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Posted Jul 27, 2016, 12:10 pm
Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, subject of a probe into her cover-up of public records, warned staffers to whisper because of "listening devices in the walls" of her county office, and has not told the truth about her use of private emails and Facebook to carry out her duties, former staffers Timothy DesJarlais and Jeannie Davis said.
Records independently provided by the two show that Miller's falsehoods have extended beyond claiming to not use personal accounts for public business. In exchanges with DesJarlais, Miller discussed working with the Goldwater Institute to sue Pima County over the World View deal. The supervisor publicly claimed to have not been in contact with the rightwing think-tank.
Despite proof otherwise, Miller has repeatedly denied using personal emails to do public business, and refused to release records requested by the press. That has led to a referral of her case to the Criminal Division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
In response to public records requests made directly to them, two of Miller's former staffers recently turned over even more documentation that demonstrates the embattled District 1 Republican has directed her employees to use personal accounts to perform their work. Davis and DesJarlais each said they had provided copies of the records to county officials, as well as turning them over to TucsonSentinel.com.
The hundreds of documents provided, along with those previously released by former staff, show that:
False claims about private emails
Because "Miller seems to continue to falsely claim that we never used private emails for county business and is apparently refusing to cooperate," DesJarlais said he provided TucsonSentinel.com with all of the public records contained in emails, text messages and Facebook messages between him, Miller, and the rest of her staff.
DesJarlais, who left Miller's office in early June as TucsonSentinel.com and other news outlets looked into the sham news website he set up while working for the supervisor, provided 75 emails sent to and from his own personal Gmail account and the personal accounts of Miller and other staffers.
DesJarlais also provided more than 40 pages of text messages exchanged with Miller, along with other texts sent between him and Miller staffers Sherry Potter and Ryan Cunningham. He also turned over more than 20 pages with dozens of Facebook messages between him and Miller.
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DesJarlais, who quit on June 3, said that Miller had not ever contacted him about turning over the records since TucsonSentinel.com first asked for records from her office on May 18.
"She has been using not only personal email for county business but also used Facebook messaging and personal calls to our cellphones as a primary form of communication," DesJarlais said. "I'd also like to add my voice to that of her other staffers" about her record-handling practices, he said.
DesJarlais was reluctant to speak in detail about issues related to Miller's office, stating that she "had me sign a non-disclosure agreement as a result of the conduct of her past employees, so I doubt I can contribute anything without being put in legal jeopardy beyond providing you emails or records. However, that agreement of course has no control over public records." DesJarlais said that he did not have a copy of the NDA. No such agreement was included when a copy of his personnel file was released in early June.
Employment law experts said that such an agreement, which is not a standard part of the county's personnel practices, could likely not be enforced against a current or former government employee.
"I personally now have nothing hide and what beats me is that Supervisor Miller is still dragging her feet to comply when she could've avoided this drawn-out situation by providing her emails from the start," he said.
Miller did not respond to a request for comment on this report.
'Spyware' & 'listening devices'
DesJarlais, who was a part-time communications aide for Miller, said that during his February-June employment, "I became well aware of her paranoid concern that our computers 'were bugged and had spyware on them.' She even made me sometimes speak in whisper while in her office because she told me, 'Chuck (Huckelberry) had listening devices in the walls.'"
DesJarlais, who masqueraded as a reporter and created a fake news website, the "Arizona Daily Herald," himself lied for weeks in May and June as he denied any connection with the site. He and Miller pointed the finger at a local Republican activist, filing FBI reports naming him, with Miller claiming that someone was "interfering with a government office" and "attempting to influence an election." DesJarlais then pretended to purchase the website from an unknown person (who in reality did not exist), relaunching it in a further attempt to muddy the waters connecting him with it. That scheme unraveled when TucsonSentinel.com pointed out that the same P.O. box was used in connection with both versions of the site.
DesJarlais, who had already resigned, sent Miller a "confession" the next day.
Following his usual pattern, he used his personal email to send his mea culpa to her personal email address. Miller, as she did with stacks of records released from her office, blacked-out her Yahoo email address when she provided a copy after a public records request.
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DesJarlais has declined to elaborate on what his intentions were with the Herald site, and what, if anything, Miller knew about it before its creation or after questions were asked about it.
Messages he exchanged with Miller show that he was also working on her re-election effort, but he said he excluded "campaign-related material" from the records that were turned over. While under state law records related to taxpayer-funded government work are public records, political campaign documents are not required to be released.
While most of the records provided deal with the routine business of running an elected office, Miller has denied their very existence. Many of them point to her attempts to cover up her work:
On March 30, she texted DesJarlais to instruct him about organizing the Gmail account used for Miller's Constant Contact email newsletter. Miller has provided no records from that pimainfo email@example.com address. Miller sent many other messages to DesJarlais about her newsletter.
On April 13, discussing a newsletter, Miller told her aide that, "I wrote a piece about damaging the brand...."
"This is all very confidential," she texted DesJarlais.
"Yes i know. I'm very careful. Anything sensitive i do on my personal email or at home (sic)," he replied.
"Don't mention this to Ryan ... Thanks I appreciate your discretion," Miller replied, in an apparent reference to staffer Ryan Cunningham.
On March 21, Miller told DesJarlais in a Facebook chat that she would work on a newsletter item about Pima County facing an unexpected property-tax bill.
"I will do this at home," the supervisor wrote. "It was obvious they all read sherry's write up for an agenda item related to parental leave at the last meeting. I have asked everyone to please password protect docs (sic)."
On April 8, Miller instructed DesJarlais to not email her personal address from work. "Only use my work email from there," she told him via Facebook.
On April 28, the 19-year-old DesJarlais expressed concerns about accessing Miller's government Facebook page. "I am going to change my password right now. I don't know if I should be accessing Facebook from our office computer anymore," he told her. He then cautioned her about discussing campaign matters on her county supervisor page.
"Also be careful about messaging people through your supervisor page because off of that is public record since it is communication between a public official and a constituent. I saw you talking about getting someone campaign signs," DesJarlais told Miller via a Facebook message.
Miller released heavily redacted copies of a small set of messages sent to and from her office page on June 30, weeks after they were first requested. While Miller blacked-out the names and photographs of those who messaged her account, the records show that she replied to messages regarding her campaign. It's illegal for elected officials to use their government-sponsored accounts to communicate about their political efforts. Miller did not engage extensively on Facebook in the records provided, generally asking for contact information to follow up.
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Among those messages: on May 31, Miller replied to a query from someone who said they were "continuing to walk the neighborhoods in District 1."
"What's the best number to call you on? I'll give you a call and we can arrange to get togethor (sic)," Miller replied.
A May 11 message asking "How do we donate to your campaign?" went without a reply.
Miller responded to DesJarlais concerns by telling him "the reason it is legal for me... I am not on the clock."
Miller worked with Goldwater on World View suit
Although Miller repeatedly denied any connection to the suit filed by the Goldwater Institute over the county's backing of high-altitude tech firm World View, her exchanges with DesJarlais show otherwise.
In an April 4 memo to the Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said that "it is clear... that the Goldwater Institute has joined forces with Supervisor Miller in her effort to defeat incumbent County Supervisors."
Goldwater's letter to the county demanding a reversal of the January move to support the aerospace company was "filled with politically charged rhetoric that has no basis in fact ... it appears designed to influence the outcome of an election," Huckelberry wrote.
Miller told the Arizona Daily Star that the administrator's allegation was "ridiculous," and that she had no contact with Goldwater lawyers.
But on February 25, Miller told her staffer that "I'm still working on Goldwater with the balloon thing."
On March 29, Miller sent a Facebook message to DesJarlais:
Miller: "read the goldwater letter just posted."
DesJarlais: "I saw it. Made my day. I'd pay anything to see Chuck & Sharon's faces when they see it.
Miller: "they got it yesterday. response date April 8
It has taken 2 months but worth the wait
alot of work"
DesJarlais: "Can't wait to see what Chuck's memo says
Miller: "Chuck acts as if he is GOD....I got them via Goldwater once this will do it again"
The record on records
While the documents provided by DesJarlais show that Miller has continued to extensively use private channels of communication and password-protected files to cover up the work of her office, one of her former top staffers released a trove of records that shows the practice has been ongoing for years.
Jeannie Davis, who served as Miller's chief of staff from April 2014 until being fired just after Christmas 2015, said that she has a file of 18,000 Facebook messages she exchanged with Miller. Facebook "was the best way to get her info and communicate with her since she rarely came into office," Davis said.
Davis, who had previously provided a number of emails that showed Miller's use of private emails, turned over more records after TucsonSentinel.com sent her a request.
Saying that she was holding back messages that were personal or political, Davis released 158 emails sent between her personal Gmail account and Miller's personal account. She also released 72 pages containing hundreds of Facebook messages traded between the two. In those messages, Miller is identified as "Facebook User," because Davis "blocked Ally the second she let me go."
"I believe she thought the county administrator was watching everything she did on email and on our office computers," Davis said. "She also thought they listened to our phone calls. I'm not sure if they did or not, but that is why she mainly used her own personal computer and a few different personal email addresses."
In an October 2014 email Miller sent from her Yahoo account to Davis's Gmail address, the supervisor told her staffer to work on a spreadsheet of county employees.
"Don't send in to office please," Miller told Davis.
In another private email sent that month, Miller said that "I won't respond from my personal email."
Miller created yet another Gmail address outside the county system, which was "set up so prying eyes couldn't see what individuals were saying. Trying to prevent trouble for them."
Miller has not provided any emails from that address, which was still being managed by government employees while DesJarlais was in her office.
Miller's disdain for local news media, while frequently publicly expressed, comes through clearly in her behind-the-scenes emails. She repeatedly refers to the Arizona Daily Star as the "red star" (generally eschewing capitalization), and frequently blasts Jim Nintzel of the Tucson Weekly. Instead of being interviewed by reporters, she turns to staged media to bolster her image.
The supervisor carefully coordinates her appearances on local radio, and has staffers participate in editing supposedly independent blog posts about her.
Included in the records released by Davis are several scripts crafted for the supervisor's "Miller Time" appearances on the radio talk show hosted by J.T. Harris.
In them, Harris and Miller had detailed questions and answers laid out beforehand — rather than Harris acting as a reporter and making queries based on what the public should know, he and Miller have worked to broadcast pre-crafted promotional spots in the guise of journalism.
Similarly, emails shared by both DesJarlais and Davis show Miller's staff has been in close contact with the mostly anonymously published "Arizona Daily Independent" blog — a site that some in the county building jokingly refer to as the "Ally Defense Initiative" due to its cheerleading for the District 1 supervisor.
Copies of a factually unfounded ADI post about the FBI reports filed by Miller and DesJarlais were emailed from the editor of that site to the staffer prior to publication, with the question, "is this accurate?" DesJarlais did not provide a copy of any response he may have made.
Davis, while working for Miller, edited ADI material before it was made public, using her personal email to suggest changes in posts.
Case referred to Attorney General
Declaring a conflict of interest, the Pima County Attorney's Office referred the case of Miller's apparent attempts to evade public records laws to the state Attorney General's Office last week.
PCAO "has determined that we have a conflict of interest that precludes us from conducting that investigation," Chief Deputy County Attorney Amelia Cramer said last Thursday.
"We have referred that matter to the Arizona Attorney General's Office," she said.
Documents disclosed a week prior showed that Miller instructed staffers to use private emails and encrypted drives to avoid "prying eyes." Those papers show a longstanding practice of handling files that may lead to a criminal probe against her for evading state public records laws. Huckelberry confirmed last Thursday that he had turned over copies of the emails to the Pima County Attorney's Office. He declined to comment further.
Because PCAO attorney's are the legal counsel for the Board, they are unable to probe the matter without having a conflict of interest. Potential investigations of county supervisors are normally handed over to state officials.
The case was handed off to the Criminal Division of the AG's Tucson office, Cramer said.
More than two months after a set of public records was requested, Miller has doubled and tripled down on demonstrably false claims that she does not use her personal email for public business. Denying their existence, Miller has stonewalled turning over documents — putting herself, her staff and county taxpayers at risk of a lawsuit, and now a government investigation.
Despite widespread knowledge and documented evidence that Miller commonly uses her personal email to direct the government employees in her office, the District 1 Republican has repeatedly claimed that she does not. In written responses to official inquiries and during meetings of the Board of Supervisors, Miller has denied she uses her personal email to carry out her elected duties. She has instead dodged releasing records requested by TucsonSentinel.com, the Arizona Daily Star and other news outlets.
'We have to be more secretive'
In documents provided two weeks ago by another former staffer, Miller instructed her employees to use private email addresses and "encrypted jump drives" rather than saving files on county computers. One of the first staffers she hired on taking office after the 2012 election said she was "paranoid about stuff."
"We have to be more secretive," Miller wrote in 2013.
Miller has attempted to use the records issue to fundraise for her reelection bid, saying in June 26 email that "the board majority and Chuck Huckelberry have enlisted the corrupt media in a full out smear campaign against me" and asking for donations "if you believe in me and want more transparency and accountability for Pima County."
Miller's attempts to conceal her activities date back to her first year in office.
Emails disclosed by a former employee, who shared the documents while requesting that they not be named, show Miller suspected other officials of spying on her. The emails show Miller's evident intent to hide the activities of her office.
"I am positive they are reading our emails," Miller wrote in July 2013. She also said that "they could very easily (and legally) use a keystroke recorder to get the password" to email accounts. "They can use that to record anything you type and see what the password is."
"I believe IT is watching us closely so we need to do this," she wrote the month before, saying that she password-protected a draft of a statement "so you can send in to office and edit without prying eyes seeing it before we send it out."
In December 2013, Miller sent emails instructing staffers to use "encrypted jump drives" to save files.
The month before, she told a staffer that Supervisor Ray Carroll "is stealing our fundraising idea."
"He is the scum of the earth," she said.
"We also can't save things on cmputer at work (sic) or they will be ahead of us," she wrote. "We have to be more secretive."
Miller said in that email that she would handle her Constant Contact newsletter list outside the office.
"But I will need the updates emailed to me... preferably from a private email address," she told her staffer. "We have to figure this out. They are hearing our every word down there."
Huckelberry said that he had not used keyloggers nor bugged Miller's office, and said that he has never asked the county IT Department to provide copies of emails from any supervisor.
Beyond those records Miller has refused to turn over, hundreds of others she has ham-handedly and improperly redacted before releasing, including using a black marker over her own email address and those of her staffers. She even blacked out the name of a Star journalist who emailed to introduce himself as the new county reporter. Miller covered up evidence that she in fact does use her personal email for public business, redacting her address and those of staffers before turning over emails.
Other copies of those documents, provided directly to TucsonSentinel.com in electronic form after the Board ordered their release, clearly show that Miller and several of her current staffers have continued the practice of using their personal emails to discuss county business.
In fact, an email from May 17, the day before records were first requested and the same day we began investigating DesJarlais' involvement in the so-called "Arizona Daily Herald," evidences that Miller, DesJarlais, and staffers JoAnn DiFilippo and Sherry Potter used their personal emails to craft a press release to post on Miller's taxpayer-funded website. That email was one that Miller attempted to cover up, blacking out all of the personal addresses.
A month later, after the other supervisors voted to order county staffers to directly release documents to the press, TucsonSentinel.com obtained a copy of that email thread, showing that nearly all of Miller's staffers were using their personal addresses to carry out their public duties.
Former Miller staffers have said that she almost exclusively used her personal email to carry out government business, including directing her employees.
Davis, Miller's former chief of staff, said the supervisor gave her instructions and "regularly communicated via her personal email and her personal Facebook messenger regarding county business." She said Miller also used text messages for county business.
"Often, Supervisor Miller didn't want the county to know what her plans were so she used personal email and her personal devices to keep (them) hidden," Davis said. "It's disappointing she would lie about using her personal email address for county business and in the process put her current and former staff in this unfortunate position."
Mark Brazier, a Miller campaign advisor who was among her initial staffers until he was fired after less than two months in her office in 2013, said the supervisor "was kind of paranoid about stuff."
"She made us close the door to the office, because she was so paranoid that someone would hear something," he said.
Brazier said he was ready to quit after just weeks in his post because he was concerned about how Miller ran her office.
"I thought we were going to look at data and make determinations based on facts and figures," he said last week. "Instead, she was worried about which group was 'against her.'"
Brazier and Davis are among a long list of staffers who have quit or been fired from Miller's office, including Joe Cuffari, Josh Brown, Jennifer Coyle, Sergio Mendez, Lynne St. Angelo, Naomi Oku-Alonzo and Roxanne Ziegler, as well as DesJarlais, who quit as TucsonSentinel.com and other outlets looked into his masquerading as a reporter, seemingly in support of Miller's campaign.
Even the "confession" email in which DesJarlais finally admitted to many of the lies about the "Arizona Daily Herald" that sparked the investigation was sent to Miller's personal address. She blacked that out when she provided paper copies of the email to reporters.
Despite being repeatedly informed that there was ample evidence, Miller has continued to refuse to disclose the remaining requested records. Earlier, she spent weeks illegally demanding thousands of dollars in fees to provide access to documents, even as attorneys for the county repeatedly told her there was no justification for doing so. It wasn't until the issue was placed on the agenda of a Board of Supervisors meeting that Miller released any documents at all, turning over batches of heavily redacted emails from government email accounts.
On June 20, more than a month after we first asked for documents that might shed light on the connections between her office and the bizarre sham news website surreptitiously launched by her then-aide Timothy DesJarlais, Miller said "I don't conduct county business on my personal email account" in an email to Robin Brigode, the clerk of the Board, as she responded to a records request.
That was Miller's first acknowledgment of the requests for documents that are kept in her private email accounts, as well as those of her employees. Those staffers also, with some prodding from Brigode, made statements that they do not use their personal emails or phones for government work.
The next day, responding to questions from other supervisors during a June 21 meeting, Miller has said, "any records related to county business whatsoever will be provided. Anything I have on my personal devices will be turned over."
Miller equivocated about holding her staff accountable. "I can't speak for other people in my office; I can't control their personal devices," she said.
Illegal to mishandle public records
Under Arizona law, public record must be promptly released upon request. And all documents connected to duties of government employees are public records, even if they came from or were sent to a personal email or Facebook account. It is a class 4 felony for an elected official who "without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes" a public record. For government employees who do so, it is a class 6 felony.
It's not illegal in Arizona to use private communications for public business. It is a clear violation of the law to not release those public records on request. It is also against the law for a record to be "destroyed or improperly maintained," with "potential criminal sanctions," Chief Civil Deputy Pima County Attorney Thomas Weaver told the supervisors last month.
The Board voted 4-0 during that meeting — with Miller absent after she quickly left as she was queried about the documents — for county staff to "immediately" respond to the unfulfilled requests for records.
The supervisors also voted that that any individual not complying with the expedited full release of public documents would be "acting in their own private capacity" — which would mean that the deep pockets of the county may not back their legal defense.
Despite her statement during that June 21 meeting, Miller did not comply with the law and release the records.
In fact, she again claimed that she does not use her personal email for her official duties.
In a June 30 response to a followup records request sent three days prior, one of her staffers wrote that "Supervisor Miller and her staff also informed you as part of those previous responses that she and her staff do not have county-owned phones, that they do not conduct county business using personal devices and that no county records are maintained on personal devices, whether in email or text form. Supervisor Miller further informed you that all county records are maintained on county servers and have been provided."
The Board of Supervisors again took up the records issue during a meeting, addressing it on July 5.
Miller, vacationing in Idaho, phoned in to the meeting, taking part in several votes. But when the agenda item on the records requests came up, she was not on the phone, with her staff saying there was a "power outage."
When Carroll, a Republican with whom Miller has frequently clashed, said he was concerned that the county was "incurring liability for taxpayers so long as this is delayed" but that they supervisors should "hear the item while she's here in the room" and should perhaps delay discussion to another meeting, Miller called in again.
"We have responded to all public records requests effective as of June 30," Miller claimed.
Carroll was "presenting a biased point of view" and the discussion was part of a "coordinated attempt to influence the outcome of an election," she said. "I will state clearly and unequivocally that we have fully complied with all public records requests."
Supervisor Richard Elias specifically asked me and Star reporter Joe Ferguson for our assessment of whether Miller had complied. We each stated that we had reasons to believe that she had not.
"We are facing some serious problems here," Elias said. "The truth is, is that our taxpayers are on the hook for this, and Pima County's reputation is on the hook for this."
"As is my reputation, Supervisor Elias," Miller interjected.
"I understand that, Ally," he responded, "but there are larger considerations, frankly."
At that point, the documents showing Miller's intent to use private emails and encrypted drives to work in secret had not yet been provided by her former staffer.
Ten weeks after documents were first requested, Miller and her current staffers have yet to turn over public records from their private emails, as well as providing no public data from her personal Facebook chat sessions, nor from text messages.
Losing a lawsuit filed by the press could leave Miller, and each of her staffers, on the hook for attorney's fees and court costs, along with damages of up to $5,000 each.
If she finds herself the target of a criminal prosecution for evading records laws, Miller could face steeper penalties: the presumptive sentence for a class 4 felony is 2.5 years in prison.