A pre-sentence hearing that played out like a miniature trial ended late Thursday with the incarceration of former Pinal County Manager Stanley Griffis, but not before new questions were raised about the possibility of a much larger public corruption scandal involving area developers.
Neither the prosecution nor defense claimed victory after the special assignment judge, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Toole, handed down a sentence of 3 1/2 years in state prison for Griffis, who in late January pleaded guilty to six felonies, including the theft of $427,000 from a developerfunded bank account that was supposed to be used solely for improving East Valley roads.
His prison term will include two 1 1/2-year sentences to be served concurrently with the 3 1/2-year term, followed by seven years of supervised probation and 1,200 hours of community service.
O’Toole also ordered Griffis to pay the state $2,000 a month following his release from prison until he finishes paying off $639,000 in restitution.
That figure includes the county money he stole, $172,000 to repay investigative costs, $3,000 in fraudulent credit card purchases and expense reimbursements, and $37,000 he owes in state income taxes after defrauding the Arizona Department of Revenue from 2002 through 2005.
Griffis owns an extensive gun collection, which he agreed to have appraised and sold with the proceeds going toward the restitution.
Lee Stein, a Phoenix attorney who represented Griffis, said the defense was “disappointed” that Griffis would have to serve prison time. Stein had argued during the hearing that putting Griffis in prison could kill the 64-yearold, who has heart problems, a rare respiratory illness and other maladies.
Special prosecutor Richard Romley, former Maricopa County attorney hired by Pinal County to investigate and prosecute the corruption case, also characterized the sentence as a letdown.
“I was disappointed with the length of the prison sentence,” said Romley, who had asked the judge for 10 years in prison and restitution payments of $7,000 per month.
Still, both Stein and Romley said it was clear that O’Toole had carefully weighed all the facts and circumstances before making his decision.
Before the sentencing, Griffis stood in front of O’Toole and the courtroom galley, which included Griffis’ wife and children, all three Pinal County supervisors and several highlevel county staff members to express his remorse.
“All my contributions to the county have been wiped away by all of the bad things I have done,” Griffis said in a soft and broken voice. “I can’t express how ashamed I am.”
The five-hour hearing included witness testimony about Griffis’ character, health, and whether the Arizona Department of Corrections would be able to keep him alive in prison.
Dr. James Baird, the department’s medical director, insisted that Griffis would receive adequate care despite his illnesses, adding that there are other inmates in the prison system with even more severe heart problems.
Stein disagreed, saying Griffis’ care would be disrupted by incarceration, and that the logistics of getting him from his cell to a hospital could cost Griffis his life.
The most controversial portion of the hearing involved e-mail messages that Romley said indicate Arizona developers may have paid for at least two vacations Griffis took in 2005.
The first e-mail exchange Romley entered into evidence occurred between Griffis and Steven Burkett, city manager of Shoreline, Wash., regarding a trip Griffis took in August 2005.
“I was told that you were with a group of developers from Arizona,” Burkett wrote before admonishing him about the appearance of a conflict of interest and asking Griffis if the developers had paid for the vacation.
“I paid for my trip by check,” Griffis had responded, according to testimony by investigator Ben Richardson, who read aloud from a printed e-mail message. “I do accept gifts from developers or anyone else.”
But Stein got Richardson to concede it was possible, perhaps even likely, that Griffis had simply omitted the word “not” by accident.
Romley then tried to submit more e-mail evidence that he said shows Pinal County developer Mike Ingram, co-president of El Dorado Holdings, may have paid for an African safari that Griffis took in December 2005.
However, Stein objected that the issue was outside the scope of Romley’s direct examination of Richardson, and O’Toole decided not to allow the e-mail evidence pertaining to Ingram.
After the hearing, Romley said he couldn’t comment further on the e-mail messages outside of court because of an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that they are not public documents in a case filed by the Arizona Republic that is still working its way through the appellate process.
Ingram did not return a phone message to his company after business hours Thursday.
Romley has refused to comment on whether any incidents involving Griffis and developers would be investigated further.
A Tribune review of evidence Romley collected during his investigation did find some documents that had been redacted, along with a notation that their contents had been forwarded to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Todd House, a Pinal County resident and 2004 Republican candidate for county supervisor, attended the hearing. He said he was glad to see Griffis get some prison time, but thought the sentence was too lenient and questioned whether the entire story of Griffis’ misdeeds would ever be told.
“Are all the other people involved going to be held accountable?” House said. “Is (Arizona Attorney General) Terry Goddard going to follow through and investigate this?”