AZ Republic and liberal columnist denounce dropping Stapley prosecution

A m e r i c a n  P o s t – G a z e t t e

Distributed by C O M M O N  S E N S E , in Arizona

Friday, May 27, 2011

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.

Here are some excerpts from the articles:

Montini: “Prosecutor ought to pursue charges vs. Stapley”

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.”

Arizona Republic Editorial: “This was not vindication”

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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Comments

  1. This leaves the only solution to vote them all out in 2012. The entire cabal of Maricopa County Supervisors and their political appointees like David Smith are corrupt to the core. The nerve of Stapley to remain in office and then sue the taxpayers for millions! I’m not buying that it was a politically motivated original prosecution against him either. If that was true, what was the motivation? Stapley is a Republican, why would Arpaio and Thomas go after their own? Especially a Republican as powerful and connected as Stapley, who usually has the media in his pocket and has the judges in his pocket since he controls their purse strings? Suspicious how none of these articles ever names the motivation. I am very concerned that the judges will be beholden to Stapley and award him millions of our tax dollars for his lawsuit. Sickening. The man belongs behind bars. Along with Fulton Brock and Mary Rose Wilcox.

  2. Former prosecutor says

    The Gila County Attorney who dropped the charges was under considerable pressure. It’s sad when political elites are able to use their influence to avoid being held accountable. You or I couldn’t get away with the things Stapley did. The tragic part is all the people who have had their reputations ruined and dragged through the mud for just doing their job. The prosecutors who have been smeared daily in the newspaper and by the State Bar and Supervisors simply for standing up to the crimes they came across. I’m glad the Republic finally acknowledged some of this. E.J. Montini isn’t as bad as I used to think he is.

  3. Steve Calabrese says

    I think prosecutors are concerned both because of tainted evidence and the statute of limitations factors. Even if Stapley is guilty of some criminal conduct, getting a conviction would be incredibly difficult due to past misconduct on the part of the Sheriff and former county prosecutors.

    I doubt that Stapley will run again. I think if he does, the court of public opinion will be harsh. There are several quality people able to run for that supervisor seat – LD22 Chairman Jeff Smith being frequently mentioned – and I don’t think Stapley will even make an attempt.

  4. Former Prosecutor says

    Steve, why are you so quick to assume that there was misconduct on the part of prosecutors/Arpaio in prosecuting Stapley? You’re buying the media spin and the Supervisors’ version. I have been a prosecutor for over 20 years, and know this case well. If you a well-connected politician with taxpayer-funded attorneys, you can skate out of anything except murder and child molestation. Stapley used our taxpayer money to hire the top attorneys in town from the biggest law firms, who spent close to a million dollars desperately searching for a way out of the criminal charges. The way he got out of them was despicable. The legislature had passed a law mandating that the Supervisors make public disclosures of their financial conflicts, and because the Supervisors never added the rules as mandated putting that law into detail, Stapley’s attorneys were able to wiggle him out of being held accountable. Very clever. And the judges didn’t have to rule that way, either. You and I would never have gotten away with that, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the top attorneys in town to figure that out. It wasn’t a botched prosecution, it was the top attorneys in town combined with a judiciary that is beholden to the Supervisors because the Supervisors control their purse strings. There is absolutely no reason why Stapley shouldn’t have still been held accountable, AND been held accountable for not implementing the rules, he should have been punished for that too. When Andrew Thomas and his prosecutors are finally absolved of the bar complaint against them over this, will you acknowledge that the prosecutors didn’t do anything wrong?

  5. anonymous says

    One that lives in a glass house should not be throwing rocks, I am referring to Daisy’s az bar file available for public viewing. 10 complaints in three years for serious victims rights issues, all unfounded and baseless? Has anyone bothered to investigate the claims? or were these complaints on Daisy merely unfounded as the complaint went to AZ Bar, then complaint mailed to Daisy, then Daisy calls her high priced law firm paid by the taxpayers, who then write a letter telling az bar to unfound the case, then notice is given to the complainant and Daisy that complaint is unfounded. No one investigated the victim’s rights issues. Please see for yourself, go to az bar and review Daisy’s file. You will need a few hours and be warned, content will surprise and disturb you.

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