It may seem at times like the investigations into Sheriff Joe Arpaio are endless. In the past four years, he and some of his closest aides have been the subject of at least five investigations into accusations that they became corrupted by the power and perks of the office.
Throughout it all, his aides have fallen, but the Arizona lawman remains untouched. Two investigations cleared him outright, one stalled and was transferred to another agency and two more have dragged on as officials in Washington, D.C. decide whether to act. Meanwhile, Arpaio continues to taunt his pursuers.
More recently, a disciplinary panel in Arizona that was looking into allegations against one of Arpaio’s allies said there was evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” to show that the sheriff participated in a federal crime in December 2009. Still, Arpaio, 79, remains a player in the Republican Party and continues to run for office, aiming for his sixth term as sheriff this year.
Understandably, it might be hard for a casual observer to keep all the investigations straight. TPM has compiled this guide to the many investigations and what resulted from them. It shows that Arpaio has been a target for years, but that he also has given political and financial help to some of the very people who cleared him or shelved investigations.
1. Secret Campaign Money
Accusations: Some of the sheriff’s closest aides were accused of setting up a secret political fund that ultimately went to help Arpaio’s reelection. The fund, known as the Sheriff’s Command Association (or SCA), was reportedly run with the help of the sheriff’s No. 2 man, Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott. It collected small donations from sheriff’s office employees and donations of $10,000 or more from corporate executives, including a major Arizona real estate developer and the CEO of the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain. More than $100,000 was then allegedly funneled to the state Republican Party and earmarked for advertisements attacking Arpaio’s Democratic opponent in the 2008 election.
Who Investigated: State Attorney General Terry Goddard (D) opened an investigation looking into whether the SCA was designed to skirt the state’s campaign finance laws. The laws restrict the amount of money that can be given directly to a candidate and ban political parties from earmarking donations to be used on specific candidates. As Goddard’s term ended, Tom Horne (R) won the 2010 election for attorney general and inherited the investigation. Horne was endorsed by Arpaio for the open seat.
Outcome: The probe appeared to stall even after state investigators executed a search warrant at the house of one of the sheriff’s captains and were also able to uncover evidence showing donors knew where their money was going. In 2011, shortly after taking office, Horne announced he was discontinuing the investigation and would pass any evidence off to federal investigators who were also looking into Arpaio.
2. The Munnell Memo
Accusations: Frank Munnell, a high-ranking deputy in the sheriff’s office, came forward in September 2010 with allegations that the agency had engaged in widespread wrongdoing and even criminal activity since Arpaio won reelection in 2008. The allegations were detailed in a memo that Munnell gave to Arpaio as well as the FBI and US Attorney’s Office. In it, Munnell said Arpaio had essentially given control of the office to Hendershott, his chief deputy, following the election. He said Hendershott used the power to bully and investigate the sheriff’s enemies, including local politicians.
Who Investigated: Munnell asked Arpaio to get the state Department of Public Safety to investigate the matter. Instead, Arpaio called on his fellow Arizona sheriff, Paul Babeu (R) to look into it and offer recommendations. Babeu was endorsed by Arpaio in the 2008 election.
Outcome: Nearly eight months after the investigation began, Babeu announced that he determined Arpaio did nothing wrong and had no way of knowing what his No. 2 man was doing. The investigation laid all the blame on Hendershott and two other aides in the office, all of whom have since been fired. About four weeks after being cleared by Babeu, Arpaio hosted a fundraiser for him. Tickets ranged from $50 to $430. (See flier for fundraiser at right. Click to enlarge. Also see photo of event at top.)
3. Gifts From The Fiesta Bowl
Accusations: Arpaio was one of more than 30 Arizona politicians said to have taken swanky trips or free college football tickets from the massive nonprofit organization that organizes the annual Fiesta Bowl. The nonprofit was accused of lavishing the politicians with perks that skirted campaign finance and gift laws. The scandal became the subject of both state and federal investigations and resulted in indictments of multiple bowl staffers.
Who Investigated: Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery (R) was tapped by state Attorney General Tom Horne (R) last year to investigate the politicians and determine whether they broke laws by taking the gifts. Montgomery had been endorsed by Arpaio and at least two of the other politicians during the 2010 election. Arpaio spent almost $600,000 of his own campaign money buying television ads and sending out campaign fliers that attacked Montgomery’s opponent in the election.
Outcome: In December 2011, Montgomery announced he had cleared all the politicians, including Arpaio. He said the state’s campaign finance laws weren’t strict enough for him to bring charges and he called on some of the very politicians he had investigated to consider making the laws stricter.
4. Latino Civil Rights
Accusations: The sheriff and his office were accused of violating the rights of Latinos and others in the Phoenix area. Arpaio often sent deputies into heavily Latino neighborhoods on what he called “crime suppression operations,” resulting in arrests of high amounts of minorities. Meanwhile, his office was also accused of botching the investigations of hundreds of sex crimes cases, including rapes.
Who Investigated: The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation in June 2008 under President George W. Bush’s administration. It is being led by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.
Outcome: In December 2011, Perez wrote a letter to officials in Maricopa County saying the sheriff had “promoted a culture of bias” in the agency. The Justice Department gave Arpaio a deadline to agree to make reforms or else face a massive civil rights lawsuit. During negotiations, the deadline was extended despite the Justice Department saying several times that talks had broken down. Earlier this month, the DOJ said it planned to sue, but so far no lawsuit has been filed.
5. Criminal Abuse Of Power
Accusations: Arpaio has been accused of using the law enforcement powers of his office to investigate, arrest and intimidate an array of local government officials in the Phoenix area. The list of people Arpaio’s office has investigated includes the former mayor of Phoenix, every member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, at least four judges and an assortment of other local officials. The investigations were often launched after the officials either criticized Arpaio publicly or made decisions that went against him.
Who Investigated: The U.S. Justice Department opened a criminal investigation in 2008 during the last months of President George W. Bush’s administration. The investigation was kept secret until the following year. By then, prosecutors were already presenting evidence to a grand jury. Several Phoenix area officials have said publicly that they testified before the grand jury.
Outcome: Neither Arpaio nor anyone else has been charged in the case. It’s unclear where the investigation stands now, but many believe the FBI and a grand jury are still looking into the matter. Earlier this month, a group of prominent Arizonans who are also longtime critics of Arpaio called on the Justice Department to either charge him with a crime or clear his name.
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com