- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Sheriff Joe Arpaio has pleaded with his supporters for donations to pay his lawyer bills, complaining that he lacks the personal wealth to keep up with the many legal woes that have marked his recent time in office.

The board that oversees the county’s budget also is grappling with its obligations to pay Arpaio’s legal bills.

One member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors says the time is approaching to decide whether Arpaio should be required to dig into his pockets to cover some of the costs of a sprawling racial-profiling case stemming from the sheriff’s immigration patrols.

“At some point, we have to ask: How do we stop the bleeding - how do we recoup our money?” Supervisor Steve Gallardo said.

The comments came as frustration over the cost of Arpaio’s legal tab from the case has grown.

Taxpayers will be on the hook for $45 million by the middle of next year because of the case, and the tab is expected to grow considerably larger.

The county has had to pay an additional $74 million related to Arpaio that is separate from the racial-profiling costs. That figure includes judgments, settlements and legal fees involving Arpaio’s office during his 22-year tenure, covering things such as lawsuits over jail deaths and the lawman’s failed investigations of political enemies.

In his letter to supporters, Arpaio wrote that he has had to shell out money to represent himself in legal actions filed by advocacy groups.

Chad Willems, who runs both Arpaio’s re-election campaign and the fund defense fund, says donations to the sheriff are being used to pay a criminal defense lawyer to represent the sheriff in contempt-of-court proceedings arising from the profiling case. The county has a policy of not paying for such attorneys to represent elected officials.

It’s unknown how much money is in the sheriff’s nearly 5-year-old legal defense fund. Legal defense funds in Arizona aren’t required to publicly reveal donors or how much money has been raised or spent.

“He has every right to go talk to his supporters and ask them for support,” Willems said.

Arpaio did not note in the fundraising plea that he has amassed considerable wealth over the years.

Records show that he and his wife Ava, through a limited liability corporation, own eight pieces of commercial real estate in Scottsdale and Fountain Hills worth more than $2 million. They also own a home with a cash value listed as $385,000. He earns $100,000 annually as sheriff.

It’s unknown whether Arpaio, a retired official with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, has a federal pension or whether he and his wife earn income from their commercial properties.

The possibility of Arpaio forking over money from his own pocket was first raised by U.S. District Judge Murray Snow in contempt proceeding arising from the sheriff’s acknowledgement that he let his officers conduct immigration patrols for 18 months after being told to stop them. Two months ago, Arpaio offered to pay a $100,000 penalty in what was ultimately an unsuccessful bid to cancel the contempt hearings.

Before rejecting the offer, Snow said $100,000 was an adequate punishment but insisted he didn’t want the money to come from a legal defense fund. The judge said at the March hearing that he didn’t know that Arpaio had “skin in the game yet.”

Arpaio declined to answer questions about the mounting costs and his defense fund at a recent news conference.

The county board now wrestling with the costs of the profiling case consists almost entirely of members who weren’t in office during the heyday of Arpaio’s now-shuttered immigration crackdowns.

Supervisor Andy Kunasek, the only current member who served on the county board when Arpaio launched the patrols, said he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill for an official who purposefully ignored court orders.

Kunasek said criticism that county officials didn’t rein in Arpaio during the heyday of his immigration crackdowns was unwarranted, and he questioned the wisdom of having politicians tell police officers how to enforce the law.

Supervisor Steve Chucri, current chairman of the county board, said he didn’t think the county was at the point where it should examine whether Arpaio should personally pick up some costs.

County officials don’t have a go-along-to-get-along approach with Arpaio and pointed out that they recently declined to join him in a bid to get the judge removed in the profiling case, Chucri said.

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