Arpaio, whose controversial immigration enforcement tactics have made him a nationally known figure, is reportedly being probed by a federal grand jury. The investigation is considering whether the sheriff abused his power by going after political opponents and others who crossed him, including several county supervisors and judges.
In December, several judge’s assistants revealed that Arpaio’s deputies had tried to interview them in their homes about alleged judicial corruption. There’s little evidence of actual corruption, and one judge called the move “pure intimidation.”
Now in interviews with the paper, several county employees describe the fear and paranoia that they say characterizes their day-to-day working environment.
Among the employees’ claims:
• In December 2008, the county spent $10,000 to sweep county offices, fearing that Arpaio might have implanted illegal wiretaps. None was found.
• One judge moved meetings to the chamber’s restroom, thinking it would be less likely that Arpaio or his deputies might have hidden a listening device there.
• Many employees stopped using phone or email to communicate about sensitive matters — even when using home computers.
• One employee who denied pay-raise requests for a high-ranking member of Arpaio’s office said that he assumed he was being recorded whenever he had to call Arpaio’s staff.
• Another employee said he had told his family never to call on his work phone. “You never know who’s watching,” he told the paper.
• Supervisor Max Wilson, once an Arpaio backer, said that when Arpaio publicly warned that Wilson “better be careful on cutting my budget,” he saw it as a threat and talked to a top aide about whether to resign. Later, the aide, worried that he himself would be targeted, called a criminal defense lawyer and asked how much it would cost to get him out of jail.
• One compensation analyst, involved in the issue of whether to build a new court tower — a move Arpaio strongly opposes — said that sheriff’s deputies came to her home twice this summer to ask questions. When she didn’t answer the door, one cop left his card on her windshield, near a crack in the glass. Feared the placement was a message designed to warn her that she could be pulled over, she quickly had the crack repaired.
• Deputies also came to the home of another employee who works on compensation issues. Finding him to be out, they asked his neighbors about him. “Your neighbors obviously probably think something has been done wrong,” he told the paper.
Working with his close ally, county prosecutor Andrew Thomas, Arpaio has brought charges against supervisor Don Stapley and Judge Gary Donahue — among many others with whom he has clashed — despite what appears to be little evidence of criminal wrongdoing by either man.
Arpaio has said he’ll cooperate with the federal probe, but has hired a Washington-based former Bush Justice Department lawyer who has filed motions that appear designed to stymie it.