Recently obtained documents show that the Pima County Attorney’s Office exerted pressure on KGUN News to shut down coverage of the RICO scandal. Andy Flagg, Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney reached out to Leon Clark, Vice President and General Manager of the E.W. Scripps Company, which operates KGUN in November in an effort to kill the coverage by investigative reporter Valerie Cavasos.
According to emails between Clark and Flagg, on November 8, 2017, the two men arranged to meet to discuss Cavasos’ coverage on November 14. The email exchange followed a story by Cavasos filed on November 7, 2017, in which she reported on a meeting in which the “Pima County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to remove Pima County Attorney Barbara Lawall as legal counsel for RICO expenditures.”
On the same day Flagg and Clark met, KGUN9 News staff was notified of a letter threatening legal action by the County Attorney Office against Scripps for Cavasos’ reporting.
That letter made its way around the organization, and according to sources, the message to KGUN9 News was that “a legal shot” was “fired by LaWall as we now have gotten much too close for comfort.”
It appears that Cavasos’ reporting on the matter shortly came to an end. Cavasos could not be reached for comment. Sources report that it is unknown if Cavasos was ever made aware of the planned visit by Flagg.
In the threatening letter, Flagg complains among other things that Cavasos used the term “posh” to describe a hotel LaWall stayed at using RICO funds.
Also in the letter, Flagg shares blatantly false information about one of Cavasos’ RICO experts, Aaron Ludwig. The letter includes allegations about Ludwig, the County Attorney’s Office knew, or should have known were false. Yet, that misinformation was passed on in what appears to be a smear job intended to add justification to bench Cavasos.
The irony about the Pima County Attorney’s action is that it prompted another investigation of the handling of RICO funds. An email recently discovered by the ADI, written in 2015, shows the pressure put on Ludwig by government officials to stop his efforts to reform RICO while he was at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
Normally newsrooms are allowed to act fairly independently and rarely does station management intervene to kill a story. That relationship exists to ensure that outlets are providing news rather than propaganda.
Since the illegal use of RICO funds by Pima County Sheriff’s personnel was first discovered, reporting on the issue has been spotty. It is believed that the sparse coverage is due in part to pressure on reporters to “move on” to other subjects. Also, it has been exceedingly difficult to obtain records from County officials in both the Sheriff’s Office and the County Attorney’s office.
Pima County taxpayers demanded accountability and transparency and rejected former Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos in the 2016 election. As a result, it is unlikely that they would approve of the use of County resources and staff to silence watchdog reporters and the work they do to ensure that government is accountable and transparent.