- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s smuggling squad was the lynchpin of his immigration enforcement efforts and once a source of his political strength. But the now-disbanded squad has him in the trouble in the courts, and former squad members have been accused of wrongdoing. Here is a look at the major players in the unit:

JOE ARPAIO: The sheriff and four top aides face hearings that begin Tuesday over whether they should be held in contempt of court for disobeying an order in a racial profiling case that barred Arpaio’s immigration patrols. Rank-and-file squad members who were never told about the order had continued the patrols for about 18 months. Arpaio acknowledged the violation, offered to publicly apologize and make a donation from his own pocket to a Hispanic civil rights group.

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ALFREDO NAVARRETTE: Navarrette was one of three Arpaio employees charged with helping a cartel-connected heroin smuggling ring. Investigators say Navarrette laundered money, ran a smuggling safe house and did damage control for a ring member who got in trouble with the law.

Navarrette also was accused of assisting a separate immigrant smuggling group by operating a stash house and transporting immigrants in the country illegally from Arizona to California. Authorities say that Navarrette, while out on bail, was pulled over while driving a suspected immigrant smuggling vehicle.

While a sheriff’s employee, Navarrette won a spot on the elite squad despite spotty job evaluations that said he displayed a carefree attitude toward his work - and showed little interest in improving his performance, according to personnel records obtained by the Associated Press.

He received a 2003 reprimand for failing to complete reports and turn in citations, leading to no prosecutions of the people involved. He repeatedly flunked firearms tests. And he waited eight days to reveal his boss that he was involved in a 2009 accident in a county-owned vehicle.

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CHARLEY ARMENDARIZ: Armendariz was investigated on allegations that he was shaking down immigrants who were in the country illegally. The investigation stemmed from his arrest nearly a year ago after he reported a burglary at his home in Phoenix. Officers found Armendariz chasing a phantom burglar.

Among the items found at Armendariz’s house were a stash of drugs, evidence bags from old cases, hundreds of fake IDs, more than 100 license plates and hundreds of hours of video-recorded traffic stops that were withheld in the profiling case.

Armendariz told investigators he was innocent, implicated his former smuggling-squad colleagues in unspecified wrongdoing, quit his job and killed himself by hanging. Mel McDonald, a lawyer defending Arpaio against contempt-of-court allegations, said Armendariz was an aberration and doesn’t represent the agency’s culture.

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CISCO PEREZ: Weeks after Armendariz’s suicide, Perez blurted out at a hearing over unemployment benefits that it was common for his colleagues to “pocket” IDs and other items during busts of smuggling safe houses.

Perez also was the subject of an internal affairs investigation that examined allegations that he tried to get Navarrette to sell a semi-automatic rifle on his behalf to people who weren’t legally able to buy guns, according to records. Perez wasn’t charged with a crime because sheriff’s officials said there wasn’t enough evidence to support a gun charge.

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JOSEPH SOUSA: Sousa was the leader of the smuggling squad from September 2007 until April 2012. He was among four sheriff’s officials who received an email informing him of a December 2011 court order in the profiling case that barred future immigration patrols. Sousa’s lawyer says his client won’t admit to a contempt-of-court allegation.

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