April 2, 2005
Cactus Towing implied Friday that it was raided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office because of its support of a challenger of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The Mesa towing company, whose owner Lee Watkins and general manager Todd DeMasseo financially supported and promoted independent W. Steven Martin in the November election, questioned the motivation and timing of the search warrants served on Thursday.
"Perhaps it was naive to think that supporting his opponent in the last election wouldn’t have consequences for Cactus Towing," said Cactus Towing attorney Kent Nicholas.
Martin’s campaign manager was former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and a consultant for Cactus Towing. Arpaio has been criticized by some Republicans for defending then-Attorney General Janet Napolitano in a campaign ad during her 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Salmon.
Arpaio easily defeated Martin and Democrat Robert Ayala in November to secure his fourth term.
"I don’t go after people because of politics," Arpaio said. "We will do this investigation in a fair, professional and ethical manner like we do every case."
Arpaio added that the investigation began after the election and that he’s had cordial conversations with Salmon since then.
Nicholas said if Arpaio wanted to hurt Cactus Towing, "he couldn’t have picked a worse time for us." Mesa is close to recommending a towing firm for its citywide contract, which Cactus Towing has held for the past 12 years.
On Thursday, 20 sheriff’s detectives searched the Cactus Towing office, northwest of Mesa Drive and Southern Avenue, and the homes of Watkins and DeMasseo. Deputies took receipts, business documents, computer files as well as documents from DeMasseo’s fiancee’s business, Nicholas said. Cactus Towing denies the allegations of fraudulent schemes, illegal control of an enterprise and insurance fraud.