- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A prosecutor accepted blame Friday for an error by his office that’s expected to lead to the dismissal of corruption charges against at least one former sheriff’s employee accused of helping a cartel-connected heroin smuggling ring.

The case against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s former employees is in danger of collapsing after the recent discovery that a document authorities must complete to get a wiretap was never actually filed with the court.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery acknowledged that the missing document will likely lead to the dismissal of some charges against former Deputy Alfredo Aguirre Navarrette, one of three sheriff’s employees charged in the case.

“It’s the prosecutors who have to file that paperwork,” Montgomery said. “That’s what we are responsible for doing, and we didn’t do it.”

Montgomery’s office is sifting through the case to see whether prosecutors can salvage charges. It’s unknown whether charges will be dismissed against former jail officers Marcella Marie Hernandez and Sylvia Rios Najera.

Prosecutors also are reviewing whether they have to void the convictions of 11 people who have already pleaded guilty.

“I would be shocked if anything could be salvaged,” said Navarrette’s attorney, Herman Alcantar, explaining that all subsequent wiretaps that were used in the case were premised on the missing document.

“This was a good investigation, a necessary one, and while I can say that we are disappointed by this turn of events, we have no malice toward the county attorney’s office,” Arpaio said in a statement.

The three former officers are accused of helping the smuggling ring move heroin from Mexico into metro Phoenix and launder its illegal proceeds through two companies. The three have pleaded not guilty.

Navarrette is accused of aiding the drug ring by driving smuggling vehicles, laundering money and using a police database to get information to pass along to ring members.

He also was accused of assisting a separate immigrant smuggling group by operating a stash house and transporting smuggling customers from Arizona to California on at least five occasions.

His bail was revoked after authorities say Navarrette, while out on bail, was pulled over while driving a suspected immigrant smuggling vehicle.

Montgomery said Navarrette could still face charges of insurance fraud and arson that allege he set a car on fire in 2010.

Hernandez and Najera are accused of helping to launder the ring’s drug proceeds.


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