A Phony Murder Plot Against Joe Arpaio Winds Up Costing Taxpayers $1.1 Million

James Saville with his sister Linda, in 2004.

By John Dickerson

Taxpayers spent $1,102,528.50 this year to settle another of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's lawsuits, New Times has learned through a public records request. The suit was brought by a man whom Arpaio framed in 1999 in a staged murder plot against the sheriff.

The payout, nine years after the wrongful arrest, is an indicaton that the aging lawman's publicity-driven, unsavory antics may keep costing taxpayers big money well into the future. The county is already struggling with a huge budget deficit, and the excessive costs of Arpaio's operation isn't helping matters.

In 2004, victim James Saville’s family sued Arpaio for $10 million, after Saville was found not guilty of attempting to kill the sheriff. The county recently settled with Saville for an undisclosed amount. It only had to pay the above amount out of public coffers; its insurance policy covered the rest.

Before you wish that you could collect $1 million by getting framed for Arpaio's murder, consider that Saville spent four years in county jail, awaiting trial as a result of the made-up crime.

In 1999, Arpaio's staff rigged the entire fake assassination plot – just so he could get his mug on TV.

News cameras were already rolling when deputies arrested Saville. Gullible TV reporters gobbled up Arpaio’s story about a local Unabomber who was plotting to kill America’s “toughest” sheriff.

In 2004, a jury found Saville innocent of all charges. Not only that, but it ruled that Arpaio’s minions helped buy the bomb parts themselves and “entrapped” Saville in a TV-ready murder plot.

Arpaio was re-elected just months after the jury verdict. (Journalists John Dougherty and Janna Bommersbach unraveled the tale in separate articles).

“Jurors listened in disbelief as testimony showed it was the sheriff’s money that purchased the bomb parts, and an undercover officer who drove Saville around to buy the parts,” Bommersbach wrote.

Records show that the final payment to Saville went out on August 28, 2008. The total $1.1 million that taxpayers spent to settle with him doesn't include money that the county attorney spent prosecuting him, or funds paid to deputies who worked long hours to frame him.

Of course, Saville isn't the only casualty of Arpaio’s publicity machine.

Chandler cop Tom Lovejoy’s career nearly came to an end because of the sheriff's quest for TV coverage. Lovejoy’s canine partner died when he left the dog in his car following a long shift. Arpaio notified TV news stations and arrested Lovejoy on animal-abuse charges (Lovejoy has since been cleared and has filed his own lawsuit against Arpaio).

Sadly, many children have died after being left in cars in Arizona, but Arpaio isn't as aggressive when it comes to human beings. Clearly, he believes he will get more coverage by aggressively going after animal-abuse cases than by pursuing parents whose negligence results in the deaths of their children.

Democrat Dan Saban, who's running against Arpaio in the general election, has also been an Arpaio victim. Arpaio's people leaked a bogus story that Saban had sexually molested his own mother. In fact, Saban was the one who was sexually abused as a young teenager by his foster mother.

In addition to the Saville payout, the county already has had to fork over more than $43 million in lawsuit settlements and expenses to the families of jail-abuse victims during Arpaio's tenure as sheriff.

County Risk Manager Peter Crowley says there's no way to tell how much the insurance company payed Saville -- on top of the $1.1 million the county paid. Similarly, insurance companies have paid unknown millions on top of the more than $43 million the county has paid for the jail lawsuits.

That's because the county typically pays a deductible, plus attorneys' fees, and insurance companies pick up the rest of the bill. Because settlements are confidential, the county claims it doesn't know how many millions have been covered by insurance policies.