Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Investigation May Have Aimed To Discredit Judge

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015 - 6:14pm
Updated: Thursday, January 14, 2016 - 10:14am
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(Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP via NPR)
Sheriff Joe Arpaio

A federal judge who ruled against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a racial profiling case announced on Thursday there is new evidence the sheriff’s office may have launched a covert investigation to try to discredit the judge himself. 

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow said documents he reviewed suggest the sheriff’s office hired a paid confidential informant to expose an alleged conspiracy between the judge and the U.S. Department of Justice to collude against Arpaio. The DOJ is suing the sheriff’s office in a separate civil rights lawsuit.

This revelation comes as Snow is in the midst of contempt of court proceedings against the sheriff for repeatedly violating court orders in the racial profiling case. The sheriff’s investigation into Snow could impact what remedies the judge will order in the civil contempt case and whether Snow will refer the case to a prosecutor to pursue criminal contempt charges against Arpaio.

During the first round of contempt of court hearings in April, Snow questioned Arpaio directly about a Phoenix New Times article from June 2014 that alleged the sheriff had hired a confidential informant with a colorful past in Seattle to investigate collusion between Snow and the DOJ.

On the stand, Arpaio denied the judge was the target of the investigation but did confirm he had hired the confidential informant, Dennis Montgomery. He also acknowledged he had sent a detective, a sergeant and a posse member to Seattle as well.

Arpaio initially said the investigation “had to do with computer tampering and also bank fraud, that kind of thing.”

The next day, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan suggested Montgomery was mostly investigating Central Intelligence Agency hacking into bank records using data he had allegedly taken from the CIA.

Both Arpaio and Sheridan told the judge they had doubts about Montgomery’s credibility.

Montgomery has a history working with federal agencies as an outside contractor and now calls himself a CIA and National Security Agency whistleblower. He also has been the subject of high-profile media accounts alleging that he conned the federal government into buying bogus counter-terrorism technology he had created. Montgomery has denied those allegations.

Snow ordered all of the documents from the investigation Montgomery worked on to be turned over to the court.

On Thursday, Snow announced in a status conference that he had reviewed about 50 of the documents from the so-called “Seattle investigation” with Montgomery and found them concerning.

“The documents seem to reveal the Seattle operatives attempted to construct an alleged conspiracy,” Snow said in court.

He said according to the documents, the alleged conspiracy participants were Snow himself, one of his former court clerks, DOJ employees including former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and former MCSO executive chief Brian Sands.

Snow said the purpose was apparently to covertly investigate MCSO and deprive the sheriff due process in his court cases. He said Montgomery purported he could recreate fragments of emails between the parties and recover records of phone calls.

“I have looked at the documents closely and I think there are a great deal of problems,” Snow said.

Snow said even if Arpaio and Sheridan believe the documents from Montgomery’s investigation are not credible, their “very existence causes concern.”

According to Snow, the sheriff’s office hired Montgomery in the fall of 2013. In October 2013, Snow issued a key order in the racial-profiling case detailing all of the reforms the sheriff’s office must institute to prevent profiling.

Snow told the courtroom he wondered why at the time the sheriff’s office should have been investing resources in complying with the court’s order, instead they were funding a confidential informant in Seattle “attempting to construct some bogus conspiracy theory to discredit this court.”

Snow said he planned to ask the sheriff to address that question at the next round of contempt hearings that begins on June 16.

In the meantime, Snow said that he would assign his monitoring team to investigate the sheriff’s investigation using Montgomery.

Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in the case, would not comment on any of Montgomery’s documents because they are subject to a protective order. But she said what the judge raised in court was directly related to the contempt of court case.

“These are issues that go centrally to whether Sheriff Arpaio and other top commanders at MCSO were truly committed to complying with the court’s orders in this case, or whether they were more interested in trying to evade the court’s orders,” Wang said.

If Snow’s theory about what Montgomery was working on was correct, it raises new questions about testimony that Arpaio and Sheridan gave under oath about Montgomery’s work.

In April, Snow asked Sheridan, “Did you ever hear the sheriff describe [Montgomery’s] work as an investigation of a conspiracy or something of that nature between the Department of Justice and me?”

Sheridan answered, “No, sir.”

The judge asked, “Did you ever hear him describe it as an investigation of me to anyone at the MCSO?”

Again Sheridan answered, “No, sir.”

Sheridan went on to say that he personally instructed the sheriff’s deputies involved “not to investigate any information involving Judge Snow.”

When Snow questioned Arpaio in April, the sheriff also denied Snow was the topic of the investigation.

Snow asked Arpaio a series of questions about the MCSO personnel he had assigned to work with Montgomery.

He asked, “Were they trying to determine whether the Department of Justice had contacted me in any way?”

“I’m not sure about that,” Arpaio responded.

Snow asked “And would Mr. Montgomery have been involved in assisting them to determine whether the Department of Justice had contacted me in any way?”

“No,” said Arpaio. “I believe there was information about many judges being infiltrated or wiretaps and that type of thing. That’s what the informer said that right now we don’t have much  confidence in.”

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