December 11, 2009 9:22 AM
AMANDA LEE MYERS
PHOENIX (AP) — The Maricopa County Sheriff's office on Thursday searched the Phoenix headquarters of the statewide nonprofit Chicanos por la Causa in connection with its investigation of a local politician.
The search stems from the criminal indictment earlier this week against Maricopa County supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
Wilcox is accused of voting on contracts involving Chicanos por la Causa, which had given her loans for her downtown Phoenix restaurant, and never filing conflict-of-interest statements. She is charged with 36 counts, including conflict of interest, perjury and forgery.
Wilcox, who is heavily involved in the Hispanic community, did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Chicanos por la Causa is an affiliate of the National Council of La Raza and provides social and educational services for the local community. The group's spokeswoman, Amanda Roberson, said it lent Wilcox's Mexican restaurant, El Portal, $177,500 between November 2000 and October 2008. She said the loans were made in accordance with "strict underwriting guidelines" and that Wilcox did not receive any special treatment.
Hispanic community activist Salvador Reza, who videotaped part of the sheriff's office search of Chicanos por la Causa, said Arpaio has "gone totally crazy" and clearly has a personal vendetta against Wilcox.
"It's not fighting crime, it's a media show," he said. "Chicanos por la Causa is a public entity, so all their records are open to public. He didn't have to go through what he did."
Arpaio dismissed critics who say he and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas have any vendettas.
"I think if a grand jury comes back with a true bill, I don't know why they say it's a vendetta," Arpaio said. "We're just doing a job we took an oath of office to do."
Thomas also denied having a vendetta at a news conference Tuesday, adding: "Nobody is above the law in this county."
The indictments of Wilcox and another county supervisor, Don Stapley, intensified a nasty dispute between county officials and Thomas and Arpaio, the county's top two law enforcement officials.
Stapley is accused of getting mortgage loans under fraudulent pretenses and of misusing campaign funds he raised to run for president of a national association of county officials. Prosecutors say Stapley spent some of the money on hair implants, tickets to Broadway plays, massages and vacations.
Thomas and Arpaio sought an earlier indictment against Stapley, alleging omissions and misstatements on his financial disclosure documents. Those charges were dismissed after it was discovered that the county never properly put in place rules on financial disclosure. Prosecutors won a second indictment against Stapley last week, charging him with 27 criminal counts, including fraudulent schemes, theft and perjury.
Stapley attorney Paul Charlton said Tuesday that his client will plead not guilty to the charges and that the second indictment is a reflection of a "fruitful imagination."
Wilcox, a Democrat serving her fifth four-year term as a supervisor, was shot in the buttocks in 1997 as she left the Board of Supervisors auditorium after a meeting.
Larry Naman told reporters he shot her because she supported a controversial tax to help pay for a baseball stadium for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Arpaio describes himself as the "toughest sheriff in America" and is known for making inmates wear pink underwear, eat green bologna and work on chain gangs. More recently, his illegal-immigration sweeps in some heavily Latino areas of metro Phoenix have led to allegations of racial profiling.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Arpaio's office over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.