PHOENIX — An Arizona sheriff accused of launching a secret investigation into a judge in a failed bid to get him booted from a racial profiling case insisted in court Friday that the judge wasn't the target of the examination.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio testified that his investigation focused on allegations that someone stole bank account information from thousands of people and that someone wiretapped his lawyers' phones.
The sheriff for metropolitan Phoenix said U.S. District Judge Murray Snow, who has dealt the toughest legal defeats in Arpaio's 22-year tenure, was a victim in the theft of bank information.
"My concern is the 150,000 people who live in Maricopa County who were victims. I don't care who they are or where they came from," Arpaio said. He was responding to questions about why the racial profiling case was mentioned in documents from the investigation.
Snow has said the probe was intended to prove that the judge and U.S. Justice Department were conspiring against the sheriff.
Arpaio said a confidential informant who provided the tips that led to the investigation was eventually deemed unreliable. Still, the agency's investigators continued pressing the informant for proof.
The sheriff's lawyers cited the investigation earlier this summer when they tried unsuccessfully to get Snow removed from the case.
The disqualification attempt was made after Snow launched a contempt-of-court case against Arpaio for flouting the judge's orders. Arpaio could face civil fines, for instance, for his acknowledgment that his officers conducted immigration patrols 18 months after Snow ordered them stopped.
The six-term sheriff has been accused in the past of retaliating against critics. He was confronted in court Friday about documents in his possession that were related to the investigation, including a November 2013 note that Arpaio wrote on his typewriter.
In it, Arpaio said another tipster had alleged that federal authorities put wiretaps on the phones of the sheriff and his wife. The document also contained a handwritten notation by Arpaio that said the judge's sister-in-law worked for a law firm that was pressing the profiling case in court.
Arpaio explained that the tip was bizarre but said he couldn't ignore it. In the end, the sheriff acknowledged the tipster's information couldn't be verified.
"I took it serious," Arpaio said. "On the other hand, it's just one of those things that comes up. I didn't send the Army to check it out."
On Thursday, a lieutenant in Arpaio's office testified that the sheriff personally spent $10,000 to help pay for some travel expenses in the investigation. The sheriff's lead attorney disputes that claim.