Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reports: Sheriff Joe Arpaio knew of corruption, problems

Time and again, in public statements and in interviews, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has denied knowledge of the corruption and mismanagement within his headquarters.

But information in thousands of pages of recently released public records refutes some of Arpaio's claims and, in some instances, places him in the middle of key controversial events.

Certain trusted Arpaio advisers told investigators they notified Arpaio over the past several years about financial problems, potential issues with the way the agency was running its anti-corruption investigations, and his chief deputy's regular abuse of subordinates. For example:

- One detective told investigators that Arpaio participated in drafting a search warrant for a failed corruption investigation.

- The sheriff's former chief financial officer said she warned Arpaio of overtime excesses and other financial problems, as well as former Chief Deputy David Hendershott's "demoralizing" mistreatment of subordinates.

- Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk recounted to state investigators Arpaio's response in September 2009 when she asked why the Sheriff's Office arrested Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley after she had told them the case was not ready to charge. "Arpaio blows up: I had PC (probable cause) to arrest, no one tells me who I can/cannot arrest," Polk said.

The statements by witnesses came to light during state investigations into the Sheriff's Office and during a separate administrative investigation into three of Arpaio's top commanders by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu. Babeu's investigation, prompted by the so-called "Munnell memo," a letter from Deputy Chief Frank Munnell that contained many allegations, ended the careers of Hendershott and former Deputy Chief Larry Black. The report said they had abused their positions, violated county policies and were untruthful, forcing their resignations in the face of imminent termination.

Capt. Joel Fox remains on paid administrative leave as investigators re-examine allegations about his conduct.

Public records examined by The Arizona Republic are also being reviewed by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. That information will play heavily in the federal abuse-of-power investigations of Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and others.

Key questions, according to legal experts, will be: What did Arpaio know about misconduct within his agency? When did he know it? And was any of his agency's conduct criminal?

"He has a First Amendment right to claim willful ignorance about what was going on - and that has served him well in the past," said Valley criminal-defense attorney Mike Black, adding that Arpaio can't claim he "didn't know what was going on, but then have evidence pointing to the fact that he did. But they (federal prosecutors) have to show that he approved these things and conspired with them (sheriff's staff)."

Arpaio acknowledged in a lengthy interview Friday that his agency has had problems. But for the most part, he maintains, he was in the dark.

"You can always look in the past and say, 'I saw warning signs,' " he said. "This is just another situation that has occurred. I'm not happy with it. I back my people up pretty good. I'm tough on criminals. Maybe I should have been tougher on my staff."

But Arpaio's own command staff have stated that Arpaio was apprised of his agency's operations.

Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla, a Hendershott adherent and former Arpaio spokesman, told Babeu's investigators he did not agree with assertions that Hendershott tried to keep Arpaio out of the loop.

"From my perspective, conversations between the sheriff and chief deputy occur, occurred on a regular basis and frequently occurred after everybody left the building," Chagolla said.

Arpaio and certain other witnesses, however, have said Hendershott hid details from the sheriff on some of the agency's failed investigations into judges and county officials.

But from its inception in early 2007, the Maricopa County Anti-Corruption Enforcement unit (MACE) that conducted those probes was lauded by Arpaio.

As the Sheriff's Office launched investigations into elected officials - including former Attorney General Terry Goddard and county Supervisor Don Stapley - Arpaio was the face of the agency, engaging in heated public debates with elected officials who accused the Sheriff's Office of conducting political witch hunts.

"I want to be clear," Arpaio stated in an October 2007 news release about his investigation into Goddard. "This Sheriff will not be intimidated by a potential suspect in this office's ongoing investigation of wrongdoing."

The investigation never led to charges.

Throughout the next three years, Arpaio would make many more statements about the propriety of his political-corruption investigations and the lack of fortitude of his targets. But Arpaio's denials about knowing the details of the cases fit neatly with the theory that Hendershott kept important pieces of information from the sheriff.

A deputy chief's statements to Pinal County investigators cast some doubt on Arpaio's claims he was ignorant of MACE case details. Arpaio was present as detectives discussed at least one search warrant served during the Stapley investigation, Deputy Chief Bill Knight told investigators.

Knight also told them he questioned Hendershott's motivation for serving the search warrant in January 2009 on Conley Wolfswinkel, a Stapley business associate. Knight said he thought the search warrant had probable cause, but he did not want to include too many details in the warrant to prevent potential suspects from learning too much about the case.

But Arpaio saw the situation differently, Knight said.

" 'No, those things need to be in there,' " Knight recalled Arpaio telling him. "I probably overstepped my bounds a little bit here, but I said, 'Are we writing a press release or are we writing a search warrant? I just need to be clear on what we're trying to produce here.' And he just looked at me and said, 'Get the information in there,' and then got up and walked out."

On Friday, Arpaio initially denied Knight's version of events and then admitted talking to Knight about the case because of Wolfswinkel's high-profile past in Valley real-estate dealings.

"I don't direct, I don't order people, especially a deputy chief, to put something in a search warrant," Arpaio said. "I didn't look at the search warrant. I may have talked about Wolfswinkel because I'm interested in him."

Knight's exchange with Arpaio is found in the first part of Babeu's 1,022-page report and more than 4,000 pages of interview transcripts where a deputy puts the sheriff in a position to have direct knowledge of and influence on the MACE operations.

However, more than 15,000 pages of interview transcripts and supporting documents have yet to be released.

Loretta Barkell worked as Arpaio's chief financial officer for about a decade, overseeing personnel and a budget of about $270 million. She retired in March.

Although Hendershott attempted over the years to control the information that Arpaio received, Barkell has stated she went around Hendershott and repeatedly informed Arpaio about budget issues, including overtime excesses, the inappropriate use of detention-fund money and costs associated with other programs.

"I would go to Arpaio if there were situations with overtime or other stuff where he needed to pay attention, and he just ignored me," Barkell told The Republic last week.

In November 2007, the Sheriff's Office was using so much overtime that the agency was on track to exceed its overtime budget by $14.5 million. Barkell told Babeu's investigators that she informed Arpaio about the problem, but the overtime excesses continued. Arpaio only acted on the problem after it was written about in the newspaper, she said.

"It's very typical of all of them in the office to be informed of the problem and not take action until it becomes a crisis," Barkell said in an interview Friday.

Barkell also said she repeatedly warned Arpaio that the agency could not use restricted jail funds to pay for other functions, such as patrol, human-smuggling enforcement and public-corruption investigations. A county investigation into the use of the jail funds found the Sheriff's Office misspent $99.5 million over eight years.

After Babeu's report was released and Hendershott was fired, an Arpaio representative said only a few staff members shared their concerns about Hendershott with Arpaio, and they came forward just before Munnell's letter became public.

But Babeu's investigators spoke with a former sheriff's deputy who wrote a memo to Arpaio in the 1990s that raised some of the same concerns about Hendershott.

Reached by phone, former sheriff's Lt. Roy Reyer recalled that Arpaio was dismissive of his concerns about Hendershott and instead questioned Reyer as to why he raised the issues with former Chief Deputy Jadel Roe.

"He looked me square in the eyes with my memo in the hand and said, 'Reyer, you're a damn liar,' and throws it on the ground," Reyer said last week. "I couldn't stay there anymore. I was a 'dime dropper' in his eyes."

Reyer retired and pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit computer tampering in 2001. Arpaio said that conviction raised questions about Reyer's credibility, and that Reyer was disgruntled with changes in the Sheriff's Office after Arpaio began his first term.

"I vaguely remember it," Arpaio said of Reyer's complaints about Hendershott. "Jadel Roe, I'm sure, took care of it."

After Roe retired and Arpaio appointed Hendershott chief deputy, Arpaio took a similar approach when employees expressed concerns about Hendershott.

"I advised him to knock it off and apologize, and he did," Arpaio said.

Other longtime employees like Barkell, however, believe Arpaio was blindly loyal to Hendershott - and, toward the end of Hendershott's time with the Sheriff's Office, even scared of him. Barkell told Babeu's investigators that she had told Arpaio of her concerns about Hendershott several times over the past 10 years.

"It would always be the same conversation," she said.

She remembered describing Hendershott to Arpaio: "He's very hostile. He's very mean. He's very nasty. He degrades people. He intimidates people. He bullies people. He can't do this, Sheriff. As your HR person, I'm telling you, he can't do this."

In the end, Arpaio's advisers may share some of the blame with Arpaio for not discerning a pattern of conduct amid the many warning signs.

"There are little things here, little things there. But people want to believe everything's OK and going well," Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan said, comparing it to the nation's crumbling housing market several years ago. The eventual economic collapse was the wake-up call.

"When the Munnell memo hits, that's our version of the economy tanking."

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