Mesa lawyer targets sheriff, county attorney - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa lawyer targets sheriff, county attorney

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Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:13 pm | Updated: 3:12 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A Mesa attorney with ties to Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley has begun the legal process to recoup any money the county attorney's office and sheriff's office might have improperly spent for a custom bus and to hire special prosecutors.

The attorney, Pat Gilbert, has asked the Attorney General's Office to sue the two offices to recover the money. If that doesn't happen, he will invoke a statute that will allow him to sue on behalf of the taxpayers.

Leonard Aragon, an attorney who represents Gilbert, said the county attorney didn't follow the law in hiring special prosecutors to investigate and prosecute Stapley, and neither did the sheriff's office when it spent $456,000 on a custom-made bus during a spending freeze.

"We felt it was necessary to step in," Aragon said.

Their case might have gotten a boost recently when the county Internal Audit Department found the sheriff's office did not comply with county procurement policies or spending guidelines when it purchased the bus in October 2008.

The Board of Supervisors has refused to approve the registration or title for the bus, so it has been parked since May.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has contended the board blocked putting the bus into operation as retribution for criminal investigations of Stapley, a Mesa Republican.

County Attorney Andrew Thomas has accused the board of hindering an investigation into Stapley by refusing to allocate money for special prosecutors from Washington, D.C.

The board has been in a power struggle with Thomas and Arpaio since Stapley was indicted in December on 118 counts related to alleged failure to disclose financial information that was required as an elected official.

That case was dismissed in September. The sheriff's office arrested Stapley three days later on accusations related to campaign finance fraud. He was released on his own recognizance, but no charges were filed because Thomas has disqualified himself from prosecuting Stapley. Instead, he has tried to hire the special prosecutors.

Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the county attorney, said it's his office's position there was no violation of the procurement code and Gilbert's actions are another attempt to intimidate the office. "Anybody can write a letter and make a threat," Lotstein said.

Gilbert, who is an executive with the Marc Center in Mesa, which helps train people with developmental disabilities, said Nov. 5 he was not ready to discuss what he is doing.

Gilbert and Stapley are no strangers, though.

Stapley has a lifelong affiliation with the Marc Center, and the county donated land to the center in 2006, records show. But Gilbert said he is not working as a surrogate for Stapley.

"It's on my own," said Gilbert, who was also placed on a county commission in September that advises the board on the use of federal grants designated for redevelopment.

Stapley did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Minutes of a December 2006 Board of Supervisors meeting show Stapley recognized Gilbert and another Marc executive for their participation in the land donation, which Stapley called a "monumental item" to support Marc Center.

The land is Oasis Park, which is near Broadway and Signal Butte roads in east Mesa.

According to Rene Benavidez, Maricopa County deputy director of Human Services, the county owned the land for years, and Marc Center has owned a building on it for years. About three acres of the parcel is undeveloped.

Benavidez said the county is working with Marc and the federal government to raze the existing building and develop housing for the disabled.

Benavidez said federal grants could be used for the redevelopment, which the board will be briefed on in the next few months.

Benavidez said it is not unusual for governments to donate land for benevolent purposes.

Aragon said he wasn't aware of Gilbert's relationship with Stapley, but he added that his law firm has no relationship with the county supervisor.

Aragon said there wasn't any intention to mislead when he used Gilbert's legal name of Harold M. Gilbert Jr. instead of his nickname of Pat, as he is commonly known publicly, in the written request to the Attorney General to sue.

"The big problem here is they (the sheriff's office and county attorney's office) don't want to follow the law," Aragon said.

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