Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton, Jr. and a Marana businessman are subjects of a federal public corruption investigation focused primarily on their dealings with Waste Management, the nation's largest trash hauler.
In the course of its two year investigation, the FBI has also questioned Marana officials and served federal grand jury subpoenas seeking records related to businessman Richard "Rick" Westfall's contracts with the town and his involvement with the Marana Police Department.
Federal authorities are reportedly close to completing the investigation and sources for this story who said they have been interviewed by the FBI claim the probe centers on alleged extortion threats made between December 2001 and February 2002 that were intended to secure a hauling contract from Waste Management for Westfall's trucking firm.
Westfall's attorney, Stephen Weiss, confirmed his client is under investigation for an extortion-related crime, but said Westfall did nothing wrong.
"There is a federal investigation and it's my understanding it involves an allegation of a Hobbs Act violation," Weiss said in a phone interview Feb. 13. "My client has not done anything wrong and beyond that I'm not going to make any further comment at this time."
The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce and contains a specific provision dealing with extortion by or with a public official, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's criminal resources manual.
The FBI has compiled tape recordings of meetings and phone calls involving Sutton, Westfall and Waste Management employees and FBI agents are reported to have posed as employees of Waste Management during the investigation, sources close to the investigation said.
The Northwest EXPLORER has interviewed 12 people over the last two years who are close to the probe and obtained documents related to the investigation.
The FBI has admonished people it has interviewed not to discuss the investigation, prompting many sources to only agree to comment or provide information for this story under the condition of anonymity. Neither Sutton nor Westfall have been charged with a crime.
"They're asking specifically about the relationship between the Mayor and Westfall - how he ended up getting contracts with the town and they want information on the Waste Management case," said one man who said he was interviewed by the FBI within the last two months. "(The agents) said that the Mayor and Mr. Westfall were in deep trouble."
The sources and documents related to the investigation paint two glaringly different scenarios of what allegedly transpired: either Sutton and Westfall tried to extort a trash hauling contract from Waste Management; or the two are victims of an overzealous federal investigator and have been targeted for retaliation for their attempts to expose a practice by the company's trucking contractor and subcontractors of hauling dangerously overweight truckloads of trash on local roads.
Sutton - Marana's first directly elected mayor and a council member since 1995 - declined to comment on specifics of the probe, but acknowledged the investigation and claimed Waste Management was retaliating against himself and Westfall. He would give only a single statement about the case.
"In this whole matter, I have done nothing wrong, the town has done nothing wrong and no one has asked us to pursue any influence against anyone. Nothing has gone on inappropriately. I don't even think Mr. Westfall has done anything wrong.
"I think this is a clear matter of big business trying to hurt a whistle blower on something that they were doing wrong and they're trying to tie me up in that. But the town and myself have done nothing wrong in the entire thing and we are very positive that's how it will come out," Sutton said.
Duane Woods, vice president and general counsel for Waste Management's Western region, responded to Sutton's statement with a single comment.
"The mayor's statement is both untrue and out of context. At this time, we have no further comment," Woods said in a phone interview from Scottsdale Feb. 12.
Westfall declined to comment on the investigation and referred questions last week to his attorney. His trucking company, Westfall Transport, held contracts with Marana for road projects and work at the town's airport between 2000 and 2002 and he also owns a firewood business in the town. Westfall has been active in several Marana-area charities and has acknowledged a friendship with Sutton and other town council members.
The FBI has repeatedly declined to comment on specifics of the investigation.
"We just don't comment on ongoing investigations. We talk to a lot of people and interview a lot of people and we can't always talk to the press as to why we are talking to people … sometimes, but not about an ongoing investigation where no one has been charged," said Susan Herskovitz, the FBI's spokeswoman in Phoenix.
Officials at Waste Management's corporate headquarters in Houston and other locations confirmed last year the company contacted its own corporate security and federal authorities about the meetings and phone calls involving Sutton and Westfall, but have declined to comment on specifics in the case.
"Waste Management saw what was going on and notified the proper authorities who stepped in," said Sarah Voss-Simpson, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, in a phone interview from Houston Jan. 22, 2003.
Voss-Simpson said the company could not comment further on the case and followed her statement with an e-mail the next day.
"It is the policy of Waste Management to fully cooperate with all law enforcement inquiries. Other than that, any specific information related to a particular investigation should be directed to the U.S. attorney's office," Voss-Simpson wrote.
The U.S. attorney's office in Arizona has withheld comment on the investigation except to say that Waste Management is not being investigated.
That statement, made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Duncan who was handling the case in Tucson before his retirement Aug. 31, was made at the behest of Waste Management last year.
Duncan refused to comment when asked directly whether Sutton and Westfall were under investigation. Sources close to the case say the investigation was transferred to federal authorities in Phoenix after Duncan's retirement.
Two federal grand jury subpoenas from Duncan's office were served on the town of Marana in May 2002 ordering the release to the FBI of records related to Westfall's construction contracts with the town and his dealings with the Marana Police Department, according to copies of the subpoenas.
The subpoenas sought information on all of Westfall's contacts with the town dating back to 1995.
The FBI has also talked to Marana's former Town Manager Mike Hein, former Marana Airport Director Roger Dougan, current Development Services Administrator Jim DeGrood, Town Engineer Farhad Moghimi and other town officials in the course of the investigation.
None of the administrators are believed to be suspected of any wrongdoing, and most refused to disclose specific details of the discussions other than to acknowledge being contacted by the FBI.
Waste Management employees, along with employees of the three trucking companies that subcontracted to haul trash for CSU and Waste Management, also say they have been interviewed by the FBI.
Possibly adding a degree of credence to Sutton's claim of whistle blowing and retaliation are approximately 3,000 truck-scale records from the Waste Management transfer station in Marana compiled by the Arizona Department of Public Safety in a separate investigation.
The scale records, which indicate Waste Management subcontractors were illegally hauling overweight trash loads, were forwarded to the Pima County Attorney's Office which so far has not moved toward prosecuting anyone for the violations. (see related story page 5.)
In addition to discussions as to whether Westfall's company would continue to work for Waste Management and its hauling contractor, CSU Transport, the meetings and phone calls being investigated by the FBI also involved the topic of overweight hauling, sources closes to the investigation said.
According to court records, in the spring of 1999, Westfall Transport was subcontracted by CSU to haul trash from Waste Management's Marana transfer station, 5200 W. Ina Road, to Waste Management landfills in Pinal and Maricopa counties. Two other hauling companies were also subcontracted.
Westfall's trucks were also involved in hauling some of the overweight trash loads, according to the scale records compiled by the DPS and forwarded to the Pima County Attorney's Office.
The allegations of overweight hauling involved the subcontractors' semi-trucks that carried multi-ton bulk loads of trash from the Marana transfer station to the landfills. Waste Management's smaller trash trucks that service neighborhoods and businesses were not involved in the overweight hauling, according to DPS and Waste Management officials.
Neither Waste Management nor the trucking companies related to the overweight hauling are being investigated by the FBI, and none of the companies have been charged with a crime, although the DPS has launched separate inquiries and audits of the overweight hauling in both Phoenix and Marana.
Officials with Waste Management and the DPS say the overweight loads of trash are no longer being hauled from the Marana transfer station. CSU no longer contracts to haul trash for Waste Management from the Ina Road facility, although the company still hauls Phoenix-area trash to Waste Management landfills.
Westfall's contract with CSU was terminated in January 2002, prompting a lawsuit by Westfall filed June 12, 2002 against CSU, according to Pima County Superior Court records.
In his suit, Westfall expressly claimed his contract was terminated because he was a whistle blower who had complained about the overweight loads.
Westfall offered to settle the case Jan. 6 for $7,000, however, the case was dismissed Jan. 23 with both sides agreeing to dismiss the suit and pay their own attorney's fees, according to court records.
Sources speaking on condition of anonymity in defense of Sutton and Westfall deny that the two tried to use any influence or threats to secure Westfall's contract with CSU and Waste Management.
The sources instead claim the two are being falsely targeted with criminal allegations because Westfall "blew the whistle" about the three subcontractors allegedly hauling illegal and dangerously overweight loads from the Marana transfer station with CSU's knowledge.
Sources sympathetic to Sutton and Westfall also question the credibility of FBI Special Agent Clifford Goodman, who was investigating in the Marana case until he was transferred to the FBI's office in the U.S. Virgin Islands last year.
Goodman became embroiled in controversy last year when Pima County Superior Court Judge Lina Rodriguez dismissed perjury charges against Tucson Police Department Detective Joseph Godoy. Godoy had been accused of lying in court to secure the convictions of suspects in murders that occurred in 1992 and 1995 and Goodman was the prosecution's primary investigator in the perjury case.
In her July 16 ruling dismissing the charges, Rodriguez used terms such as "zealousness" and "exaggeration" to describe Goodman's testimony before a grand jury that later indicted Godoy. Members of the Tucson Police Officers Association, a union that supported Godoy, have called for an internal FBI investigation of Goodman.
Sources close to the Sutton and Westfall investigation said Tucson attorney Mike Piccarreta, who represented Godoy in the perjury case, is now representing Sutton.
Piccarreta refused to "confirm or deny" he's representing Sutton during the public corruption investigation, but he lambasted Goodman's investigative techniques in an interview last month.
"(What) I would say, is that any case he investigates or is involved in, in any manner whatsoever, has to be viewed with great caution and great scrutiny and the investigative tactics reviewed carefully because there is the possibility of miscarriages of justice," Piccarreta said.
Goodman, contacted at his office in the U.S. Virgin Islands Feb. 12, declined to comment.
Although most sources interviewed for this story indicated the trash hauling contract lies at the center of the federal government's investigations, FBI agents have also interviewed several people about Westfall's contracts and involvement with the town of Marana.
Previous investigations by the Northwest EXPLORER indicate the bulk of Westfall's work for the town of Marana occurred between April 2000 and March 2002. In that time, Westfall's trucking business was paid $103,522 for hauling materials at the town's Marana-Northwest Regional Airport without having to go through the bidding process mandated by state and town regulations, according to town records.
In February 2002, the Arizona Department of Transportation Department's Aeronautics Division suspended reimbursements to the town of state and federal grant money used for the airport construction projects. The state questioned the lack of any sealed bids for $75,000 worth of work awarded to Westfall's company, but eventually reinstated the payments despite the fact the town was unable to produce documentation that procurement regulations were followed.
Westfall was paid an additional $23,000 from the town's general fund for a town road project at the airport which also was not put out for competitive bidding, and which the town kept no record of beyond copies of payments made to Westfall.
The road building project was the first ever done using town staff for the actual construction work rather that a contractor. Town officials defended the use of an open-ended contract with Westfall for the material and hauling because it was an "in-house project."
Westfall was also paid $11,000 by Marana for clearing brush on land used as a parking lot for the town's 2002 Fourth of July celebration, according to town records.
In that instance, the town was investigated by the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality after burning debris from the parking lot was dumped near a residential neighborhood. No charges were filed in the case.
Some of the sources interviewed by the FBI said agents asked about an incident in which Sutton involved himself in a case when Marana police officers were called to Westfall's business in 2000.
Marana officials failed for almost five months to forward for prosecution allegations leveled against Westfall that he threatened the life of a 65-year-old road worker in May 2000.
According to MPD reports, Westfall was engaged in an argument with the construction foreman over road construction occurring in front of Westfall's business at 5300 W. Ina Road.
After Westfall reportedly threatened to kill the foreman, the foreman called Marana Police and Westfall called Sutton.
According to the MPD report, the foreman claimed Westfall said "he was friends with the mayor and would have our construction shut down."
Sutton, who admits a friendship with Westfall and who, according to town records, received a $300 contribution from the businessman for his 1999 mayoral bid, allegedly called and advised former Town Manager Mike Hein during the argument.
Hein, in an interview after the incident, said after he spoke to Sutton he contacted former Marana Police Chief David Smith to have officers sent out to Westfall's business.
Sutton, in an interview in September 2000, said he also discussed the case with Smith after the altercation between Westfall and the foreman.
"I talked to the chief after the incident just to see what happened … we talked about it because this is a small town and (we talk about) most things that happen where the police go out, even the minor things. And the chief knows Westfall, too. He's very well known in Marana," Sutton said.
The police report containing Westfall's alleged threat lingered at MPD until June 20, 2000 despite inquiries from the road worker to the MPD about the status of the case.
The case was forwarded to the Marana Town Prosecutor's Office a week after the EXPLORER filed a public records request for the report, where it remained until September 2000, when the newspaper filed a second request for the report.
The case was declared a conflict of interest for Marana and forwarded to Oro Valley's municipal court for prosecution, but the road worker dropped the complaint against Westfall shortly after the case was transferred.