Corruption case dismissed against former Arizona deputy

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX (AP) -- A corruption case against a former Arizona sheriff's deputy accused of helping a heroin smuggling ring was formally dismissed Tuesday after key wiretap evidence had to be tossed out.

The move was expected after prosecutors took the blame recently for failing to file a wiretap application with the court in the case involving former sheriff's Deputy Alfredo Navarrette, a one-time member of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-smuggling squad.

Without that document, prosecutors had to reverse themselves and ask a judge to dismiss charges against Navarrette and five others, including two other former sheriff's employees and the man accused of being the ring leader. Authorities say the ring leader was working with a high-ranking Sinaloa drug cartel figure.

Prosecutors also are seeking to void convictions they secured against 11 others who have already pleaded guilty to drug charges in the case.

The collapse comes as a judge presiding over a racial profiling case against the sheriff's office has grown frustrated over what he said were inadequate internal investigations into wrongdoing by Arpaio's smuggling squad, including whether another former deputy was shaking down immigrants who were in the country illegally.

Navarrette's attorney, Herman Alcantar, said the dismissal may seem like a legal technicality, but documents such as wiretap applications are necessary to protect the public from abuses by police. "It's technicalities like this that protect the public," Alcantar said, adding that he doubts prosecutors can resurrect the case.

While his corruption charges were dismissed, Navarrette pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony arson charge that was established without wiretap evidence. He acknowledged getting another person to set his car on fire in August 2010 as part of an insurance fraud scheme.

The plea deal calls for a six-month jail sentence for Navarrette, who will get credit for the last 18 months he has been in jail. He is expected to be released late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office, which was prosecuting Navarrette, declined comment Tuesday.

More than two weeks ago, Montgomery took blame for the missing wiretap application. "This is our mistake," Montgomery said. "We have to own it."

Arpaio's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment at midday Tuesday.

In the corruption case, Navarrette was accused of aiding the drug ring by driving smuggling vehicles, laundering money and using a police database to get information to pass along to ring members.

He also was accused of assisting a separate immigrant smuggling group by operating a stash house and transporting immigrants from Arizona to California on at least five occasions. His bond was revoked after authorities said he was pulled over driving a suspected immigrant smuggling vehicle while out on bail.

Former jail officers Marcella Marie Hernandez and Sylvia Rios Najera were accused of helping to launder the ring's drug proceeds.

The three former officers, who lost their law enforcement jobs after their arrests, had pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Authorities say that the internal investigation was launched in 2010 after a confidential informant told police that Navarrette was seen snorting cocaine and bragging about his work for the drug ring while at a party.

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