Don Stapley Lawyers: Dozens of Public Officials Erred in Financial Disclosure Reporting, Including One Sheriff

We knew it!

We've long been of the opinion that the disclosure forms mandated by the Arizona Secretary of State for public officials are confusing as hell. Every time we read these things, in fact, we find ourselves wondering how the doltish pols we typically deal with are able to sort them through.

Now the confusion inherent in these forms has become part of the argument by indicted Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley. His lawyers recently filed a motion which details no fewer than 54 instances where other public officials messed up their disclosure forms, apparently without any penalty.

And, get this: One of those elected officials just happens to be a county sheriff.

As we first reported in this blog post in December, our reporting reveals that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio failed to properly disclose his real-estate dealings in at least three instances. (There may be more, but we can't say for sure -- as my colleague John Dougherty first reported, the wily old coot has a penchant for asking for the court to seal his commercial real estate transactions.)

Why does that matter? Arpaio's agency is the one that investigated Stapley for filling out his disclosure forms incorrectly -- an investigation that led to 118 criminal counts against the long-serving supervisor.

Now, in a lengthy filing in Maricopa County Superior Court, Stapley's lawyers are revealing just how selective that prosecution was.

They don't name names (hey, look what happens to people who do!). But based on the previous reporting we've done on this issue, we have to assume that the county sheriff they're calling out for poor disclosure is, in fact, Arpaio.

Stapley's lawyer, Tom Henze, didn't return our call seeking comment.

Fortunately for Stapley's argument, it's not only crazy old guys who've had a hard time with the forms. The forms require officials to list all sources of personal compensation, which includes their government salaries. In their random sampling, Stapley's lawyers found twelve brilliant pols who didn't even do that. (Indict them all!) They also found six public officials who didn't list "the goods and services provided" by their controlled business, 27 politicians who messed up the dates of various land transactions, and seven who didn't list their official family trusts.

Stapley, as we've noted, actually faces one criminal count for failing to disclose a family trust in a single year of his filings. As we've pointed out before, this is incredibly petty stuff.

We were also intrigued by an additional defense raised in the filing. As Stapley's lawyers note, the disclosure forms require officials to list property held by any businesses they control -- unless their business "deals in real property and improvements." If that's the case, they only have to list the aggregate value. 

Stapley's lawyers argue that definition applies to him: "Mr. Stapley's business owned real property and improvements. It managed such. It leased the property and improvements to other businesses. It sold a parcel to a tenant who was occupying a building. .. The words 'dealing in real property interests and improvements' in the common usage sense, describe what Mr. Stapley's business literally did."

Stapley's lawyers also note that he faces no less than seven counts for failing to disclose property described as "Stewart's East Mesa Addition." The problem, as noted by the lawyers, is that Stapley did, in fact, disclose that property. Repeatedly.

"Having actually disclosed location, the only possible theory upon which the State could have indicted Mr. Stapley in these counts is that he did not adequately disclose the location," the lawyers write. Yikes.

After reading this latest filing, we're more convinced than ever that the Stapley indictment was selective. We're also beginning to believe it was also incredibly sloppy. (Seriously, who could have screwed this up this badly?)

And, we have to wonder whether anyone intends to do anything about that unnamed county sheriff who messed up his disclosure forms. Anyone? Anyone?