Joe Arpaio Unmasked: Hired Secret Investigator to Dig Dirt on Federal Judge Family

It seemed fitting somehow that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s unmasking this week came on the anniversary of Senate Bill 1070.

On the day that marks a largely irrelevant law that was mostly struck down as unconstitutional, Arpaio took his own giant step toward irrelevance on Thursday.

arpaioAmerica’s scariest sheriff admitted that he’d hired an investigator to investigate the Department of Justice, which at the time was investigating him and his top deputies for abuse of power. And he admitted that his attorney hired an investigator to investigate the wife of the federal judge who nailed the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for engaging in widespread racial profiling of Latino drivers.

The judge who is now considering whether to refer Arpaio to prosecutors for criminal contempt charges.

Generally speaking, it’s not nice to try to intimidate federal authorities. But then again, intimidation has been the name of Arpaio’s sleazy game for years.

Just ask Dan Saban, who ran against Arpaio in 2004 and found himself the subject of a rape investigation. Arpaio opened a criminal investigation in a 30-year-old allegation that Saban, then 17, had raped his adoptive mother. Saban claimed he was the victim. Regardless, the statute of limitations had run out but not the statute of intimidation. Saban lost the election. He sued for defamation and lost but it cost us well over $800,000 to defend Arpaio.

Just ask former Maricopa County Schools Superintendent Sandra Dowling, whose home was invaded in 2006 by the sheriff’s SWAT team, in search of evidence that she’d been stealing, basically, from homeless children. She was later convicted of a misdemeanor, for giving her daughter a summer job. That one cost us $250,000.

Just ask Phoenix New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, arrested in 2007 in the dead of night after writing a piece critical of Arpaio’s sidekick, then-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. That one cost us $3.75 million.

Just ask former Maricopa County Supervisors Mary Rose Wilcox, former Supervisor Don Stapley, former Superior Court Judges Gary Donahoe, Ken Fields, Barbara Mundell and Anna Baca, and a collection of county employees. Arpaio and Thomas in 2008 and 2009 launched a series of corruption investigations, indicting Wilcox, Stapley and Donahoe and accusing the others of racketeering. All charges/accusations were dismissed in 2010. Cost to taxpayers; $7.5 million.

On Thursday, Apaio admitted that his attorney hired a private detective to investigate the wife of U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow, who held this week’s civil contempt hearing. This, after a tipster said she’d told him that her husband “wanted to do everything to make sure I’m not elected.”

Arpaio also admitted hiring an unreliable informant to investigate some vague tip that the Department of Justice was spying on his e-mails and the e-mails of judges. This, as the FBI was conducting an abuse-of-power investigation into Team Arpaio’s tactics.

As alarming as it is to have a sheriff who runs around using his power to get back at his enemies, it’s also alarming to have one who apparently doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in the office he runs.

Or so he suggested during Thursday’s testimony.

Arpaio testified that he didn’t really understand Snow’s injunction – the one ordering him to stop his immigration patrols in 2011.

“I’ve been a top federal official for 22 years. I have a deep respect for the courts, federal courts and federal judges,” he told the judge. “I didn’t know all the facts of this court order, and it really hurts me that after 55 years… to be in this position. So I want to apologize to the judge that I should have known more. This court order slipped through the cracks.”

The court order slipped through the cracks? For 18 months?

Arpaio is either lying or he’s admitting that at at 82, he’s no longer able to do the job.

Either way, he should resign.

Arpaio’s day is done. His America’s-toughest-sheriff, I’m-the-only-one-enforcing-immigration-laws schtick long ago went sour and the people of Arizona – the ones outside the Joe Choir – now have seen at exactly who and what Arpaio is.

A bully with a badge.