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Did Arpaio’s office use taxpayer money for reality TV?

PHOENIX – The sheriff’s office in Arizona’s largest county used taxpayer money to offer up sworn deputies, office space, equipment and helicopters to Hollywood producers without being reimbursed, according to the office’s records.

It’s unclear how much money the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spent for “Smile . . . You’re Under Arrest,” the reality show featuring Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but the office said the show never reimbursed them.

“Don’t talk about the money,” Arpaio said of the show’s expenses. “It wasn’t that much money.”

He said his office could not provide a figure for how much was spent.

“We never broke down the expenses,” he said. “That was our normal fugitive operation. Whether we did it on the streets, which we do all the time, or we did it in a studio environment.”

What taxpayers received in return was a three-episode run of the show on the Fox Reality Channel. Each episode has aired several times since late December. They get another airing as a minimarathon on Wednesday.

Arpaio said any costs of the operation were justified because deputies arrested 353 additional fugitives in the weeks after the television crew left town.

“Smile,” a cross between “Punk’d” and “Cops,” set up elaborate sting operations to snare people wanted on outstanding warrants.

One man was shown being nabbed by Arpaio and several deputies under the guise of getting a free facial, complete with white skin cream and cucumber slices.

Eighteen low-level fugitives were arrested during the filming of the show. Ten of them were released from jail within a matter of hours, or after an overnight stay, records show. Five eventually served monthslong stints in prison or jail. Three people had their cases eventually dismissed, including one man whose warrant was quashed on the day he was arrested.

Two people released after their televised arrest failed to show for subsequent court dates and warrants were reissued for their capture.

Producers paid the fugitives between $500 and $1,200 for their time, fulfilling a promise made to the fugitives when they called to arrange their limousine pickup, according to booking slips.

The show’s footage indicates that a slew of sheriff’s office personnel were used. Records show that the sheriff’s office gave producers lists of undercover deputies, about a dozen in each episode, who needed to have their faces fuzzed out before the shows aired.

Cmdr. Larry Farnsworth, head of the sheriff’s office civil division, said those who worked on the show would have taken time off later in the week to make up for the extra hours worked. Records show each day of filming lasted about 10 hours.

In planning for the show, a sheriff’s office staff member did express some concern about taxpayer money being used. But that didn’t last long.

In a letter dated July 5, 2007, Arpaio spokeswoman Lisa Allen wrote that the production should not affect normal operations of the department.

“Furthermore,” she wrote, “it is necessary that any personnel costs associated with warrant research and fugitive round-up would be incurred by said production company.”

But six days later, Allen wrote a memo about a coming meeting with the producers. “No money talk,” she wrote, ending the e-mail with a smiley face.

During taping, the sheriff’s office used its newly purchased Mobile Command Center, records show. The semi-truck and trailer are designed to be ready at all times, according to the sheriff’s Web site, in an “emergency or large-scale disaster.” Arpaio said he would demand the production company pay the costs for any future shows. “There ain’t gonna be a penny,” he said. “They’re going to pay for every notebook.”

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