Deputies search Stapley's county office - East Valley Tribune: News

Deputies search Stapley's county office

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Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 10:12 am | Updated: 2:27 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Sheriff's deputies looking for evidence to bolster their links between indicted Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley and East Valley land developer Conley Wolfswinkel searched the Mesa Republican's county office on Thursday.

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Investigators searched Stapley's office on the 10th floor of the county building in downtown Phoenix from about 8:30 a.m. until about noon. They were looking for evidence of potential bribery and fraud stemming from financial dealings between Stapley and a series of land investment companies linked to Wolfswinkel and his family, according to an affidavit from detectives seeking the search warrant.

Also covered in the search warrant are documents related to Stapley's county secretary, Susan Schuerman, who is named as the statutory agent on a company he co-owns. The affidavit from sheriff's Sgt. J. Gentry says investigators are trying to determine whether Schuerman was improperly paid or used county resources to conduct Stapley's private business.

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Stapley was not present while his office was searched.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Wolfswinkel family filed a motion Wednesday seeking to void a search conducted last month by sheriff's deputies on the Tempe headquarters of family-owned businesses he is involved with. Grant Woods, former state attorney general and now a Wolfswinkel lawyer, said investigators did not provide sufficient evidence to establish there was probable cause to justify the Jan. 22 search of W Holdings in Tempe. Woods asked that all documents seized during the search be returned to company officials, and that police and prosecutors not be allowed to use any of the information they gathered to further their investigation.

Stapley is charged with 118 criminal counts claiming he failed to report numerous business and real estate interests on financial disclosure forms he is required to file as an elected official. Since that indictment was announced in December, sheriff's deputies have served a series of search warrants on Wolfswinkel-related businesses.

Several land deals between Wolfswinkel and Stapley were not properly disclosed on the financial statements Stapley has filed with the county, according to the charges. Investigators have documented more than $1.5 million in payments to Stapley from Wolfswinkel-connected companies since September 2003, according to Gentry's affidavit.

Wolfswinkel was convicted in 1993 on federal fraud and conspiracy charges for a check-kiting scheme. He now acts as a consultant to land companies owned primarily by his sons, Ashton and Brandon Wolfswinkel.

The most volatile allegation raised by deputies to justify the search warrants came from a former bookkeeper for one of Stapley's real estate companies, Joan Stoops, who told deputies the supervisor began receiving payments of $10,000 per month in 2002 through a partnership with Wolfswinkel involving land in Queen Creek. Stoops told investigators she received no documents to explain the payments and was unable to reconcile them with bank accounts for the company, Arroyo Pacific Investments, according to sheriff's affidavits.

The Stoops allegation is raised in the affidavit to justify the search warrant that was served Thursday.

The first land deal between Stapley and a Wolfswinkel-related company did not occur until 2003, when Stapley bought about 210 acres from the Wolfswinkels for $2.3 million, according to county records.

Woods says in his motion that there is no evidence beyond Stoops' statement to back her assertion that Stapley was getting paid by Wolfswinkel in 2002. In fact, the sheriff's own affidavits state that investigators have been unable to find documentation in corporate records they have already obtained to substantiate the allegation, Woods said. He added a thorough review of all corporate bank records done by the controller for Wolfswinkel companies showed there were no payments made to Stapley or any of the companies he was involved with in 2002. Payments that have been made to Stapley since 2003 came through legitimate and properly documented land deals, Woods said.

"Indeed, all of the evidence obtained by investigators suggested that Ms. Stoops was mistaken," Woods wrote. "In fact, the 2002 partnership never existed, nor were there any payments, cash or otherwise, of $10,000 or any other amount made to Mr. Stapley by the Wolfswinkel Companies in 2002."

Since there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, the warrant to search Wolfswinkel's offices should never have been issued and investigators should not be allowed to use any of the information they gathered in an improper search, Woods concluded.

Paul Charlton, Stapley's attorney, said he had not seen the affidavit for the search warrant served Thursday, and so could not comment on the specific allegations it raised. He did refer reporters to the Woods motion as an explanation for why prior searches were improper.

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