The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has refused to ratify the appointment of special prosecutors to work on a criminal case against Supervisor Don Stapley.
The board was scheduled to approve the appointment Wednesday at its regular meeting, but Chairman Max Wilson pulled the agenda item at the recommendation of County Manager David Smith.
Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, said the board's action is reminiscent of Watergate, when President Nixon fired a special prosecutor who was looking into the scandal.
"This is a shocking, brazen, unprecedented attempt to derail the investigations of Supervisor Don Stapley and Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox," Lotstein said.
Wilcox, a Phoenix Democrat, has come under fire for her own alleged wrongdoings. A recently published investigation by the Goldwater Institute alleges she used her political connections to land and keep a lucrative restaurant contract at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and she violated federal rules while doing so.
The decision to pull Wednesday's planned ratification was because the Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not follow procurement policies in hiring high-profile Washington, D.C., lawyers Joseph diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, to serve as the special prosecutors, according to Wade Swanson, the board's attorney. A local former deputy county attorney, James Rizer, was also going to help on the prosecution.
Swanson said the county attorney's office has also refused to provide a cost estimate to the board, and the two Washington, D.C., attorneys don't meet legal requirements that special prosecutors be residents of Maricopa County.
Lotstein said there are no residency requirements, and the board has never before made an issue of procurement policies or funds when the county attorney hired a special prosecutor.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Philip MacDonnell addressed the financial issues in a letter to the county Friday.
"The cost of investigation and prosecution of allegations of criminal conduct is not subject to specific prediction," MacDonnell wrote.
Providing an arbitrary limit on a prosecution would allow the defense to delay the case until the money ran out, MacDonnell said.
He said the county attorney would pay for the investigation and prosecution with funds seized from criminals and funds from diversion programs. "Those payments will not exceed the county attorney's budget for those funds," MacDonnell wrote.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced on Oct. 5 that he was hiring diGenova and Toensing to prosecute Stapley in the latest round of criminal allegations leveled against him.
A previous case alleging that Stapley failed to provide financial information on forms he was required to fill out as an elected official was dismissed by another prosecutor last month.
Thomas originally prosecuted that case, but he turned it over to the Yavapai County Attorney in April to quell allegations that he had a conflict of interest.
Three days after the case was dismissed, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrested Stapley on suspicion of 100 new charges related to campaign finance, theft and fraud.
The Mesa Republican was released on his own recognizance, and criminal charges were put on hold until a prosecutor could be found to take the case.
DiGenova and Toensing agreed to take the case at $295 per hour for out-of-court fees and $475 per hour in court. Their resume includes the prosecution of John Hinckley, the Colorado man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, and Jonathan Pollard, who received a life sentence for selling military secrets to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst for the Navy.
Swanson said the attorneys won't be allowed to work on the case or be paid until the board approves the selection.
Swanson said the county attorney's office will have to show it is compliant with the law and provide a cost estimate before approval is granted.