Fishy Fundraiser: Wealthy Donors Claim Top Sheriff's Official Pitched for SCA on Alaska Trip
Back in July, Captain Joel Fox, frontman for the SCA fund, wrote the following comment on our blog:
There has never been a "meeting" of SCA donors. How you figure you could get all the people on that list into one room is beyond me. I can hardly get in contact with most of them, let alone get them all together at once.
New Times has now learned that there was, indeed, a meeting. We know -- it's not a big shock. Still, what we heard yesterday from former state Attorney General Grant Woods, the lawyer for the biggest donors, gives us a more thorough picture of the nebulous origins of the SCA than we'd yet had. Nevertheless, we take Woods' information with a grain of salt -- we're sure we still haven't heard the whole truth.
For months, Fox has squirmed on the question of how the biggest donors to the SCA (or Sheriff's Command Association) learned where to send their money, which was later illegally donated to the Republican Party. Fox has said repeatedly that people learned over time about the bank account he set up. From a March blog post:
"The account number got spread around," he said. "I don't know. Somewhere down the road, wealthy people heard about it and donated money. The purpose is, I never intended to use it for Arpaio's campaign."
Woods says the wealthy men claim they first got the idea to the donate to the SCA from the director of the Sheriff's Office, while they were "all on a fishing trip together" in Alaska.
Woods represents Valley developer Steve Ellman "and some of his friends who are business people who contributed," he says. Many of them are posse members, he adds.
Woods said his clients discussed their involvement in recent months with state investigators, who told them "they are not suspects or under investigation or anything." When asked by the investigators when they first heard of the SCA, "my guys all said the exact same thing," Woods says.
Woods wasn't sure when the fishing trip took place, but if the story is true, it must have been before the first fat cat's donation -- which was the April 15, 2007 check for $25,000 by Dallas businessman James Wikert, an associate of Ellman's. The direct-deposit contributions by Sheriff's Office employee began in November, 2006. The other big checks came rolling in later in 2007 and the first part of 2008.
The timing doesn't make sense to us. The fishing season in Alaska typically runs from late spring to early fall. Before the April 15 check, the best time to go fishing would have been the previous summer. But even if the idea to fund the SCA was seeded in the cold, dark Alaskan winter of 2007, it's hard to understand why most of the fat cats wrote their checks many months later. Did they get reminder calls?
Even less believable is the alleged pitch that Larry Black gave to these donors. They say Black told them their donation would help support the Sheriff's Office and its deputies, Woods says, but it's true the group "wanted to be supportive of the sheriff." They knew the money wasn't supposed to be used for the campaign because they're "sophisticated enough to know there's rules and procedures," Woods says.
Of course, the fact that the donors may be well-versed in campaign-donation laws doesn't make us trust them -- the opposite, if anything. After all, their money ended up being illegally donated and apparently used to fund a R-rated smear ad against Arpaio's opponent in the 2008 election. And there were plenty of less suspicious places to put their money than the SCA account.
For instance, they could have put it in the two political action committees set up by Larry Black and Joel Fox in October, 2006. That would have meant disclosing the donors' names, though.
A month before Black and Fox created their PACs (Black was the chairman and Fox the treasurer), Internet records show that Black purchased two domain names: www.mcsocommand.com and www.sheriffcommand.com.
By that November, Fox had set up the SCA bank account, which shared a P.O. Box with the PACs.
The fishing in Alaska had turned out to be really good -- six businessmen had kicked in $110,000 by mid-2008.
"None of them thought about it for five seconds," Woods says. "To them, it apparently wasn't that big of a deal."
Yet some were seemingly confused about where the money was going. On the $25,000 check from WTG Investments, owned by Alaska resident Tom Gimple, someone had written: "Vote for Sheriff Joe Arpaio." On the check of businessman James Wikert was the notation: "PAC Contribution."
In e-mail exchanges with Joel Fox recently, we asked why Fox cashed the check from WTG, considering its blatant political message. He told us that someone, not him, had contacted the check-writer and assured the person that the money would not help Arpaio's campaign. Fox refused to elaborate. Black's name also crops up in search-warrant documents from the state's investigation into the SCA: Black and Fox met with a liaison of the Republican Party in summer 2008 to discuss donating the SCA money to the GOP.
It seems clear: Fox was neither the only member of the SCA nor its leader, as he claims. More likely, it was Black -- Fox's supervisor until 2008 -- or maybe Dave Hendershott, Arpaio's chief deputy, who called the shots.
We managed to reach a couple of the wealthy donors today. Nick Fergis, who contributed $10,000, said he didn't know anything about anything, and hung up. Texas businessman B.M. "Mack" Rankin, who kicked in $5,000, told us he didn't go on the fishing trip. Then how did he know to contribute to the SCA account?
"My dog isn't in that fight," he said.
We reminded him that his dog may not have been in the fight, but his money apparently was. "Well, then shut the fuck up," he said, before hanging up.
Good point. No sense chatting with so much to write about.