Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 29, 2005


Host: Michael Grant

County Attorney


  • Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas joins Michael Grant to talk about topics including attorney staffing issues in his office, identity theft, green swimming pool code violations, and the decision not to prosecute Sgt. Patrick Haab, an army reservist who held seven undocumented immigrants at gunpoint at an Arizona rest stop in April.
Guests:
  • Andrew Thomas - Maricopa County attorney


View Transcript
>> Michael Grant:
Tonight on "Horizon," key research and training for military pilots conducted at the Air Force research lab at Williams gateway airport in Mesa, it's on the BRAC commission's list for closure. Plus, as of June 1st, businesses have to start shredding documents containing consumer information used for business purposes to protect customers from identity theft. We'll talk about that issue and more with Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas next on "Horizon.".

>> Michael Grant:
Good evening. Welcome to "Horizon." I'm Michael Grant. In the news, Arizona has its first case of human west Nile virus. Arizona state lab confirming today appear man in his 50s contracted the virus while in Maricopa County. Public health officials asking that everyone in the community take the proper precautions to prevent any further west Nile cases. Population growth, methamphetamine rings, illegal immigration, our senior population, other factors combining to create a veritable Mecca for identity theft in our state. Maricopa County attorney Andrew Thomas warns the public.

>>Actor 1:
I'm Andrew Thomas.

>> Actor 2:
No, I'm Andrew Thomas.

>>Actor 3:
I'm Andrew Thomas.

>> Andrew Thomas:
I'm Andrew Thomas, your Maricopa County attorney. Identity theft is a growing problem, and it can happen to anyone. But you can help protect yourself from criminals by taking some basic steps. Shred your documents before throwing them away. Don't leave mail in your mailbox. Don't give personal information over the phone or internet unless you initiate the contact. To learn more about identity theft, go to endIDthefts.com.

>> Michael Grant:
In addition to identity theft, a new spousal rape law and animal abuse initiatives, pay for prosecutors, subject related to news that people are talking about today. Prosecuting people with green stagnant pools that are breeding grounds for west Nile virus, those are all topics to talk about with Maricopa County attorney and TV star Andrew Thomas. How are you settling in?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Doing fine. I am the real Andrew Thomas, by the way. Accept no imtations.

>> Michael Grant:
That's kind of a cool -- I had seen that on TV. It was nicely done, brought deduction.

>> Andrew Thomas:
Thanks. I wish I could take the credit but we put it in the hands of professionals.

>> Michael Grant:
We've got some new legislation on identity theft? Sort of -- give us the key points.

>> Andrew Thomas:
We do. Our office supported legislation that the governor has signed that will create a couple new crimes, aggravated identity theft and taking the identity of another, very serious offenses. That will allow us to target the rings of professional identity thieves, the ones who are trafficking in stolen I.D.s, not just sort of person who comes about something just by happenstance, but really the professional criminals who are behind so much of the identity theft wave. This will give us the tools to come down on them very hard. One of those offenses is a class 2 felony which is the highest felony under the criminal code other than class 1 felony which is reserve for homicides. That in addition to some of the other steps we have taken in our office, seeking jail sentences for all people who are accused of identity theft, that hadn't been the case in the past, we've also done the public service announcement that you just ran.

>> Michael Grant:
I mentioned shredding documents. That's a federal law?

>> Andrew Thomas:
That's correct.

>> Michael Grant:
How does that operate? Just a general carte blanche to business that if you're dealing with personal information, shred it before you dispose of it?

>>Andrew Thomas:
There are certain businesses that are required to shred documents pursuant to a federal law that just come into effect. There's been some discussion at the state level of having a supplemental law at the state level could that deal with some of those issues and that's something we're reviewing. Identity theft is a problem we're going to have to continue to attack. Arizona has the highest identity theft rate in the nation, Maricopa County has the highest of any jurisdiction. I think there are several reasons for that, and -- but bottom line is it's going to take some time for us to turn the corn or issue and it's going to take concerted effort from law enforcement.

>> Michael Grant:
The federal trade commission came out with a report I want to say several months ago now. We all tend to focus on the electronic aspect of this and I certainly don't mean to minimize the electronic aspect of it, but sort of the two key findings of the federal trade commission report were, number one, a lot of the -- this is low-tech stuff. It's still stealing from dumpsters and raiding mail boxes and those kinds of things. Number two, unfortunately a lot of it is also tied to people that you know, including but not limit to family members.

>> Andrew Thomas:
That is correct. Dumpster diving, so-called dumpster diving, still tends to be -- people who do that tend to be the work horses behind identity theft, people who go into either residential trash or they go into business dumpsters behind businesses. They tend to get a lot of identity information from those pillages, if you will, but then there's also stealing from relatives, and also employee theft. There are a fair number of inside jobs, people who work for hotels or other establishments, are able to obtain that information and sell it. There's a big market out there for it to finance a lot -- a lot of the people who do it are addict to methamphetamines. We have a tremendous meth problem here in Arizona. And it also is tied to illegal immigration because there's a huge market for phony I.D. because illegal immigrants need in that many cases to obtain employment. These and other factors have converged to make Arizona uniquely conducive environment for identity theft.

>> Michael Grant:
Unfortunately we have our first case of west Nile virus, as I just discussed. Your office has cautioned sheriff's office in terms of its surveillance activities, looking for green stagnant pools, the concern being that maybe people have an expectation of privacy in their backyards?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Well, what we -- one of the first initiatives I had when I took office was to crackdown on the relative handful of irresponsible property owners who allow their pools to degenerate to the point they become black lagoons, breeding grounds for mosquitoes who carry the west Nile virus and can infect entire neighborhoods. We began to prosecute people criminally. It is a misdemeanor for people to allow their pools to become a health hazard to their neighbors, and so we instituted working with county health officials a program whereby we would go from house to house based on a complaint-driven process, we would go there and inform them they needed to clean up their pool and give them 48 hours.

>> Michael Grant:
But if you can fly over and identify those people, it's slicker. Is it constitutional?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Well, we think it's legal. We were just caught a little bit off guard by that announcement, because the county as a whole had considered whether or not to do the flyovers. It had decided not to do that. And we think that it is legal as long as it's done according to certain strictures, but we just want to make sure, our understanding is the people who are going to be conducting the surveillance are volunteers. We want to just make sure that they're trained and are cognizant of the privacy interests because although there has been a Supreme Court case that has allowed people to -- or law enforcement to, for example, look for drugs in people's backyards, this sort of a broad-based surveillance is somewhat unusual. We just want to make sure there's sensitivity to the privacy interest of the homeowners and we're confident there will be.

>> Michael Grant:
And also satisfied with how it's being done by the sheriff's office at the current time.

>> Andrew Thomas:
My understanding is it's just gotten going, but we're hopeful those sensitivities will be honored.

>> Michael Grant:
Several weeks ago everyone was familiar with the sergeant Patrick Haab case. He was the returning soldier from Iraq who held both the coyote and several illegal aliens at gunpoint waiting for law enforcement to show up. You decided not to prosecute. Why not?

>> Andrew Thomas:
It was a lawful citizens arrest we concluded based on applicable federal and state law. Patrick Haab, the off-duty army reservist, had apprehended seven individuals, one was a coyote who was in the process of human smuggling, which is a felony, and then the other six people who cooperated with him were conspirators which is also a felony, and so we concluded he had the right to conduct that arrest and --

>> Michael Grant:
Critics of your decision said this, hold it, it was happenstance that one of them happened to be a coyote, which did make it a felony. I believe it only would have been a misdemeanor, which would have not made it an appropriate citizens arrest. They also said that they felt your decision was encouraging pejoratively speaking vigilante kind of action. What do you say to that?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Well, I tried to emphasize at the time, and would do so again, that it was a decision based on the unique facts of that case. The sergeant happened to be right in that they were involved in the commission of a felony. Had he been wrong, he could have ended up in prison, had he simply detained people with a weapon under different circumstances. He could be looking at a very different scenario. But those were the facts of the case as our office received it, and so we had to accept the facts on that basis.

>> Michael Grant:
Did you consider the possibility, as I understood it, there were a number of different stories being told by the group that was held that sort of put their version of the whole incident in question. Did you consider saying, well, hold it, this is not a case that we could successfully prosecute because we've got such bad witnesses on that side, as opposed to turning it on the fortuitous circumstance, perhaps, that the coyote -- one of them turned out to be a coyote?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Well, the analysis that we use is -- you do ultimately have to look at the reasonable likelihood of conviction, that is the long standing standard of whether or not to charge somebody with a crime in the county attorney's office, is a standard that I continue to apply. I think it's an appropriate one. Before you even get to that you have to look at whether or not the person is innocent. If the person has a legitimate, affirmative defense to the crimes as charge, you have to consider that, first of all, before you make the ultimate charging decision based on the reasonably likelihood to conviction standard. We did that, went through the different layers and ended up concluding based upon applicable law that was the right decision to make.

>> Michael Grant: And you would make it again?

>> Andrew Thomas:
Yes.

>> Michael Grant:
Doesn't send the right message?

>> Andrew Thomas:
In this job, it's a tough job in certain respects in that you have to make certain calls and you're going to end up not pleasing everybody every time you make a decision in that in the end you have to make the right call based on the facts and you can't be swayed by people getting mad or protesting. You have to make the like rite call. Once you depart from that, once you are no longer interested mostly in being a minister of justice in that office, then tyranny begins to creep in, and I made the call based on my good faith assessment of the law and the facts of the case and I stand by it.

>> Michael Grant:
Lot of subjects to talk about. Let me just touch on one more. There's a new spousal rape law in effect, and basically what it did was standardized the penalties between rape of a stranger and rape of a spouse. I think the traditional justification for the distinction was that because of the marital relationship there was more possibility of false accusations. You felt those penalties should be normalized. Why did you feel that way?

>> Andrew Thomas:
We felt -- when we analyzed it in our office, we looked at it from the perspective of could we prove the cases? I mean, if we had a case of spousal rape, could we prove it? And we're already doing that in the case of people who live together, and there's an accusation, it's a he said, she said situation, we're already doing that, and it comes down to prosecutors having to make a decision whether or not the case can be proved in trial and you can't just rely on a he said, she said situation like that. You have to look at whether there is other evidence. And that is what we have been doing in these other co-habitation cases whether there is physical evidence of a rape, confession from a defendant, that sort of thing.

>> Michael Grant:
Circumstances of the episode?

>> Andrew Thomas
:That's right. And we thought, rape is rape in the end, and you really can't discriminate between people who are in a marital relationship who are raped and people who are outside of marital relationship and are raped. They have to be treated the same under the law. And there was -- it did at one point look as if the legislation was going to go down, there was a house committee had that voted against it initially, so our office did become involved because I did think it was a proper reform. It really was, I think, it's fair to say, an archaic law that needed to be changed on equal protection grounds if nothing else and we're fortunate that has been passed into law.

>> Michael Grant:
County attorney Andrew Thomas, an eclectic mix of topics. We appreciate you discussing them.

>> Andrew Thomas:
Thank you.

>> Michael Grant:
It has survived a recommendation for closure before, the Air Force research lab at Williams gateway airport is again on a preliminary list for military bases and facility closures. The secretary of defense recommends the list to the base realignment and closure commission, BRAC. In a moment we'll talk about the economic and development impact of a potential closure and some ideas for saving the lab. First, Merry Lucero gives a look at the AFRL.

>> Merry Lucero:
Pilots train in advanced high-tech flight simulators at the Air Force research laboratory located at Williams gateway airport in Mesa.

>> Daniel Walker:
Training is a fairly expensive proposition. So any ways we can find to make commanders of all services, we're primarily interested in the Air Force but we work with other services, any way we can show the commanders to get their soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines ready for their mission faster, which includes initial training or rehearsals for any particular mission, that will help the commander when they actually are called on to do their job in combat or in other operations.

>> Merry Lucero:
Research is also conducted to improve air-to-air and air-to-ground combat procedures.

>> Daniel Walker:
We develop, we analyze, we experiment with different ways to train the war fighter so knowledge to allow them to better do their job, to be more effective in combat, they will be able to learn faster, we'll be able to get it to them more efficiently or it will stay with them longer. So it will be better value to them when they need to do their job.

>> Merry Lucero:
88 government employees work at the facility, hundreds of additional jobs are directly or indirectly related to the operation.

>> Daniel Walker:
We have made an effort to be part of the community that we're in. It's been a very beneficial relationship both for us and for places like Arizona State where we do a lot of cooperative research programs, along with -- research programs. We call what we do here somewhat of a co-laboratory. We do it in collaboration with the civilian researchers and with contractors and with the military defense contractors in those organizations that have an interest in training airmen.

>> Merry Lucero:
The lab's proximity to Luke Air Force Base and other regional military installations is a benefit.

>> Daniel Walker:
Those airmen that come to our test bed and participate in our studies are very enthusiastic parts of our studies and our research in ways to make better training. So we're very happy with our relationship with Luke Air Force Base and other military institutions, both in the reserve components and the National Guard and active duty for their ability to come here and train with us. So not actually the flying they do but the fact they are here helps us do our mission better.

>> Merry Lucero:
The base realignment and closure commission is considering a recommendation from the Department of Defense that the Air Force research lab be closed. They present their recommendation to the president in September.

>>Daniel Walker:
The Department of Defense is looking for the best ways to be stewards of the taxpayers' money. In some cases that involves relocation or co-location of other facilities to get most bang for the buck, which is what we're interested in, but again, we're very, very happy with our relationship here at Mesa and with everybody that right now is helping us get the war fighter better prepared to do his or her mission.

>> Merry Lucero:
There is no decision by the BRAC commission yet, although it has made it clear it is pleased with the work at the Air Force research lab. Once the president has re received the recommendation, he will either reject or accept it and pass it onto Congress.

>> Michael Grant:
Joining me now to talk more about the Mesa Air Force research lab's potential closure is Stuart Hadley, executive director of Arizona State University's federal relations and Wayne Balmer, the gateway area project manager. I didn't know -- I'm not quite sure that I really had a feel for what research meant in this context, but it's interesting function out there.

>> Stuart Hadley:
Very interesting. Very important for the Air Force. They need these pilots trained well and they need to do the research on the training. So it's a gem right here in the East Valley.

>> Michael Grant:
You went with the governor to the BRAC meeting at cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico, last week, right?

>>Stuart Hadley:
Yeah, I attended the hearing. It was a very interesting hearing. It was commendable for the governor to go over. There was ant hearing in Arizona, and so she decided to take it upon herself to go to New Mexico and make sure Arizona's case was heard and she did a very good job. It went very well.

>> Michael Grant:
How do you think it was received by the committee?

>> Stuart Hadley:
I think very well. There was a significant number of BRAC commissioners at this hearing. In the past several hearings there have been like two or three. At this one there were like five or six different commissioners actually there. So she had a very good audience. They were attentive, asked questions, willing to be receptive of inputs from her office, and the governor opened the door up aggressively for us.

>> Michael Grant:
Now, wait, what are the local economic impacts associated with the research lab?

>>Wayne Balmer:
Make you will, the laboratory is almost like the grocery store and the shopping center at Williams gateway airport. When the Air Force Base closed they left that facility, they had specialized facility, they did specialized work. The Air Force was comfortable with leaving it there and because it was there our research and our redevelopment program has focused on research use of that facility, attracting people to that facility. So in addition to the laboratory and the 88 people that work there that may leave if it closes, there are eight private businesses that occupy about, oh, 40,000 square feet of new building at the airport, in addition to the ASU facilities that are there, and all total there is about 450 people that may be out of work as a result of this change.

>> Michael Grant:
I was going to ask you, because I had heard the larger number associated -- than just the lab personnel themselves, and that's what the larger number is relating to?

>> Wayne Balmer:
Yes. In addition to that, there are a lot of other implications of the closure of the facility. For instance, there on the airport, and the airport sells a lot of fuel to the aircraft that come in and do part of the training and the research that the base has. It's not just research like computer facilities. They do a lot of training kinds of research with people all over the southwest who come in to get training and to teach at that facility.

>> Michael Grant:
Now, do I have this correctly that there's been like a big red bull's eye on that thing for 15 years or so?

>>Wayne Balmer:
Well, it's been an interesting process. It was there as part of Williams Air Force Base. Williams Air Force Base was recommended for closure in '91. It actually close in '93. But they had been doing this research, they had these facilities in place, they liked the way the research was going. There are a lot of people in the southwest that they work with. So the Air Force decide to do keep it open, but then every few years there's another round of base closures proposed. Williams was in the one in '93. Then there was one in '95. And in '95, the proposal was to keep it open. In fact, there was a lot of good reasons put forth as to why it should be kept open, and so it was actually kept open, and we've lobbied hard to keep it open from then until now.

>> Michael Grant:
Stuart, I don't want you to necessarily argue for Ohio, but -- what's the -- what is the stated rationale, though, for moving it from Mesa to Dayton, Ohio.

>> Stuart Hadley:
Very important. To end up getting this off the BRAC list or the recommendations, we have to confront the justification laid out by D.O.D. in moving this. The justification given by D.O.D. was to enhance synergies with other Air Force research lab and other army research labs in consolidating them at Wright pat. We think that's a big mistake. Not only number one do we not agree there's a huge amount of synergy potential with these other labs but we think they missed entirely all the synergies they have right here keeping the base in Mesa, and so you can't -- can't necessarily argue just from economic perspective to turn this around. You have to show the D.O.D. where they errored in their calculations, because every base around the country can show this is going to hurt this community, this is going to hurt that community. So we have to have a very articulate argument as to where D.O.D. messed up that this lab be relocated.

>> Michael Grant:
Wayne, that's the thought that occurs and take this in the spirit in which it's intended because I would like the whole Valley, the whole state and Mesa, you know, as well, but every community -- that's the reason why we created BRAC, because these are difficult local political decisions, but you've also got to make them. What's the strongest argument for Mesa over Dayton, Ohio?

>> Wayne Balmer:
Michael, I think there are -- there actually are two. One is, as Stuart just mentioned, there is a real team of people here that help the research laboratory in Mesa, Arizona, that we don't think were counted into the equation. The university and the private sector folks who all help that facility be successful. And that facility is very successful. They've won a whole lunch of awards in the last few years. They've achieved their goals. They're almost now a national model for synergy with the private and public sectors in the area of developing computer simulation for flight. And that is very important. The other thing we think they have overlooked is the cost involved in this move. About $30 million just to build a building and then about another $10 million to pack everything up and take it there, and only about 20\% of the people who work there now will probably make that move to Ohio. So --

>> Staurt Hadley:
Wayne, those are very key points. There is no facility waiting for them at Wright pat. This isn't just hangar space. They have to have a fairly specialized building for some of the activities they're doing.

>> Michael Grant:
It certainly looks like a sophisticated set of electronics that most hangars don't necessarily come equipped with.

>> Stuart Hadley:
It will take some money to move them. The Air Force will also lose, as Wayne also pointed out, maybe up to 80\% would not move. The investment the Air Force has made into the intellectual capital of their own people they will miss greatly. So that's a huge cost to the Air Force. ASU, for example, is willing to invest up to $2 million per year to enhance their research enterprise at the lab. So all in all, we anticipate that the lab could probably save between 60 to $80 million over a 10-year period of time and none of that was on the calculation for D.O.D. So that will be part of our argument in going in when we're visiting with the commissioners, with the commission staff, and in making this case aggressively that this thing should be turned around.

>> Michael Grant:
All right. Stuart Hadley, thank you very much for joining us. Is the commission going to make a decision, what, sometime in four or five months?

>>Stuart Hadley:
Yeah, September 8th they turn their recommendations over to the president, and then the president will have a period of time. It goes to Congress in early November. Them' have 45 days, then, to vote it up or down. So realistically we have until about mid-august to make our case.

>> Michael Grant:
Wayne Balmer, thanks for being here as well. To see transcripts of "Horizon," find out about upcoming topics, please visit the web site, www.azpbs.org.

>> Michael Sauceda:
Wildfires continue to ravage the state, including one burning northeast of the Valley that's already the second largest wildfire in the state's history. We'll give you an update on fires in Arizona. Also we'll give you an update on the Cardinals stadium which is 70\% complete and starting to look like it's ready for football. That's Thursday at 7:00 on Channel 8's "Horizon" program.

>> Michael Grant:
Thank you for being with us this evening. I'm Michael Grant Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

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