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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Developers Accuse Arpaio|of Abuse of Office

PHOENIX (CN) - Sheriff Joe Arpaio defamed a family of real estate developers and illegally searched their office, abusing his power "to further political purposes of Arpaio," the Wolfswinkel family claims in Federal Court.

The family claims Arpaio and the Maricopa County Attorney falsely, and publicly, accused them of trying to influence Supervisor Don Stapley's vote on a land deal, though Stapley recused himself from voting and the Board of Supervisors approved it 8-0.

Stapley's Arroyo Pacific Investments bought land from developer Conley Wolfswinkel and his commercial development group, W Holdings, but Stapley "recused himself, left the meeting, and took no part in the discussion, consideration, or vote upon the Harquahala application," according to the complaint.

Nonetheless, Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas "made the policy decision to fabricate a claim of misconduct in W Holdings' dealings with Stapley, in order to garner media coverage that would assist in their political war against Stapley and board," the complaint states.

It adds: "On January 22, 2009, an armed party of ten or more deputies and other investigators from the Sheriff's Office (including [defendant Sheriff's Dets. Jonathan] Halverson and [Patrick] Roshetko) descended upon the offices of W Holdings to execute an invalid search warrant that Halverson and Roshetko had obtained from a local magistrate.

"The warrant falsely asserted that there was probable cause to believe that the Wolfswinkels, through W Holdings' dealings with Arroyo, had committed crimes of bribery and fraudulent schemes. The affidavit in support of the search warrant was utterly devoid of facts which would support a finding of such probable cause. ...

"Obtaining and executing the search warrant was in furtherance of the policies of Arpaio and Thomas to generate media coverage damaging to Stapley and the Board, as part of their ongoing political battles. ...

"Arpaio and Thomas released copies of the search warrant and affidavit to members of the news media, and Arpaio issued a public statement asserting that the warrant was executed as part of 'a new investigation of a bribery case involving Board of Supervisor member Don Stapley and businessman Conley Wolfswinkel.'

"Ostensibly for the purposes of identifying them, the search warrant and affidavit set forth the birth dates and Social Security numbers of [plaintiffs] Conley, Brandon, and

Ashton [Wolfswinkel]. The copies of those documents that Arpaio and Thomas released to the media did not have the Wolfswinkels' birth dates and Social Security numbers redacted, and that personal information was widely displayed in the ensuing news coverage."

The Wolfswinkels say the publicity from the bogus raid harmed W Holdings' attempts to "restructure and otherwise resolve hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate loans, under circumstances in which the trust and confidence of lenders, investors, and other partners was crucial."

The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for civil rights and constitutional violations.

They add: "It has been the policy, practice, and custom of the Sheriff's Office under

Arpaio to use and misuse the law enforcement powers of that office to further political purposes of Arpaio.

"It was the policy, practice, and custom of the County Attorney's Office under Thomas to use and misuse the criminal prosecution, civil litigation, and investigative powers of that office to further the political purposes of Arpaio and Thomas.

"Arpaio and Thomas were aided, assisted, and abetted in the execution of such policies, practices, and customs by [defendant David] Hendershott in his role as Deputy Chief of the Sheriff's Office and by [defendant Lisa] Aubuchon in her role as Deputy County Attorney.

"The disputes between Arpaio and Thomas on the one hand and the Board on the other resulted in a number of politically motivated civil lawsuits, criminal prosecutions, and investigations by the Sheriff's Office and the County Attorney's Office.

"These events generated significant publicity, which Arpaio and Thomas sought

to influence and marshal to their political advantage."

The plaintiffs are represented by Stephen Neal with Cooley LLP of Palo Alto, Calif. and Lawrence Wright of Mesa, Ariz.

Arpaio, who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," has been sued 191 times in the past 3 years, according to the Courthouse News database, often for allegations of civil rights abuses.

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