Maricopa County sued by family of developers over probe
by Yvonne Wingett and Michael Kiefer - Jan. 18, 2011 06:20 PM
The Arizona Republic
Attorneys representing a family of real-estate developers filed suit against Maricopa County officials Tuesday, saying the family was wrongfully dragged into a criminal investigation of the business dealings of County Supervisor Don Stapley.
The claim on behalf of Conley Wolfswinkel, his family and related businesses, alleges unlawful search and seizure, loss of business, damaged reputations and other allegations. The lawsuit names Sheriff Joe Arpaio, former County Attorney Andrew Thomas and officials in their offices.
The Wolfswinkels seek punitive damages, attorneys' fees and plaintiffs' costs, and ask that the case go to trial.
So far, six Maricopa County officials, including judges, have sued the county over Thomas and Arpaio investigations. The Wolfswinkels are the only private citizens who have sued.
The lawsuit focuses on a search warrant executed on the family's business office in January 2009. Stapley faced 118 criminal counts related to properties and real estate deals that prosecutors said he did not include in his annual financial-disclosure forms. Some of those deals related to business associations with Wolfswinkel, who was convicted of felony check-kiting in the 1990s and was a figure in the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s.
That case against Stapley was dismissed on a technicality and is on appeal.
According to the lawsuit, deputies spent hours going through the offices, hung yellow crime-scene tape and kept employees under armed guard. But the search warrant was later controverted, meaning it should not have been executed in the first place.
"The illegal search and seizure had a devastating impact on the Wolfswinkels," the suit said. "The Wolfswinkels suffered the humiliation and mental anguish of having been wrongly, and very publicly, accused of crimes of bribery and fraudulent schemes which they knew - and Arpaio and Thomas knew - they had not committed," the complaint said.