Joe Arpaio’s absurd Seattle investigation cost taxpayers at least $250,000, improperly dipped into federal grant money, and nearly depleted the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office’s RICO fund.
This, according to Arpaio’s Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, who spent Friday on the stand in federal court, much of it being skewered by ACLU attorney Cecillia Wang.
Friday was day two in the second round of a federal contempt trial of Arpaio, Sheridan, and three former and current MCSO honchos.
The five men stand accused of violating U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow’s orders in Melendres v. Arpaio, the groundbreaking civil rights case that resulted in the MCSO’s being found guilty of racial profiling in 2013.
Arpaio and Sheridan have admitted to civil contempt of Snow’s orders, but still they face the possibility of a criminal contempt referral for a pattern of willful defiance of the court.
The other three defendants have not admitted to civil contempt and are not expected to face criminal liability.
On Thursday, day one of the hearings, Wang destroyed Sheridan’s credibility on the MCSO’s favoritism-riddled internal affairs process, and on the department’s defiance of Snow’s 2011 preliminary injunction, wherein the judge ordered the office not to enforce federal civil immigration law.
But on Friday, the terrapin-like Wang tore into Arpaio’s laughable Seattle probe, which hired computer consultant Dennis Montgomery as a confidential informant and sought to concoct an anti-Arpaio conspiracy involving Snow, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the law firm of Covington and Burling (among others), which, along with the ACLU, represents the plaintiffs in Melendres.
Under oath, Sheridan denied the MCSO had been investigating Snow, even though the chief deputy had seen documents produced by Montgomery purporting to tie Snow to the conspiracy.
Montgomery first approached the MCSO in 2013 with a tale about the CIA’s illegally harvesting the private information of U.S. citizens, Sheridan said.
The former CIA/NSA contractor showed Sheridan records of 150,000 bank accounts in Maricopa County, convincing both Arpaio and Sheridan that he possessed a massive cache of data he had copied during his time working for the government.
Of the information Montgomery provided, “some of it was accurate,” Sheridan said.
The MCSO became “his only source of income,” according to Sheridan.
But when Montgomery failed to provide the MCSO with the information it wanted, the office threatened to cut off payments to him.
That’s when Sheridan said the computer consultant came up with supposed evidence of an alleged conspiracy, such as information “about a DOJ phone call to Judge Snow’s court,” supposedly demonstrating collusion between Snow and the DOJ.
Previously released e-mails between MCSO investigators and Montgomery state that more than $120,000 was paid to the informant.
But on the stand, Sheridan up offered that the investigation cost the MCSO “around $250,000.”
To date, there has been no accounting of the money spent on the Seattle operation.
My sources have previously indicated that as much as $1 million was spent on the bizarre effort.
Sheridan told Wang that most of money for the Seattle probe came from the MCSO’s RICO fund, money obtained through asset forfeiture and drug and racketeering busts.
But he confirmed that at least some of the money for the operation came from federal grants from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which, as the name suggests, is supposed to be used to combat drug trafficking.
Sheridan said he had been unaware that HIDTA grant money had been used until Wang confronted him about it in a recent deposition.
Wang cited an MCSO e-mail to Sheridan explaining that the HIDTA funds used to pay Montgomery “had to be refunded” because it was “not a proper use of the money.”
In another revelation, Sheridan said he approved money to rent a four-bedroom house in Seattle for “44 nights,” where Anglin, Mackiewicz, and Zullo could reside while overseeing the Montgomery investigation.
As New Times has reported previously, Mackiewicz currently is on a leave of absence from the MCSO while under criminal investigation for allegedly spiking his overtime while on assignment in Seattle.
Sheridan admitted that before the investigation began, he had Googled Montgomery and learned that the computer consultant was a “questionable character.”
That’s a significant admission because it could indicate the commission of an “inchoate crime.”
That is, Arpaio and Sheridan may have thought that they were purchasing classified or stolen data from Montgomery.
As recounted in this week’s column and in previous blog posts, recent depositions have revealed that some in the MCSO believed money was being misspent on the Seattle probe.
According to these depositions, Anglin and Special Investigations Division Captain Steve Bailey expressed their reservations to Arpaio about the Seattle investigation.
Bailey worried about exhausting the MCSO’s RICO account and felt that the expenditures were “improper.”
But according to a deposition from Bailey’s subordinate, Lieutenant Kim Seagraves, Arpaio told Bailey to “get the fucking money.”
Asked about this, Sheridan said he didn’t recall Arpaio’s saying precisely that, but that Arpaio likely expressed that sentiment.
Sheridan called Bailey “whiny” and said that the Montgomery investigation “was something the sheriff and I wanted to continue.”
Eventually, Bailey refused to sign any approvals for the Seattle investigation.
Anglin approached Arpaio directly, warning the sheriff to distance himself from Zullo and Montgomery, but he similarly was rebuffed.
Subsequently, Sheridan took Anglin off the Seattle assignment.
Sheridan said he did so because Anglin had tried to remove Zullo from the operation.
The chief deputy also discussed one internal e-mail sent to him in which the writer stated that everything related to the Seattle probe needed to be documented in writing because the MCSO “might end up in an audit” over the investigation.
Sheridan said he knew the Seattle operation would one day come to light and that the MCSO would have to justify it “because it was controversial.”
He said he ordered Mackiewicz and Anglin not to investigate Snow but admitted that he did not convey the same order directly to posse leader Zullo.
And he said he knew that Zullo was pressing Montgomery for information as recently as April 20, the eve of the first round of contempt hearings.
Wang also questioned Sheridan about another issue: advice given by MCSO counsel Michele Iafrate concerning approximately 1,500 IDs discovered in July by the MCSO.
Sheridan said he approached Iafrate about the IDs because he knew the court’s monitor would be angered by this new find and because he thought that, maybe, the IDs did not fall under Show’s blanket order to turn over such IDs.
According to the chief deputy, Iafrate said she would have to “research” the issue and that, meantime, it would be “premature” to disclose their existence at an upcoming meeting with the monitor.
Sheridan said Iafrate coached MCSO employees on how to answer questions about such IDs with the monitor team.
When a member of the monitor team asked Bailey if there were any outstanding IDs, he said no.
But another MCSO employee who knew of the recently found cache of IDs told the monitor about them.
This resulted in Snow’s ordering the U.S. Marshals Service in July to seize the IDs.
Once Wang finished her questioning, it was MCSO attorney John Masterson’s turn.
For the rest of the afternoon, he pitched softball questions to Sheridan.
Sheridan depicted himself as a harried and overwhelmed executive, offering his preoccupation with other MCSO crises as an excuse for not implementing Snow’s 2011 order.
When Sheridan tried to rationalize the MCSO’s previously widespread practice of the taking IDs and religious “trinkets” from detained Latinos, Judge Snow interrupted to lecture the chief deputy.
“None of that,” said Snow of the IDs and other items, “is appropriate to take from people without accounting for it.”
Though former Arpaio attorney Tim Casey showed up to court, he was not called to the stand.
Court will resume Tuesday morning with some follow-up questioning of Sheridan by Wang.
After that, it’s anticipated that Casey will testify, followed by Sands.
Wang told reporters that Arpaio might be called to testify Wednesday.
Posted with permission from Phoenix New Times.