Sunday, September 27, 2015

Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Dirty Laundry Aired in Civil Contempt Hearing

PHOENIX (CN) - Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office used federal money to pay a private eye to investigate whether the federal government was tampering with computers, a sheriff's aide testified Friday in Arpaio's civil contempt hearing.

     Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan told the court that he learned in the investigation, led by confidential informant Dennis Montgomery, that the grant money was used to pay Montgomery after he presented evidence that the federal government illegally accessed bank records of about 150,000 residents of Maricopa County.
     The money was repaid.
     "We were working with the Arizona attorney general and working with their advice - blessing, I guess, if you want to call it that - as a law enforcement agency to figure out what information we had, what crimes we had, what crimes we were eventually going to deal with," Sheridan testified.
     Montgomery gained notoriety in 2010 when Playboy reported he had duped the federal government into awarding him millions of dollars in contracts for computer software to catch terrorists. The software, which was supposed to decode terrorist messages hidden in broadcasts on Al Jazeera, was fake.
     "He has some credible information," Sheridan said. "As a matter of fact, we sent a team of detectives out to verify those bank account records, and we were able to verify that some of that information was accurate; some of it was not."
     Montgomery told Arpaio's officials there was a potential conspiracy between the Department of Justice and U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow, who is overseeing civil contempt charges against Sheridan, Arpaio, and three other current and former Arpaio aides. He claimed the federal government wiretapped Sheridan's and Arpaio's cellphones, and that there was evidence of a phone call from the Justice Department to Snow.
     Sheridan told the half-full courtroom that he didn't want anything to do with investigating Judge Snow.
     "I was concerned with prior activities of the sheriff's office concerning members of the court, our reputation, and concerning investigations of members of the court in years past," Sheridan said. "I was the chief deputy and I did not want to be associated with anything in that shape and form."
     Arpaio and then-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in 2009 accused 14 defendants of violating federal anti-racketeering law.
     They claimed that Maricopa County judges, officials and administrators conspired to stop the prosecution of an indicted member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. The complaint was voluntarily dismissed by Arpaio and Thomas, who soon resigned.
     Sheridan said it took him four years to repair the relationship with the Board of Supervisors, and recalled a contentious confrontation he had with a supervisor's staff member.
     "She said, 'What in the eff are you doing here? We don't want you here," he testified. "I got spittle in my face."
     Montgomery was paid about $250,000 for his work, which did not end until April this year.
     The sheriff's office approved two trips to Seattle and one to San Diego for the investigation. On one trip it approved rental of a four-bedroom house in Seattle for 44 nights, with one bedroom reserved for storage of hard drives with information Montgomery supposedly obtained from the CIA.
     Sheridan also testified about the sheriff's office recent withholding of 1,459 identifications from a court-appointed monitor in the 2007 racial profiling class action.
     It was unclear at the time whether the identification - delivered to the agency by a sergeant - needed to be disclosed, Sheridan said.
     "We had just completed the Charley Armendariz investigation. ... This discovery of 1,500 IDs could lead to something of a similar size," he testified. "I wanted to make sure there was an ongoing investigation into why this happened."
     Despite Sheridan's explanation, he suspended an Internal Affairs investigation of the sergeant's actions.
     "I miscommunicated," he said, adding that he was "waiting for some direction from my counsel."
     After the presence of the IDs was finally disclosed to the court-appointed monitor, Snow ordered U.S. marshals in June to pick up the items from the sheriff's office. About 30 percent of the IDs belonged to people with Hispanic surnames, Sheridan said.
     The hearing will on resume Tuesday.

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