Pinal County Superior Court Judge Robert Carter Olson today unsealed the search warrant and other documents in a criminal investigation into a campaign finance scandal linked to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office -- pulling back the curtain, in part, on an investigation that is clearly both active and serious.
Olson acted at the request of this newspaper, which filed a motion to intervene in the six-month-old case last week. Though the documents have previously been sealed by court order, the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which has quietly been working the case all that time, did not object to New Times' request. Though Dennis Wilenchik, the lawyer representing the officer at the center of the probe, Sheriff's Captain Joel Fox, had previously argued against public disclosure of the documents, his associates did not do so in court today.
Attorney Michael Meehan filed a brief on New Times' behalf; the paper's longtime counsel, Steve Suskin, was in the courtroom today.
The documents show that agents raided Fox's Gilbert home March 31 -- and that its investigation is very much ongoing.
"Is it your avowal that this is still an active criminal investigation?" Judge Olson questioned the assistant attorney general, Todd Lawson.
"It certainly is," Lawson replied.
The documents show that agents expected to find documents, emails, bank records, and information on Fox's computer that would show evidence of such crimes as prohibited political contributions, fraud schemes and practices by willful concealment, and money laundering.
Filings from the attorney general's office suggest that the case may be heading to a conclusion. There are references to a grand jury being impaneled in at least one document. In another, the AG notes that "very few witnesses remain to be interviewed ..."
At the hearing, Captain Fox's attorney, Adam Polson of Wilenchik & Bartness, argued that Fox should be returned his computer and other seized materials. But even he wasn't downplaying the seriousness of the AG's probe. "We don't know if he's going to be indicted," Polson said at one point. (Those quotations come thanks to New Times' veteran reporter Paul Rubin, who was at the courthouse today to cover the hearing.)
As we've reported, Fox gave the Arizona Republican Party two checks totaling $105,000 -- saying only that they were from a group of unaffiliated individuals called the "SCA." When Fox failed to provide further illumination, the Party was forced to return the money, but not before channeling $102,000 to a newly created fund, Arizonans for Public Safety. That fund then financed ads attacking the opponents of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Since at least some of the checks gathered by Fox were clearly designated for Arpaio's reelection, it seems probable that the GOP accepted an illegal earmark -- and that it, too, may have violated the law.
We're combing through these documents this afternoon; stay tuned for further updates as we dig deep.