Sheriff Joe Arpaio was on the stand for just 90 minutes during the fifth day of his contempt trial, but those 90 minutes, and the testimony of an MCSO lieutenant, welded him to the plot to undermine federal Judge G. Murray Snow’s court.
Thursday’s revelations will be familiar to regular readers ofNew Times, which broke this story in June 2014 and has reported on it since.
They include Arpaio’s receipt of a smoking-gun fax from confidential informant Dennis Montgomery and the allegation that Arpaio gave $10,000 to Cold Case Posse commander Mike Zullo.
Arpaio ran the so-called Seattle operation himself. The investigation was meant to gin up a bogus conspiracy to undermine Snow’s court and tie the jurist to an anti-Arpaio conspiracy involving Snow, the U.S. Department of Justice, and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Under the dispassionate questioning of plaintiffs’ attorney Stanley Young, Arpaio described the initial meeting that got the ball rolling. It was held in October 2013, the same month that Snow had issued a supplemental order in the big civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio, requiring a host of changes to the MCSO, such as the appointment of a monitor for the department.
At the meeting, according to Arpaio, were Zullo, MCSO detective Brian Mackiewicz, and then-billionaire Tim Blixseth, who has since fallen on hard times, declared bankruptcy, and, ironically, landed himself in a federal pen for contempt of court.
Arpaio said the trio met “at a conference room in the Wells Fargo Building” in downtown Phoenix, where the MCSO once had its executive offices.
Zullo has been Arpaio’s partner in the zany investigation of President Obama’s birth certificate. Mackiewicz was a trusted member of the threats unit, which looked into often-bogus physical threats to Arpaio.
Blixseth, a business associate of Montgomery’s, explained that the Seattle-based former CIA subcontractor had evidence that the federal government was “penetrating the banking system” and that there were 150,000 victims in Maricopa County alone.
Supposedly, Montgomery had created software that could gather large amounts of data, and according to the plaintiffs, Blixseth provided Arpaio with memory sticks filled with information culled by the U.S. government.
Based on this meeting, Arpaio said he ordered Zullo, Mackiewicz, and, later, Sergeant Travis Anglin to Seattle to assist Montgomery in the ludicrous inquiry.
Arpaio claimed he trusted them because he had “never used a computer in my life.”
“He came here and we had a short meeting at a hotel, I don’t know where,” Arpaio testified.
Arpaio said he probably had seen a February 2011 New York Times article that was highly critical of Montgomery’s work for the U.S. government, but he could not recall when he had seen it.
Nevertheless, the investigation rolled on.
Zullo and he talked by phone and “met a few times,” both about the Seattle operation and about the birther investigation, which was ongoing.
Arpaio said his “main concern” was for the “victims penetrated” (his words) in the alleged hack by the feds. But Young produced a document that offered a different take on Arpaio’s motivation.
It was a fax from Montgomery’s Seattle phone number to Arpaio dated November 5, 2013. Arpaio said he remembered receiving it but that Montgomery had sent it to him unsolicited.
The fax, which I wrote about in my column this week, was a timeline of the conspiracy, with references to the Justice Department, the law firm of Covington and Burling, which represents the plaintiffs along with the ACLU, and theMelendres suit itself.
Arpaio conceded that he “breezed through it,” and what caught his attention was his private cell phone number and a supposed wiretap number next to it.
Also, Arpaio acknowledged that a notation on the document that read “CRIM?” was his handwriting.
Young asked the sheriff what the scrawl meant.
“I think at the time, the DOJ was investigating me and my office criminally,” he replied. “I was just concerned if this had anything to do with the [DOJ’s] criminal investigation, which, by the way, did not go anywhere.”
Before Young could get to a second document that had been attached to the timeline, a note typewritten by Arpaio, the court took a mid-morning break.
After that, the plaintiffs called MCSO Lieutenant Kim Seagraves to the stand, and she testified for the remainder of the day.
Seagraves’ testimony interrupted Arpaio’s because the plaintiffs wanted Seagraves to testify this week, as she was indisposed for coming weeks.
A former investigator for the MCSO’s Professional Standards Bureau and Special Investigations Division, Seagraves covered much of the same ground as in her wide-ranging pre-trial deposition, which touched on everything from the MCSO’s internal affairs process to what she had heard about the Seattle investigation from Anglin and from her immediate superior, Captain Steve Bailey.
Much of this I have covered in previous blog posts and columns, including Seagraves’ testimony that Arpaio gave $10,000 to Zullo so he could go to Seattle as part of the Montgomery investigation.
Though this did not come out during Arpaio’s testimony, my sources have suggested that Arpaio gave Zullo the cash at the beginning of the investigation, so he could go to Seattle and work with Montgomery.
Zullo has been subpoenaed by the plaintiffs to be deposed October 7, to produce certain documents, and to appear in court at some as-yet-undecided future date.
Asked about the $10,000 outside the courthouse, Arpaio attorney John Masterson at first said the sheriff had not given $10,000 to Zullo.
But he hedged when I asked whether Arpaio had given the Cold Case Posse $10,000.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I haven’t asked him.”
Masterson said Arpaio would testify about the $10,000 today.
According to its website, the Cold Case Posse is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.
“Remember,” the site states, “in most cases, your donation to CCP is deductible.”
Wonder if Arpaio took the tax deduction?
As I’ve reported previously, Zullo was given a county vendor number, and his travel expenses and lodging in Seattle were paid for with county money, approved by Arpaio’s chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan.
The investigation was paid for mostly with RICO funds, but it also used money from the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, as well as from the MCSO’s general fund.
Sources tell me that its total cost could be as much as $1 million.
Sheridan testified that the investigation cost $250,000, but there has yet to be a full accounting of money spent on the inquiry.
E-mails unsealed by Snow earlier this year say Montgomery was paid at least $120,000 to act as a confidential informant for the MCSO.
I’m not going to re-report everything I’ve already written about Bailey and Anglin’s challenging Arpaio on the Seattle investigation, according to depositions in the case.
But Seagraves said Bailey and she were concerned about the expenditures, because they were being used to investigate a federal judge and because of issues with Montgomery’s “credibility.”
From the outset, Seagraves Googled Montgomery’s name and shared her results with Bailey, who phoned Sheridan with the results, she said.
“This guy could be the golden goose that laid the golden egg,” Bailey told Sheridan, according to Seagraves. “But this guy is so tainted that no jury would believe him. He has no credibility.”
On the subject of the 1,500 IDs the MCSO had discovered in its possession, Seagraves described a “prep meeting” the MCSO had on July 17, in advance of a regular visit from members of the monitor team.
The IDs were in the room in a clear plastic bag, Seagraves said. Snow had ordered all such IDs belonging to the plaintiff class (i.e., Latinos) turned over to the monitor and the plaintiffs’ counsel.
At the meeting was MCSO attorney Michele Iafrate. Seagraves said there was a discussion of what to do should the monitor ask if more improperly-handed IDs had been located.
Seagraves said Iafrate told MCSO officials that they were to say, “`no’ to the monitor,” while Iafrate researched whether the 1,500 IDs fell under Snow’s order.
During the subsequent meeting with the monitor, Seagraves said, MCSO representatives in fact were asked if any other IDs had been found.
Captain Bailey answered, “No,” Seagraves said.
The monitor found out about the IDs through another MCSO employee. Eventually this was brought to the attention of Judge Snow, who ordered the 1,500 IDs seized by the U.S. Marshals Service.
During Thursday’s hearing, Snow held two or three sidebar conferences with all the lawyers in the case, an amusing sight, with 15 of them crowding around one side of the judge’s desk at a time.
As a result, Snow announced that part of Seagraves’ testimony would be given under seal, clearing the courtroom for about an hour.
When the courtroom was reopened, Snow said he would consider the matter and make a decision as to whether it should remain under seal.
The rest of Seagraves’ testimony mainly centered on the MCSO’s IA process, and possible remedies for its flaws.
Interestingly, Arpaio, during his brief time on the stand, signaled that he would be willing to accept an expansion of the monitor’s power over the IA process.
“Anything is possible when you run a large organization,” Arpaio said.
Young asked Arpaio about his past opposition to having a monitor. At one point, Snow interrupted the give and take.
Snow stated that if he thought the monitor needed to be more involved in the outcome of Melendres-related IAs, he would order it done.
“I don’t care whether the sheriff likes it or not,” he said.
So, what was the testimony under seal?
My guess is that it has to do with the criminal investigation into detective Mackiewicz regarding allegations of his spiking his overtime pay while in Seattle and Montgomery’s building him a computer.
Court documents indicate that at least part of the Mackiewicz investigation is being handled by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
According to a transcript of court proceedings, Iafrate signaled the AAG’s participation at a July 31 hearing before Snow, where she stated that the AAG was involved in a “criminal prosecution” of the matter.
On Iafrate’s request, Snow sealed that hearing because Iafrate was concerned that if the information was made public, it would compromise the investigation.
Snow later unsealed this hearing and another one in August after MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen confirmed to me that Mackiewicz was under criminal investigation, and I quoted her comments in my weekly column.
Mackiewicz is on paid administrative leave and vigorously has denied any impropriety.
Seagraves had much to say about Mackiewicz in the 339-page deposition that the defense made public as part of the court record, and in the past, the court sealed portions of a previous hearing.
Considering that the defense mysteriously published all of Seagraves deposition, rather than just the portions necessary for its arguments, I don’t see how the defense can put the genie back in the bottle now.
Seagraves was released as a witness at day’s end, though the plaintiffs retain the right to recall her.
Friday, Arpaio is back on the stand, likely for all day, beginning at 9 a.m.
For live Tweets during breaks in the contempt hearings, follow @StephenLemons or search #ArpaioContempt on Twitter.
Posted with permission from Phoenix New Times.