The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is allowing a sergeant to collect his $60,000 a year salary despite pleading guilty to a federal felony.
Sgt. Leo Driving Hawk, an internal affairs investigator, was placed on administrative leave July 12. He is accused of not reporting a $78 million Ponzi scheme.
Driving Hawk, reached Thursday at his Higley home, said he will resign sometime between a September civil trial associated with the criminal case, and his sentencing Oct. 17. He said a court ordered him to remain silent and declined further comment.
The sheriff’s office won’t fire him until he is convicted, which is when the judge accepts and signs the plea agreement, said Jack MacIntyre, a sheriff’s spokesman.
"The plea bargain may be there, but it doesn’t mean anything," MacIntyre said.
Driving Hawk entered his guilty plea Aug. 2, but judges typically don’t accept them until sentencing, which is the case here, said Sandy Raynor, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Arizona, the agency prosecuting Driving Hawk.
The judge could reject the plea deal or Driving Hawk could withdraw it between now and sentencing, which would return him to being presumed innocent, MacIntyre said.
"Wearing a uniform should not lessen one’s rights," he said.
But police departments don’t always hinge terminations on convictions, said Dale Norris, an attorney who represents police officers on employment matters. For example, the Chandler Police Department fired officers Daniel Lovelace, who was acquitted of a homicide charge by a jury in July 2004, and Brian Rader, who is charged with assault and whose trial is pending, Norris said.
"(Law enforcement agencies) come to their own conclusions about whether or not there was a crime committed," Norris said. "They don’t care whether they’re convicted or not."
And sometimes officers who have been charged with crimes will resign during or just after administrative reviews, Norris said.
MacIntyre said there has been no push to get Driving Hawk to resign.
Driving Hawk, a 15-year veteran, admits that he looked the other way even though investors in the United States Reservation Bank and Trust were getting ripped off, according to the plea agreement.
Driving Hawk was executive vice president of the bank, which was founded by his father, Edward Driving Hawk of Mesa.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against the Driving Hawks and other principals in 2002, alleging they ran a $78 million Ponzi scheme.
MacIntyre said that despite the allegations, the sheriff’s office never opened an administrative investigation of Driving Hawk because they weren’t associated with his duties as a peace officer.
MacIntyre said the allegations wouldn’t have damaged Driving Hawk’s credibility as a witness in court either because they were merely allegations and not a conviction.
Driving Hawk, 40, was handpicked by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in August 2003 to join the Internal Affairs Division, which investigates possible wrongdoing of deputies, audits the financial components of the office and conducts "extremely sensitive investigations as deemed necessary by the Sheriff," his employment records show.
Before that, he was member of the "Threat Squad," which investigated threats to county judges and Arpaio.