by JJ Hensley and Yvonne Wingett - Jan. 8, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Two Maricopa County executives said Thursday they will appear before a federal grand jury next week to testify about allegations that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others in his office have abused their power.
County Manager David Smith and Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson said they met with representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office on Wednesday to prepare for the grand jury.
Arpaio denied knowledge of the grand jury. "I'm not commenting about the grand jury or what's occurring," he said. "If people are saying it, let them say it. We're going to continue doing our job."
Federal grand juries composed of local residents meet in secret to hear testimony to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial.
Witnesses, however, are not prohibited from talking about the grand jury, which uses subpoenas to gather evidence.
If the grand jury hands up an indictment, a trial would determine guilt or innocence.
Smith and Wilson are scheduled to appear at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday. They were told that their testimony may take several hours over several days. "We were told that we are now federal witnesses, and we will be protected," Wilson said.
Based on their discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Smith said the grand jury appears to be focusing on a variety of issues.
Among them are budget negotiations, the county's courthouse project, deputies questioning county employees at their homes, threats of investigations of county employees, and a fight over a criminal-justice computer system.
"I'm certainly gratified that the system is starting to work, where this kind of abuse of power is looked into by a competent authority," Smith said. "A lot of people have suffered; now I think that from the U.S. attorney, with respect to Sheriff Arpaio, justice will be served."
The Justice Department announced last year it was also conducting a civil investigation into allegations of racial profiling against the Sheriff's Office.
Representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, the Department of Justice in Washington, D..C., and the FBI office in Phoenix would not comment on the grand jury.
Since at least May, county employees have regularly met with FBI officials about Arpaio and allegations of misuse of power, according to Republic sources interviewed by federal agents.
However, sources said Thursday it's unclear if the grand jury is a result of those conversations.
Over the past year, county leaders have fought over money and authority.
The fights originated among top officials at the county, the Sheriff's Office and the County Attorney's Office but have recently enveloped midlevel employees in other departments..... (hit the AZ Republican for the rest)