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Investigators raid flood district office in probe of open meetings violation

Flood Control Maricopa CountyThe Arizona Attorney General is investigating allegations the Maricopa County Flood Control District altered public documents to cover up an open meetings law violation and get more fees from private businesses, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Investigators raided the district’s office June 4, looking for documents and metadata – embedded electronic trails that show the date, time and manner a document was created – related to a Glendale gravel mining company. The company, ABC Rock and Sand Company, alleges in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix that the district retaliated against it after the company’s president criticized new rules for permitting in 2011.

The warrant alleges the district held a public meeting Jan. 25, 2012, to discuss the company without legal public notice, and simultaneously scheduled an inspection with the company’s lawyer so no one from the company would show up at the public meeting.

At that time, the company was appealing a $169,000 fine and an order to cease business operations for not having a permit.  The federal lawsuit was dismissed, but another legal challenge is pending before the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The company made a public records request for the Jan. 25, 2012, hearing agenda and received a copy signifying it was posed Jan. 17, 2012. The agenda never appeared on the Flood Control District website, so the company asked for an electronic copy to inspect the metadata, but the district didn’t comply with the request, the warrant states.

Investigator Frank Griffitts wrote that the metadata will show whether the agenda was falsely created.

“The complainant alleges that this document was published after the fact with the sole purpose of complying with the request for public records and was not in fact published prior to the actual meeting,” Griffitts wrote.

Tampering with a public record is a low-level felony.

Griffitts wrote that the company also discovered through its own investigation the district altered approved permits in order to get more fees from businesses seeking permits.

A retired inspector said he knew of cases in which his signature was removed from documents he approved, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also states that the district’s chief engineer, Tim Phillips, was fired in May in connection with the pending Attorney General’s Office investigation and that records were being hidden or destroyed.

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