The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America took to the witness stand Tuesday and continued his denials that he knew about corruption and mismanagement within his office, saying that he delegated many responsibilities to his former chief deputy.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s testimony came during an appeals hearing over the October firing of an employee, Joel Fox. Fox was fired for allegedly lying about his involvement in a group that gave thousands of dollars for an advertisement attacking the sheriff’s 2008 opponent.
Under questioning by Clarisse McCormick, an attorney for the county who was defending Fox’s firing, Arpaio said he was unaware of the situation and left many management duties to former Chief Deputy David Hendershott.
“I wasn’t involved in those intricacies of that whole situation,” Arpaio said. “I didn’t talk to Joel Fox about any situation because I wanted to separate myself from an independent expenditure.”
He said he delegated many duties to Hendershott because he had confidence in him and that he “very seldom opposed his recommendations” when it came to personnel matters.
Arpaio answered many questions by saying he couldn’t remember the situation or even whether Hendershott or anyone else told him that the Sheriff’s Command Association gave about $100,000 in contributions from top-ranking sheriff’s managers and wealthy businessmen to the Arizona Republican Party.
The party gave some of the money to another group that ran a TV ad attacking Arpaio’s Democratic challenger, Dan Saban, who ended up losing by 13 percentage points. The state Republican Party gave back the money after the group wouldn’t provide its list of donors.
Fox, who handled the Sheriff’s Command Association’s finances, had denied violating campaign finance laws and maintained the group wasn’t a political action committee formed to influence elections. Rather, he said it was an organization that would mount a media campaign to counter criticism of sheriff’s deputies.
County election officials concluded that Fox transformed the group into a political action committee when the group gave money to the Republican Party.
The county had fined Fox $315,000 for campaign finance violations, but that penalty was struck down by an administrative law judge who said county officials should have given Fox longer to provide records.
Fox also was fired for violations of state campaign-finance laws by not classifying the group as a political-action committee and filing the appropriate documents.
State authorities conducted a criminal investigation of the group, but have never filed charges.
Arpaio previously gave testimony during a separate October hearing over failed corruption investigations led by his office and one of his allies, saying that he had very little to do with them and that he delegates many responsibilities.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has said that his office’s investigation of Arpaio’s office found no evidence that Arpaio knew what was going on among his command staff and placed much of the blame on Hendershott.
A federal grand jury also is investigating Arpaio over abuse-of-power allegations.
Lawyers pressing the discipline case say that officials, judges and attorneys who crossed Arpaio and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in political disputes were often targeted for investigations and, in some cases, were criminally charged.
Arpaio and Thomas contend they were trying to root out corruption in county government, while county officials say the investigations were baseless.
A three-person panel is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether Thomas should face punishments that include an informal reprimand, censure, suspension or disbarment.