Special prosecutor Richard Romley is asking a judge to sentence disgraced former Pinal County Manager Stanley Griffis to 10 years in prison, saying Griffis’ admitted theft of more than $400,000 from the county was a serious betrayal of public trust that demands harsh punishment.
However, the defense is pleading for probation or house arrest, saying Griffis is in poor health, is not a danger to society and is a kind and decent person who simply made bad decisions out of anger.
Romley and Griffis’ attorney, Lee Stein, filed memoranda with Maricopa County Superior Court specialassignment Judge Thomas W. O’Toole late Friday, with each offering their sentencing recommendations and the underlying reasons.
Romley’s memo contains new details about Griffis’ activities while working as the county’s top administrator, including specific instances in which he ordered county employees to break laws for his own benefit. It argues that showing leniency to Griffis would further violate the public’s already shaken trust in government officials.
“In a democratic society, it is essential that those who serve the public do so with the greatest of integrity and responsibility,” Romley’s memo says. “Public corruption undermines the very foundation of our democracy and must be confronted with certainty, swiftness and severity of punishment.”
The memo filed by Stein describes Griffis as a decorated war hero and dedicated family man who, overworked and frustrated with an ungrateful county Board of Supervisors, suffered a lapse in judgment.
“He was encountering pressure from various members of the Board of Supervisors, including one member who was actively trying to force him out. Simultaneously, the Board members were taking credit for his work, not acknowledging his efforts and not standing up for him,” Stein’s memo says. “It was this convergence of circumstances that angered and frustrated him and led him to make the bad choices he has made, and which he regrets deeply.”
Griffis pleaded guilty in January to six felony counts including theft, fraud and tax fraud.
He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge O’Toole in early May.
The maximum allowable punishment for Griffis’ crimes is 51 years in prison.
Romley is asking for 10 years in prison, plus an additional seven years probation and restitution payments of $7,000 per month.
As part of his plea agreement, Griffis has agreed to repay money that includes $426,800 he admitted stealing from a county road improvement fund known as the Superstition Valley Transportation Project, intended to reduce congestion in and around Apache Junction and Queen Creek.
He also has agreed to pay Romley’s fee and other investigative costs totaling $172,000.
Because the plea agreement requires that Griffis pay $275,000 of the total restitution amount of $640,000 when he is sentenced, the former county manager has been forced to obtain a second mortgage and is nearly broke, according to Stein’s memo.
“He has almost no remaining assets,” it says.
In addition, the defense memo says Griffis, 64, is “in extremely poor health” with severe heart disease, a clogged artery, acute breathing problems, diabetes and “malaria flare-ups” from contracting the disease while serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
A prison term would kill him, Stein concludes.
But the prosecution memo notes that Griffis took a trip to Africa in December to “construct homes,” which would seem to indicate he is in decent health.
“The Department of Corrections has adequate health care capabilities to address any health problems that may arise for the defendant,” the Romley memo says.
Romley, a former Maricopa County Attorney hired by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations that Griffis misused public funds to purchase weapons and ammunition, has said Griffis is the only Pinal County official facing criminal charges despite the involvement of other county staff members.
Romley’s sentencing memo describes four separate instances in which Griffis ordered his staff to break the law in order to boost his take-home salary and pension benefits, and to give him sole control over the public funds he stole.
“The defendant ordered numerous county employees to have all checks related to Superstition Valley Transportation Project be given to him,” it says. “When this procedure was challenged, he ordered that normal protocols would not be followed and that all checks were still to be sent to him.”
Griffis also used artificially inflated salary figures to apply for a higher annual pension than he deserved. For three years, Griffis was paid for vacation time he didn’t earn, untaxed, and then he used the illegal pay to obtain undeserved retirement benefits.
Public employee pensions are calculated based on the three highest-salary years during the employee’s last 10 years of employment.
Griffis has been ordered to repay those extra benefits — more than $37,000 — since Arizona State Retirement System officials caught on to the deception in August.
From 2002 to 2003, Griffis’ salary increased from $129,480 to $200,588. The boost was far more than his budgeted annual pay increase of $21,300, and the bulk of it came from cashed-out vacation pay, which under his contract he was not entitled to receive until retirement.
Griffis continued to receive more than his budgeted pay from January 2003 until he retired in January 2006. His gross pay for that period was $677,177 — about $200,000 more than his regular salary.
Tax records obtained from Pinal County show more than $300,000 of Griffis’ pay was excluded from taxation. During those three years, the county withheld only $42,337 in federal income taxes from his paychecks.
Throughout that time, Griffis periodically told county staff to increase the amount of his cashed-out vacation pay. He also had them create phony payroll codes to funnel the money, pre-tax, into private accounts.
According to the defense memo, Griffis cannot explain why he committed those crimes, but they are an aberration in an otherwise exemplary life.
Griffis “had no criminal record and has been a lawabiding and highly productive member of society for his entire life,” it says.
He “has faithfully and tirelessly served his family, his country, his community and his church in a myriad of ways.”