Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona
(The Arizona Republic) -- The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spent nearly $10,000 to send a deputy to Hawaii to investigate documents related to President Barack Obama's residency status, a cost that included more than $3,500 in overtime payments.
The Board of Supervisors, in a split vote Wednesday, declined to accept private funds to offset the costs, with the Sheriff's Office claiming in the aftermath of a rancorous debate that politics guided the supervisors' decision.
The two supervisors who voted against accepting the funds, Mary Rose Wilcox and Don Stapley, were both the subjects of sheriff's investigations in the past and have filed claims against the Sheriff's Office and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas alleging wrongful prosecution.
"They're letting their politics hurt taxpayers," said Lisa Allen, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office. "We said we weren't using taxpayer money. We're trying to live up to our end of the bargain, and they're trying to keep the sheriff from living up to his end of the deal. That's bad business."
Supervisors Andy Kunasek and Max Wilson voted to accept the private funds, while Supervisor Fulton Brock was absent from the meeting and did not vote.
Allen said the agency will try again to get the board to accept the donations, intended to defray some of the roughly $9,600 in salary, benefits and travel expenses the Sheriff's Office reported for the deputy who accompanied the volunteer posse to Hawaii.
"We need to wait for some common sense to prevail at the board," she said. "Why in the world would they not accept the money?"
Mike Zullo, a retired detective from New Jersey who is conducting the investigation as a member of the sheriff's volunteer posse, said the team spent nine days in Hawaii and needed a sworn deputy's services there to protect the investigators as they went about their work.
Hawaii law prevented the volunteer posse members from carrying any weapons, Zullo said, and the group saw potential threats on the island.
"We were fortunate enough to work with HPD (Honolulu Police Department), where they changed our names in the hotel registry so they couldn't find us," Zullo said.
"That was enemy territory as far as we were concerned."
Zullo would not elaborate on the results of the trip but said there would be a "major revelation" soon.
The proposed $5,000 posse donation was meant to cover the trip's initial costs, with additional donated funds intended to cover any overtime and incidental costs the deputy incurred, Zullo said.
"This wasn't 'Oh, we spent money, we better come with a check,'" Zullo said.
About 30 members of Citizens for a Better Arizona, an anti-Arpaio activist group led by Randy Parraz, attended Wednesday's meeting to protest the agenda item.
Members asked the board not to accept private donations to "backfill" the sheriff's use of public funds.
They argued that the investigation was "well outside the jurisdiction of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the duties and responsibilities of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors."
When Kunasek began explaining to the activists that the supervisors and sheriff are separately elected and that he believes the supervisors should not have a say in what criminal investigations the sheriff pursues, the crowd began heckling.
Parraz pointed and yelled at Kunasek, accusing him of allowing public funds to be used for what Parraz called a waste of taxpayer money.
Stapley and Wilcox, who have filed legal claims against Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas over previous grievances, agreed with Parraz and other activists. Stapley said the board's acceptance of private funds would cover up what he believes was misspending of taxpayer funds for the Obama investigation.
Kunasek, who also was targeted by the Arpaio and Thomas investigations, spoke out against Stapley and Wilcox. He said he was disappointed that his colleagues were stepping out and purporting to "inject themselves into a criminal (investigation), telling the sheriff ... who to investigate, who not to investigate."
"To sit here and, I guess, have the audacity to say what to go after, what not to go after, is bordering on, I think, going into a very dangerous area," Kunasek said.
The supervisors asked county budget staff members to provide them with a report of the sheriff's expenses for the investigation.
Sandi Wilson, deputy county manager and budget director, said her staff will review budgetary items involved in Sheriff's Office travel and staffing expenses by next month.
She said her staff reviews costs after they are incurred and will look at whether it was an "appropriate use of the travel, make sure it fits all of our travel procedures and policies, as well as take a look at the total cost of the trip."
J.J. Hensley and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, The Arizona Republic