Records Show FBI Urged Public Officials to Be Charged in Abuse-of-Power Probe

March 7, 2014

Federal investigators concluded there was sufficient evidence to bring charges against public officials during their years-long abuse-of-power investigation targeting Maricopa County law-enforcement agencies, according to heavily redacted records obtained by The Arizona Republic.

The records indicate that FBI agents found probable cause to recommend felony counts of obstructing criminal investigations of prosecutions, theft by threats, tampering with witnesses, perjury and theft by extortion.

Ultimately, federal prosecutors in August 2012 closed the three-year FBI criminal investigation and grand-jury probe into Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and their top deputies, saying there would be no indictments due to a lack of evidence or an insurmountable burden of proof.

Days later, The Republic submitted requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act, asking for all investigative records related to the probe. The newspaper later amended the scope of its request to seek prosecutorial reports after a federal official said it would take years for the U.S. Department of Justice to comply with the initial request.

This week — 17 months after The Republic’s September 2012 requests — the U.S. Department of Justice produced 93 pages of records dating as far back as 2008. Federal officials obscured two-thirds of the pages nearly in their entirety, citing privacy rights and the protection of law-enforcement methods. The names of investigative targets, their accusers and FBI agents were redacted, along with details of the alleged crimes, witness statements and supporting evidence.

Nevertheless, the abuse-of-authority probe at least partially targeted the Maricopa Anti-Corruption Effort, a unit of sheriff’s deputies and county prosecutors who in 2006 were assigned by Arpaio and Thomas to investigate government officials suspected of violating the public trust. That unit was eventually disbanded.

The report makes clear that FBI agents believed evidence was strong enough to prosecute some of those under investigation.

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