- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - An Arizona sheriff’s volunteer who refused to answer questions in court about an allegation that he helped investigate a federal judge reversed course after hours of testimony Thursday and angrily defended his work instead as an effort to examine identity theft.

Mike Zullo, a leader for one of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s posses, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times, but returned after a lunch break and loudly proclaimed that the sheriff’s office never investigated U.S. District Judge Murray Snow. The judge had ordered a sweeping overhaul of the agency after finding Arpaio’s deputies had racially profiled Latinos.

“I never did anything to hurt this man,” Zullo said of the judge.

Critics say documents produced in the investigation suggest that the sheriff’s office was trying to prove a conspiracy between Snow and the U.S. Justice Department against the sheriff. Snow has characterized the investigation as an attempt to construct a “bogus conspiracy theory” to discredit him.

Like Arpaio, Zullo insisted he didn’t investigate the judge and instead maintained the investigation examined claims that someone had taken the bank information of thousands of people.

While Arpaio maintained that Snow’s bank account information had been hacked, another investigator has testified he never examined whether the judge’s bank information had been breached.

Zullo was nearly yelling when he finally started answering questions. He accused an opposing lawyer of wrongfully portraying him as a criminal. He then paused and said, “I may need to stop.”

The posse leader said a confidential informant had alleged Snow’s banking information had been hacked, but the informant never provided proof.

In any event, Zullo said the sheriff’s office never examined informant Dennis Montgomery’s claim about Snow’s banking information. “We never investigated it,” Zullo said.

Earlier Thursday, Zullo was asked about an email that Montgomery sent him in December 2014 in which the informant said the sheriff’s office had “pursued sensitive information against Judge Snow and we both know it.”

Messages left for Larry Klayman, a lawyer for Montgomery, weren’t immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Zullo was called to testify at contempt hearings on Arpaio’s disobedience of Snow’s orders.

The sheriff has acknowledged letting his officers conduct immigration patrols for 18 months after the judge had ordered them stopped.

The hearings could lead to civil fines for the sheriff, more court-ordered changes to the agency and possible criminal contempt hearings for Arpaio.

Zullo is known for leading the sheriff’s 2012 investigation into the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Lawyers said Arpaio might be called to testify on Friday.

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