Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Friday that he isn't aware of a federal grand jury investigating him and his office, despite claims from two officials that such a panel is examining alleged abuses by the sheriff.
"I play by the rules, so I am not going to talk about a grand jury," Arpaio said. "But I will tell you this: I will continue to do my investigations and my job."
The Maricopa County sheriff said that no one in a position of authority has told him that he is the subject of a grand jury investigation, but evidence is growing that the lawman is facing intense scrutiny from the federal government.
Arpaio has long clashed with county authorities over his harsh anti-immigration tactics, making a national name for himself as he pushed the bounds of local immigration enforcement. The feud appears to have escalated recently since Arpaio stepped up his investigations of county officials amid heated political feuds over budget cuts and other issues.
Maricopa County Manager David Smith and Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson say they met with a federal prosecutor to discuss the case and will testify before a grand jury investigating Arpaio and the sheriff's office on Wednesday.
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar and Sandy Raynor, a spokeswoman for the U.S attorney's office in Phoenix, say they couldn't confirm or deny any grand jury investigations.
In recent years, Arpaio has clashed with county officials over a variety of issues, including cuts to his office's budget, control over a county computer system that provides access to law-enforcement databases, and access to county records and a $340 million court building under construction in Phoenix.
Two county supervisors and one county judge have been criminally charged in investigations by Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
Last month, Arpaio and Thomas filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against a group of county administrators, judges and attorneys, accusing them of participating in a conspiracy to hinder an investigation into the court building and of county Supervisor Don Stapley.
Arpaio is widely known for tough jail policies, making inmates wear pink underwear and take part in old-style chain gangs in striped uniforms and serving them green bologna sandwiches.
His crime and immigration sweeps — some in heavily Hispanic areas of metropolitan Phoenix — have drawn criticism that his deputies were racially profiling people. Arpaio says people pulled over in the sweeps were approached because deputies had probable cause to believe they had committed crimes.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating Arpaio's office over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures — a probe that the sheriff believes was prompted by his immigration efforts.
Last year, Arpaio was stripped of some of his special authority to make federal immigration arrests, though he has continued to enforce state laws banning immigrant smuggling and prohibiting businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
Manuel Johnson, a spokesman for the FBI's office in Phoenix, declined to comment on whether the agency was investigating Arpaio and his office.