By Dave Tombers
A longtime prosecutor who worked in concert with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose Cold Case Posse found probable cause that Barack Obama's birth certificate was forged, says he was caught in a "witch hunt" for trying to remove corruption in the county.
A disciplinary panel for the Arizona Bar Association recently ordered the revocation of two attorneys' law licenses and suspended the license of a third in a case WND first reported last fall. William O'Neill, the state's presiding disciplinary judge, announced the decision.
Former county prosecutor Andrew Thomas has a deadline Tuesday to say whether he will appeal the decision. An ethics panel found Thomas' office wrongfully accused three officials of illegal conduct to embarrass them.
Thomas has defended the prosecutions as necessary for rooting out corruption in government.
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The allegations included scandal, fraud, payoffs and lavish vacations by county officials.
Thomas told WND, "This has been a massive cover-up and, for me, genuinely a Dreyfus-like injustice."
WND has learned that as many as 11 county employees have been terminated in recent months for allegedly accepting bribes in a court tower construction scandal – one of the Thomas investigations that was stymied.
WND has also learned that the FDIC recently announced the loss of millions of dollars. There also are allegations that some $5.5 million was linked to county official Don Stapley, the subject of another Thomas investigation that was thwarted.
The October WND report documented the early troubles between then-Maricopa County Attorney Thomas and County Supervisor Stapley.
In 2006, Stapley tried to rein in Thomas' ability to hire outside counsel for the county, saying Thomas based his "appointments upon who was favorable to him, not necessarily who was best qualified to represent the county."
According to the complaint, the county board, under Stapley, wanted to oversee attorney selection and even hire outside counsel for the board itself. Thomas let them know on numerous occasions that the actions were illegal.
The complaint quoted Thomas saying, "Board members are immune from suit when they rely in good faith upon opinions of the county attorney, but no such immunity would apply and they may be personally liable for actions on advice of other counsel."
Thomas essentially was arguing that the citizens of Maricopa County elected him to be the county attorney, and Stapley’s actions gave the appearance of circumventing the wishes of the voters.
The Arizona Bar Association took Thomas' admonition of the county board to be a conflict of interest.
In another instance, Thomas initiated an investigation of Stapley for criminal wrongdoing.
A grand jury brought more than 100 charges against Stapley, ranging from failing to file financial disclosures to accepting expensive gifts such as three-week Hawaiian vacations and expensive ski trips for him and his family.
Allegations also arose that Stapley raised political contributions to run for president of the National Association of Counties, even though he was running unopposed.
The cash he raised was alleged to have been used to pay for personal luxuries instead.
But several judges who handled various steps of the case threw out charges, even though outside investigators had cited the "merit" of the counts. And bar association officials said the one-year statute of limitations had expired on dozens of charges.
Ultimately, none of the counts went to trial, and Stapley testified before the bar that the investigation “ruined his life."
In an email to WND Thomas said of the bar association results, "The findings are completely divorced from the actual facts and evidence presented at the hearing.
"While I was county attorney, I antagonized powerful people and special interests – particularly the judiciary, which rendered this decision – over crime control, illegal immigration and other issues. These forces targeted my law license for five years; at the end, they simply mobilized, ganged up and overwhelmed me, fabricating wrongdoing to achieve their desired end."
Others targeted included former assistants Lisa Aubuchon and Rachel Alexander.
The bar association revoked Aubuchon's license and suspended Alexander's, which will force her to re-take the bar exam.
Referring to a recent national survey found at stateintegrity.org, Thomas said this week, "Arizona has some of the worst corruption in America.
"Today, corruption has won and justice has lost," he continued. "I brought corruption cases in good faith involving powerful people, and the political and legal establishment blatantly covered it up and retaliated by targeting my law license."
WND's previously reported the maneuvers could have been politically motivated, with even some of Thomas' political opponents saying the counts have "no merit."
"Arizona after what happened yesterday has become Mexico," Thomas said. "People in this community need to understand what happened yesterday when my law license was terminated.
"Powerful politicians twice indicted for corruption have gone free. Others who blocked investigations and prosecutions retaliated against law enforcement and demolished county government to protect themselves escaped justice. Insiders who knew how the system works and how to work the system have had a field day. Honest prosecutors have been unjustly smeared and punished.
"The rule of law is no more in this county," he said.
"We will never know all the corruption cases that aren't filed and the criminals that go free because of what's happened. But the chilling effect on prosecutors is clear: Public safety and clean government inevitably will suffer. They already have.
"The political witch hunt that's just ended makes things worse [regarding corruption in America] by sending a chilling message to prosecutors: 'Those who take on the powerful will lose their livelihood,'" he said.
The bar association refers people to the disciplinary order and says, "The panel found that Thomas and Aubuchon used their positions as Maricopa County attorney and deputy county attorney to target political enemies.
"A 247-page order details how they ignored conflicts of interest and used their positions to burden and embarrass targeted individuals. The order also states they violated the Rules of Professional Conduct relating to perjury and violating court rules.
"Alexander, who also worked as a deputy county attorney, was found to have filed a lawsuit without completing a proper factual investigation.
"The case was tried over nine weeks before a hearing panel comprised of the presiding disciplinary judge and two volunteer panel members (one attorney and a member of the public). Forty-eight witnesses testified and nearly 6,200 pages of exhibits were admitted."
The panel ruled, "This case is replete with intentionally orchestrated malignant actions."
Bar spokesman Rick DeBruhl told WND that there was nothing further to comment on.
"The association doesn't disbar attorneys," he said. "We simply follow the orders of the independent panel."
The order itself explains Thomas should have seen the clouds on his horizon.
"Attorneys must ever guard against the temptation to confuse what is legal with what is ethical or moral. Because an act is legal, according to the letter of the law, does not make it ethical. Because an act is ethical does not make it legal," it said.
Then it added, "Speeding is illegal but isn't always unethical. If one speeds because he believes it will save a life, the action may still be found to be illegal but not necessarily unethical. On the other hand, cheating on a spouse is ethically wrong, but may be legal."
But the harsh judgment makes no mention of recent scandals, many stemming from the original corruption investigations Thomas and his colleagues began.
"Look at all the corruption scandals that have happened recently in Arizona while the rule of law has basically been repealed in Maricopa County," said Thomas. "We had the U.S. attorney who resigned in disgrace. We had the criminal chief of the U.S. attorney's office plead the Fifth Amendment before Congress.
"We have the firings after the court tower corruption scandal came out. We have the golf tournament scandal, which the Arizona Republic has reported. Now [Maricopa County Supervisor] Don Stapley is enmeshed in an FDIC lawsuit which involves some of the original counts we first filed against him."
Thomas announced in his press conference his intentions to target corruption through a ballot measure and a forthcoming book.
"We now have a constitutional crisis, as prosecutors and members of the executive branch are being targeted by the judiciary and other branches for blowing the whistle on corruption and misconduct in the judiciary," Thomas said. "That is essentially what has happened to me.
"As county attorney, I took on many powerful special interests and corrupt individuals who retaliated with a witch-hunt targeting my law license," he said. "Unless we want Arizona to become as corrupt as Mexico, the people of Arizona must take back their government. At this point, only the people of Arizona can make things right."
He said he would seek voter help for reforms to fight corruption.
"This fight now shifts to the court of public opinion, a fair court," he said.
WND reported earlier on comments from even some of Thomas' critics.
Said columnist Robert Robb, who has made no display of supporting Thomas, "I have written scathingly about the gross abuse of power by former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Thomas and Arpaio proclaimed that there was a giant conspiracy involving the county board of supervisors, senior county management and several judges in which the judges agreed to protect county officials against criminal probes in exchange for the county constructing a new office building for the judges."
Robb said there was no evidence to support the racketeering and criminal complaints, but he said the complaint brought by the Arizona Bar Association against Thomas includes "gross overcharging," which he called a "serious disservice."
Among the issues that originally attracted attention was the $347 million in taxpayer funds used for a court tower during an economic downturn, a building that featured plush quarters for judges and raised eyebrows as it was done at a time when county employees were being laid off.