors to reporters and newspaper editors.

Ironically, when it comes to the really small fry, the big, bad feds will throw the book at 'em — and then some.

For example, local white-collar perp and former state Representative Richard Miranda recently pleaded guilty in federal court to wire fraud. Miranda was sentenced to 27 months in the federal pen for ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars from two nonprofits he headed.

Sure, that's bad, but what if you're Sheriff Joe, and you grab $100 million in protected taxpayer funds for jail enhancement, using the money illegally to finance pet projects, such as anti-immigrant sweeps and vindictive investigations of your political enemies?

Well, then, the feds don't even bother to wag a finger at you.

"[T]he funds were simply shifted from one law enforcement purpose to another," Scheel shrugs of the $100 million in her letter to Montgomery.

Scheel goes on to claim there was "insufficient evidence of criminal intent" and "no evidence of false statements from . . . Arpaio or [his] former chief deputy David Hendershott."

What a colossal load. You'll recall that Arpaio falsely told the press that the swiped $100 million was because of a "computer-type glitch."

But Arpaio's former chief financial officer Loretta Barkell countered that claim, telling Channel 12 that she had informed both Hendershott and Arpaio "every single year for the past 10 years" that the MCSO was violating the law by siphoning cash from the jail-enhancement fund.

According to Barkell, Arpaio "waved his hand and said he was not allowing the bean counters to manage his operations."

The feds are aware of what Barkell has to say because she testified before a federal grand jury looking into Arpaio in 2010. Moreover, her testimony can be backed up with records galore from the county, as well as from the testimony of other county officials.

Keep in mind that several assistant U.S. attorneys were cross-deputized as "special deputy county attorneys" by the county Board of Supervisors in 2010. By Scheel's own admission, the U.S. Attorney's Office had "broad" investigatory powers to look into federal and state allegations.

Nonetheless, Arpaio, Hendershott, and their willing minions skate.

Meanwhile, state Representative Ben Arredondo was indicted this year on bribery and other charges, allegedly for taking $6,000 in sports-event tickets as a bribe from a fake FBI front company.

Arredondo pleaded not guilty to the charges stemming from a three-year undercover investigation while the Republican turned Democrat was still a Tempe city councilman.

As with Miranda, I'm not saying such charges are not serious. But they are dwarfed by the mountainous misdeeds of Thomas, Arpaio, Hendershott, and their fellow co-conspirators.

Scheel's excuse seems to be that it's just so hard to make the case against the really bad criminals. You know, the ones who use their authority as cops and prosecutors to gin up charges against critics and foes, to investigate them as a form of harassment, and to arrest and imprison them in an effort to destroy them.

Such activities are violations of federal statute 18 USC Section 242, which makes it a crime for law enforcement officials to deprive someone of his or her constitutional rights "under the color of law."

And if two or more people are involved such wrongdoing, they can be charged under federal code 18 USC Section 241, which makes it illegal to conspire to abridge someone's rights under the constitution.

A comprehensive list of those who have been the targets of criminal acts pursuant to 18 USC Section 241 and 242 by Thomas' County Attorney's Office or Arpaio's Sheriff's Office perhaps could fill this column.