Arizona Public Safety Pension Officials Maintain Secrecy
Pension trust sued to disclose federal subpoena
Trust officials maintain secrecy while seeking legal advice
Craig Harris, The Republic | azcentral.com 1:37 a.m. EDT March 18, 2014
o Watchdog group tries to force pension system to disclose federal subpoena.
o Records are at the heart of an FBI investigation into the pension trust.
o An FBI investigation is trying to determine if pension investments were overvalued to trigger staff bonuses.
Judicial Watch, a non-profit watchdog that promotes transparency, has sued the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System after the trust refused to release a copy of a federal grand-jury subpoena that is part of a criminal investigation into the pension system.
“When government agencies, politicians and bureaucrats don’t want to turn over documents like the law requires, it’s safe to make the assumption that they have something to hide,” said Tom Fitton, president of the Washington, D.C.-based group.
The suit, filed late last week in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleges the pension system violated the Arizona Public Records Law by “improperly withholding and failing to provide access to the requested record.” The system asserted the subpoena was not a public record, the lawsuit says.
Judicial Watch successfully forced Phoenix in 2012 to release information about former Mayor Phil Gordon’s security detail, which the city had maintained was not public record.
Jim Belanger, an attorney with expertise in criminal law who was recently retained by the pension trust, declined to comment.
Judicial Watch made its request for the subpoena after The Arizona Republic this month reported that the pension system for Arizona police officers and firefighters had received a subpoena to turn over documents as part of a criminal investigation into whether pension-trust managers inflated certain real-estate investment values to trigger staff bonuses.
System officials have denied any wrongdoing.
Efforts by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to obtain sensitive information via the subpoena comes after the system’s in-house counsel and three high-level investment analysts quit in protest last year because of concerns about the way real-estate values were being recorded.
The system also has refused to provide The Republic with a copy of the subpoena, even though Assistant Arizona Attorney General Ivy Voss, a lawyer who represents the trust, said in a March 7 interview that she was “sure” that the document was a public record that should be released.
Voss and the Attorney General’s Office have backed away from that position. A statement from Voss to the newspaper on Monday said in part:
“There has been no formal determination by the Attorney General’s Office whether or not any subpoena received by the Board of Trustees of the system is a public record.
“The system has retained counsel to advise concerning issues connected with an ongoing investigation; however, no one in the Attorney General’s Office has seen or reviewed a subpoena connected with that investigation.”
Voss, during her tape-recorded interview with The Republic, told the newspaper that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, through the subpoena, was seeking a “long list of documents.” Voss also told The Republic that the documents being sought were the same as those a former employee, Anton Orlich, had taken from the system.
Orlich, who is now a key witness in the FBI probe, has said he took the documents last year out of concern they would be destroyed. The pension system is suing Orlich for return of those records. Deposition transcripts show a private attorney for the trust has used interviews in connection with that lawsuit to gather information about how the federal government is conducting its criminal probe.
A Superior Court judge forced Orlich to turn the disputed records over to the court.
Now, the federal government appears to be seeking those same records.