Emails show Arpaio paid informant at least $120,000 for 'bogus data'

County Sheriff Joe Arpaio sitting with Dennis Montgomery. (Source: CBS 5 News)

Emails released in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's contempt of court proceedings show the sheriff paid a confidential informant at least $120,000 for computer data that was supposed to show an illegal conspiracy between the U.S. Department of Justice and federal judges, including the judge who had ruled against the sheriff in a racial profiling case.

Emails and court testimony indicate sheriff's detectives concluded the data that was finally delivered was bogus.

It is unclear whether the money used to pay the informant, identified as Dennis Montgomery, came from the sheriff's budget, or from RICO funds.

But law enforcement officials and at least one former county attorney tell CBS 5 Investigates that the process the MCSO followed in hiring and paying Montgomery was highly unusual.

"There was (sic) no best practices used in any manner in this particular situation," said former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley.

Romley dealt with confidential informants on a regular basis when he served as the county's top prosecutor from 1989 until 2004.

"You don't just give out that money without getting something in return," said Romley.

Critics argue that a simple Google search would have told MCSO that Montgomery had a history of questionable claims.

In 2011, The New York Times newspaper published an article that questioned whether Montgomery's computer software was legitimate. According to the article, he claimed he could identify hidden terrorist messages embedded within Al Jazeera's broadcast transmissions. The article indicated that federal government officials concluded the technology did not work.

Montgomery also has a history of being sued and accusations of fraud against him.

Sheriff Arpaio met Montgomery in person at least once, and according to court testimony and emails, was the driving factor in hiring Montgomery and continuing to pay him, even after his own detectives had lost faith in his claims.

"They said that Dennis Montgomery, that it's all a fraud," said Teresa Harvey Rollins, referring to a document that was delivered to MCSO from two former NSA operatives who examined the data that Montgomery produced.

Rollins is an attorney and has followed the dealings between Arpaio and Montgomery, as the documents have been released in the sheriff's contempt of court case.

"This is an embarrassment to the MCSO. It's an embarrassment to Arpaio because he led this," said Rollins.

It may end up as more than just an embarrassment. Judge Murray Snow, who was one of the people allegedly involved in the conspiracy that Montgomery had claimed to exist, referred Sheriff Arpaio to the US Attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution. The Department of Justice is now handling the case.

[READ MORE: Judge recommends criminal prosecution of Arpaio in racial profiling case]

Meantime, there is no indication that MCSO is investigating Montgomery for accepting the money without delivery what he promised, or that the agency has tried to get any of the money back.

The sheriff has refused to speak about the issue, including how much money his office gave to Montgomery in total. His office referred CBS 5 Investigates to Arpaio's attorneys. And Dennis Montgomery has not responded to our request for an interview.

Copyright 2016 CBS 5 News (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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