A Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy avoided a six-figure fine earlier this year for violating state campaign finance law, but he and others involved in the imbroglio may be facing criminal charges for their actions.
Maricopa County Elections Department Director Karen Osborne delivered a letter to County Attorney Andrew Thomas today that says elections officials believe MCSO Capt. Joel Fox and others who contributed to SCA, the political committee he headed, violated a pair of election laws.
For months, Fox was the only known member of SCA. The group came to light nearly a year ago, when it was listed on an Arizona Republican Party campaign finance report as having given the party $105,000 that August and September. It was identified only as an “unincorporated association of individuals” by the party.
The Arizona Democratic Party filed a complaint with state and county elections officials, alleging the money was illegally contributed and earmarked for use in a campaign against the Democratic challenger to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The Republican Party denied the allegations against it and returned the money after it could not get Fox to turn over his contributors. That happened after the Democratic complaint was filed.
The county investigated the case and determined SCA, which reportedly stood for Sheriff’s Command Association, failed to register as a political committee. It ordered Fox to register the group and disclose who contributed to the cause.
Fox resisted for nearly eight months, but relented in the face of a $315,000 civil fine and turned over the identities of SCA’s benefactors. Among them were several prominent businessmen, including developer and Phoenix Coyotes owner Steve Ellman, who gave Fox $25,000.
The group also received $12,150 from Fox and six other top Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office employees through direct deposits into SCA’s account.
In the latest development, Osborne says a criminal investigation is warranted because “a number of individuals and entities have acted individually and in concert to violate” campaign finance laws.
One law makes it illegal to make a political contribution in the name of another person, or for a person to knowingly permit his name be used for a contribution he isn’t making. It also prohibits a committee from knowingly accepting a contribution that is fraudulently made in the name of another person.
Violating that law is a class 6 felony, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
The other statute outlaws making or accepting corporate political contributions. Violating the law is a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to four months in jail.
Several of the large donations were made from corporate accounts: $25,000 attributed to Tom Gimple was made on a check from WTG Investments, one of his businesses; $10,000 from Jimmy John’s CEO James Liautaud was drawn off an account for Liautaud Development Group; and $1,500 came from Transportation Management Corporation.