A federal judge shot down the Department of Justice’s request to seal all of the evidence against Rep. Ben Arredondo, who pleaded not guilty today to federal charges stemming from an FBI sting.
U.S. Magistrate Lawrence Anderson said federal prosecutors need to provide him with more information than what is contained in a May 23 motion seeking to keep the evidence secret to protect other ongoing investigations.
“There’s no discussion other than blanket referrals and generalizations,” Anderson said, referring to the written motion.
Arredondo, a Tempe Democrat, was indicted May 16 on allegations he took thousands of dollars in game tickets and other perks in exchange for brokering property deals in Tempe. A federal grand jury charged him with bribery, fraud, attempted extortion and false statements.
The indictment alleges Arredondo accepted the tickets and seats to charitable events from FBI agents posing as real estate developers from February 2009 to November 2010.
The judge said the evidence, or discovery, is typically not public, but it is not typically subject to an order of protection either, and he’s not prepared to seal non-confidential information without good reason.
He allowed the parties to file another, more detailed motion.
“I just need enough to cover the bases on this,” Anderson said.
Under the protective order sought by the prosecution and agreed to by the defense, neither side could disclose evidence produced by the government without the other’s permission, including publicly filed documents.
Lee Stein, one of Arredondo’s attorneys, said if they hadn’t agreed to the protective order, then the federal prosecutors would have asked for one anyway without any agreed upon language.
Jean-Jacques Cabou, an attorney who stood by Arredondo’s side during the brief proceeding, told Anderson they wanted him to approve the request because the defense team was eager to start receiving discovery, which wouldn’t begin until the information was sealed.
“I’ve got to do what’s right,” Anderson said.
Anderson set a July 3 trial date and allowed Arredondo, whose charges carry penalties of decades behind bars, to remain free without any bail. He ordered that Arredondo turn in his passport and request permission if he plans to travel outside the continent.
The legislator made no statements throughout the arraignment except to affirm that he understood what the judge was telling him.
During the campaign for his legislative seat, the indictment alleges Arredondo, a former Tempe councilman, told the agents he would continue to help them as a state representative.
“You guys will ask, you guys will have,” he is quoted in the indictment as saying. “We’ll be just fine because not only we’re covered by the city, we’re covered now at the state.”
Stein said after the proceeding that a “heavy-handed government agency” spent three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a relatively minor crime involving a few seats at charitable events and a few sports tickets.
“Ben Arredondo is not for sale, he’s not on the gravy train,” Stein said. “You’re not going to see briefcases of cash.”