Report: FBI Wanted to Charge Arpaio

Image: Report: FBI Wanted to Charge Arpaio

Friday, 07 Mar 2014 07:24 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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FBI agents investigating Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and their top deputies on abuse-of-power allegations believed they had sufficient evidence to charge some of the probe’s targets, The Arizona Republic reported.

Federal prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue the case, citing "a lack of evidence or an insurmountable burden of proof," the newspaper said.

Arpaio – known nationally for his tough stances such as requiring inmates to wear pink underwear, reinstituting chain gangs and setting up "Tent City," an extension of the county jail that Arpaio called a "concentration camp" – has accused U.S. officials of engaging in a politically motivated witch hunt.

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The three-year investigation concluded in August 2012, when the U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona announced there would be no indictments. The investigation’s targets were scrutinized for civil-rights violations, misuse of public money and perjury, according to the paper.

Within days, the Republic submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the prosecutor reports. This week, the Department of Justice delivered 93 pages, two-thirds of them blacked out completely, citing privacy rights, according to the newspaper.

Other pages were partially blacked out, removing information about the investigative targets, their accusers, the alleged crimes, witness statements and supporting evidence, the Republic said.

Despite the dearth of legible information, the Republic concluded that "the report makes clear that FBI agents believed evidence was strong enough to prosecute some of those under investigation."

"Due to redactions, it is impossible to ascertain from the FBI records how many county law-enforcement officials were referred for criminal charges, who they were, or what conduct was considered unlawful," the Republic said.

Arpaio couldn’t be reached for comment, according to the newspaper, but after the 2012 announcement that no charges would be filed, he said: "If I did something wrong, there would be indictments floating all over the place."

The FBI began the investigation in 2008 after receiving complaints from former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and other local officials about Arpaio, Thomas and their subordinates abusing their power. The probe later expanded to include possible state crimes. At the time, Arpaio and Thomas were embroiled in a "vitriolic political war" with the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and county judges.

Arpaio and Thomas have maintained they were rooting out public corruption when in 2006 they formed the Maricopa Anti-Corruption Effort, a unit of sheriff's deputies and county prosecutors to investigate government officials suspected of violating the public trust. The unit has since disbanded.

The county supervisor was charged with conflict of interest and a judge was accused of bribery, though both of those cases were later dismissed.

As of January, according to the Republic, taxpayers had footed "at least" $44.4 million for the legal battles.

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