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How Former Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery Quietly Hoarded $400,000 In Guns And Ammo

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 1:16pm
Updated: Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 9:53am

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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The Maricopa County Attorney's Office purchased $400,000 worth of rifles and ammunition during the tenure of former boss Bill Montgomery, who's now an Arizona Supreme Court justice. According to reporting by Robert Anglen of the Arizona Republic, the weapons were stored in secure areas on different floors of the agency's downtown Phoenix office. Specially trained investigators and their supervisors were given access. And with me to explain how this happened and why is Robert Anglen. So, Robert, as I mentioned, you reported $400,000 worth of gear had been purchased. Where did the money for that come from?

Bill Montgomery
Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
Bill Montgomery

ROBERT ANGLEN: The money's coming from his office, and, and they made it — when I was asking questions about it, they tried to say that it, you know, this isn't public money — it's really [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] RICO money, which is, frankly, public money spent in a different way. RICO funds are funds derived from the assets seized by people who may or may not be convicted of a crime. You're stopped, you have a bag of cash on the front seat. For whatever reason, they decide that you're a criminal enterprise; they seized the cash. And that money under state law can be used for all kinds of purposes. Well, that's where the money's coming from. And that's what they used almost exclusively to buy these weapons. But that doesn't make it nonpublic funds. It just means that's the source of the funds and that's what they used it from. That money could have gone for any number of law enforcement things. Montgomery decided to use it to create his arsenal.

GOLDSTEIN: Could this have been stopped by, let's say, the county supervisors?

ANGLEN: Possibly. If they had known it was going on and known the extent of the purchases, somebody would have had to have knowledge of it, and they could have asked questions about it. One thing I did find, though, was that Montgomery's office did ask at one point for emergency authorization early on in the program. They asked for emergency authorization to buy essential police equipment, which turned out to be guns and ammo — rifles and ammos. ... The extent of the program, we don't really know to this minute what it is. But what they had on hand by the time Montgomery left was 285,000 rounds of ammunition. It was 101 handguns, and it was 25 rifles. The investigation shows that that did — the number of rifles they may have had at any one time could have been as high as 55 or more because the goal was to arm every single member of the investigative divisions, store weapons — and they did — store weapons in caches around the office in case of a breach, of all things. And have every investigator trained on this weapon, and their supervisors.

GOLDSTEIN: Was there any indication from people you talked to that there was — I mean, certainly the county attorney's office handles in some situations some pretty heady cases. But was there any indication that they were under threat, that this was actually in some sense — even if it sounds a little weird — that it was needed for any reason?

ANGLEN: The short answer is no. I couldn't find a single case — and I asked — where an officer, certainly there have been threats against prosecutors that, there's no question about that. But no other county attorney in Maricopa had ever done a program like this. And they're not doing it now. So this was unique to Montgomery. I've never found a case where a Maricopa County Attorney's Office employee had to fire a gun in the line of duty — a handgun, let alone an AR-15 rifle. And that's what the program was. They created in 2011, shortly after he took office, a AR-15 rifle program to train every investigative employee and their supervisor on an AR-15 rifle system.

GOLDSTEIN: And Robert, Montgomery himself, did you get any response from him?

ANGLEN: I did through — now you know, Montgomery, of course, is a Supreme Court justice. Montgomery wouldn't talk to me directly. Through a series of email exchanges, I did get statements from the court staff, the Arizona Supreme Court staff who spoke for Mr. Montgomery. And the answers were pretty thin. They justified Montgomery's ability to do that. They suggested — to this minute, there's no clear indication of why. But what you can extrapolate from the answers is that Montgomery believed that there was a need to secure the offices of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office with guns. And it appears that that was done in case the office was ever breached or there was an armed incursion, they could fight it off. Why Montgomery felt that way, I can't tell you. But that's what they said, that he had the option of running the office the way he wanted. And of course, Romley didn't do it. Thomas didn't do it. And now the current county attorney is saying, "I've got to get rid of these weapons. We're making arrangements to do that. They're in storage. This doesn't fit our mission."

GOLDSTEIN: You're talking about Allister Adel in that case. So as she runs — and we'll find out the results of that sometime next week as she tries to hold on to this office. She is committed to not having that be a part of what's going on. Was she or anyone in her office able to outline what that plan looks like to either reduce the stockpile or get rid of it altogether?

ANGLEN: Yeah, as a matter of fact, because of my inquiries, her office initiated an inventory which led them to discover — they knew they had a problem. That's clear. And they say that in the story. But they had to piece together like I did how many weapons, how many bullets. They did hand count, bullet by bullet, of every piece of ammunition, every body shield, a piece of body shield equipment, armor, handgun, rifle, shotgun, taser. And they found all this equipment. And so now they've locked it up. They've agreed to transfer it, it appears, to another law enforcement agency. And they say they don't need it. They did acknowledge that there might be a need for a few of those things in their inventory of when they perform security functions. But nothing to the extent of an arsenal.

GOLDSTEIN: That's Robert Anglen. He's investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic and azcentral. Robert, always appreciate your work. Thanks for the time.

ANGLEN: No, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

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