Republic: [Dropping the charges] was not vindication [of Stapley] Columnist E.J. Montini: Prosecutor ought to pursue charges vs. Stapley
When the Arizona Republic and its most liberal columnist, E.J. Montini, who usually writes columns attacking Sheriff Arpaio, agree with us that someone is corrupt, then there is no doubt something is really, really wrong. Even the liberals at the Republic cannot sit back and ignore all the evidence piled up against Stapley. The Republic and Montini both wrote columns yesterday expressing disappointment that the criminal charges against County Supervisor Don Stapley were dismissed by Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores. Flores alleges that she had to drop the charges because the prosecution was botched, but Montini is having nothing of it. Why doesn’t Flores fix the problems and prosecute him herself? It’s pretty obvious to everyone observing that Stapley’s powerful connections are helping him skate.
This is not how the justice system is supposed to work, unless you live in Arizona.
Here, it’s normal.
It must be, because no one seems to be complaining.
The prosecutor looking into accusations against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley says that he is probably a criminal but that she’s not going to prosecute him.
Stapley then declared his “long nightmare is over,” said he is “relieved and grateful” and, oh yeah, wants the county (that’s us) to give him $10 million.
Why not? It’s Arizona.
For more than two years, Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores has been reviewing an investigation of Stapley by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (under former head Andrew Thomas).
Stapley is suing the county for investigations he described this week as “abusive, indefensible, illegal attacks.”
In her review of the case, Flores said, among other things, “We cannot avoid the fact there have been significant sustained and pending findings of unprofessional and unethical conduct by major players.”
At the same time, however, Flores said, “We believe Stapley committed seven felony offenses for which we have sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution.”
The allegations involve false swearing on financial-disclosure documents. Flores won’t pursue them because “the way in which the investigation and prosecution of Stapley progressed was fundamentally wrong, and to pursue further criminal actions against Stapley would be a miscarriage of justice.”
Then again, isn’t letting someone who’s suspected of crimes walk away a miscarriage of justice?
Particularly because doing so may help that suspect collect millions from a lawsuit?
“We are mindful this decision allows a suspect whom we believe to be guilty to go unprosecuted,” Flores wrote in explaining her decision.
Exactly. And what kind of message does that send?
In addition to the charges of false swearing against Stapley, Flores commented on the roughly $140,000 in (unregulated) campaign funds Stapley collected to win an uncontested, volunteer position with the non-profit National Association of Counties.
Reports indicate at least $86,000 was spent on personal items, including a fabulous family trip to Hawaii, and that some of the donors benefited from votes Stapley cast as a supervisor.
According to an article last year by The Arizona Republic’s JJ Hensley and Craig Harris, five donors who contributed $35,000 later did business with the county, while two others did business with the county and then contributed a total of $7,000.
One example included a $5,000 donation to Stapley from the Arizona Rock Products Association.
Within a month, Stapley moved to award a $1 million county contract for some of the association’s members who won a competitive bid.
Of that behavior, Flores said, “The pure depth, duration and nature of Stapley’s ‘gift’-related conduct is significantly of a more sinister nature than the reported conduct of elected officials involved in the Fiesta Bowl matter.”
But still no prosecution?
Flores said of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office, “The vast record is littered with behavior so egregious that a reasonable person’s sense of fairness, honesty and integrity would be offended.”
I believe it would. I also believe that a jury of reasonable people would understand that the bad behavior of investigators didn’t cause (and shouldn’t excuse) the bad behavior of a defendant.
A person might even argue that suggesting jurors couldn’t separate the “egregious” actions of investigators from those of a criminal defendant would, to borrow a phrase, offend “a reasonable person’s sense of fairness, honesty and integrity.”
By opting to drop all charges against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley, Gila County Prosecutor Daisy Flores effectively has ended the legal case against the supervisor.
Stapley is correct that his “long nightmare is over.” Breathe easy at last, Mr. Supervisor.
But as Flores made abundantly clear, Stapley cannot claim anything remotely like “innocence.”
The only innocents in this long-running drama are the county taxpayers Stapley is suing for $10 million in damages.
As for the other seven charges, Flores concluded they had merit – in at least four of the felony charges, abundant merit.
Despite concluding in her review that “we believe Stapley committed seven felony offenses for which we have sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution,” Flores found that, alas, “sometimes, the guilty are permitted to go free because of the way in which an investigation or prosecution was conducted.”
The charges against Stapley that Flores believed had merit involved a fund the supervisor created in 2004 to run for the executive committee of the National Association of Counties. Getting elected as an officer of the association would require no real campaigning. Stapley ran unopposed for an unpaid, volunteer position with a non-profit organization.
Yet, over four years, he collected nearly $140,000 for his “campaign” fund, a fund that would pay for furniture, a sound and video system, a $12,042 trip to Hawaii and, reportedly, hair transplants, among many other personal expenditures.
Relating the gambit to a more recent scandal involving dubious gifts and campaign contributions – the Fiesta Bowl mess – Flores concluded what Stapley did was far more “sinister”:
“While making no comment on the Fiesta Bowl matter itself,” Flores said, “the pure depth, duration and nature of Stapley’s ‘gift’ related conduct is significantly of a more sinister nature than the reported conduct of elected officials involved in the Fiesta Bowl matter.”
More disturbing was the list of individuals and organizations that responded to Stapley’s solicitation letters with contributions. Several of those contributors would benefit from votes Stapley cast as a supervisor. As Flores concluded, Stapley had found what he believed was an “end run around campaign-finance laws” designed to prevent just this sort of influence-peddling.
“It is absolutely inconceivable that Stapley would think that he had no duty to disclose tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations as gifts on his financial-disclosure statements,” she wrote.
Even by her decision to dismiss certain charges, such as the accusations of theft, Flores made it clear that Stapley’s behavior left the prosecutor feeling soiled: “Although Stapley’s personal use of the money was immoral and unbecoming of an elected Arizona public official, it was not illegal.” This is what Stapley considers vindication?
Along with numerous other county officials, Supervisor Stapley is pursuing a lawsuit against Maricopa County taxpayers, claiming he was “damaged significantly” by people those taxpayers put into office.
As Flores made abundantly clear, the case against Stapley went too far. But that is a far cry from saying he was innocent. And it certainly shouldn’t cause him to reap a big payday from taxpayers.
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