Once more Tempe is catching front page headlines for crime.
On May 16 Tempe residents were treated to the news that longtime Tempe City Councilmember and current state legislator Ben Arredondo had been indicted on federal corruption, mail fraud and attempted extortion charges after an Federal Bureau of Investigation undercover operation.
It seems like it’s just one big time crime problem after another in Tempe. On March 2, a shootout between two organized crime street gangs left sixteen wounded at a Tempe nightclub.
Last December, the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced that after a 15-month investigation, 203 drug dealers with ties to the Sinaloa Drug Cartel were arrested in what Tempe police called the the largest drug investigation in Tempe’s history.
In 2009 Tempe police announced they’d arrested 130 people tied to the Sinaloa gang and that was the biggest bust in Tempe history.
And while the corruption indictment and presence of the Sinaloa cartel catch the big headlines, Tempe still comes in first when it comes to serious crime in the East Valley and second in the county behind Glendale for countywide crime. Tempe’s serious crime went up 5 percent in 2011.
By all appearances, Tempe has a crime problem.
And with the indictment of Arredondo it may even have a corruption problem too? It’s a problem that might extend well beyond him.
In reporter Garin Groff’s May 24 East Valley Tribune story (“Prosecutors want secrecy in Arredondo extortion case to protect other investigations”), it was reported “prosecutors filed a motion with the U.S. District Court to have a judge place a protective order on all materials ... that led to Arredondo’s May 16 indictment.” Prosecutors said they had amassed “a large amount of material” with sensitive information to ongoing and closed investigations.”
Sealing a case is not taken lightly. It happens most often in organized crime, drug and corruption cases.
For now one can only wonder if anyone else was involved with Arredondo?
Tempe officials have reportedly refused to identify at least one city employee and city council members whose names came up in the FBI investigation.
Arredondo’s bust isn’t the first time a Tempe official has been indicted on corruption charges.
In May 1994 Tempe City Magistrate Stephen Mirretti pled guilty to corruption charges the Tribune reported involved “fraud, bribery, theft of public money and conspiracy to obstruct a criminal investigation.”
A 1995 Associated Press story said, “Mirretti and three co-defendants admitted to payoffs in return for no-bid contracts to provide Tempe services. The scheme funneled more than $478,000 to Mirretti.”
Mirretti’s inner circle of powerful friends at city hall included ranking officials and department heads.
After the bust it was obvious Tempe officials weren’t paying attention to how Mirretti was doing business.
His coziness with the very people who were supposed to be providing “checks and balances” and who were too busy being the judge’s good buddies no doubt contributed to the massive breech of the public’s trust.
Following the Mirretti scandal then newly elected Mayor Neil Guiliano led a clean-up campaign. There was a purge at city hall and safeguards were put in place.
But how things have changed since Guilano left office eight years ago.
One need only look at Tempe’s reported links to Fiesta Bowl Lobbyist Gary Husk, the millions the city paid to the Fiesta and Insight.com Bowls and the no-bid, sole source contract that paid lobbyist Husk $96,000 to purportedly help the police chief reorganize his department.
According to city officials Husk’s work produced no written work product. Husk is also reportedly under investigation by the FBI.
It all stinks to me.
Hopefully, newly-elected Mayor Mark Mitchell will get to the bottom of Tempe’s obvious failed system of checks and balances and the delivery of city services that has allowed organized and serious crime to grow and questions about official corruption in Tempe to make the headlines.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.