Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Seal
Maricopa County Attorney’s Office
Justice for All
August 2019
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery

At the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, we’ve had a busy summer!
This month, I have the opportunity to share with you some remarkable ways that our employees are working to truly make a difference in our community—and this work is getting noticed. Several of our Deputy County Attorneys and Legal Assistants have been recognized this summer, by a variety of organizations, for their outstanding efforts.
This year, detectives from our Investigations Division created a mentoring program for at-risk youth at one Valley elementary school. This program gives kids support and guidance and some valuable skills to navigate the difficult circumstances they may face at home or in their neighborhoods. But most of all, this program lets the kids know that someone cares about them.
We’ve highlighted our Diversion program in the past, and how it’s giving opportunities for first, even second-time, offenders to complete treatment programs and get counseling instead of facing prosecution. In this issue, you’ll get to meet two impressive people with significant knowledge and experience with studying incarcerated populations and administering probation programs who have joined our Office to help develop a robust Diversion program.
We’ll also take a look at a local resident—a former inmate—who worked hard to turn his life around and is using his own experience to help others with the difficult task of finding the resources they need such as housing, employment—even regular meals—so they can successfully transition back into the community.
And, finally, a reminder that we still have another month of our “Don’t Leave Me Behind” vehicular heatstroke campaign. Especially during these months of extreme temperatures, don’t ever leave a child or a pet in a parked car, whether the air conditioner is on or not. With your help, NOT ONE MORE child or pet will perish in a hot car.

Bill Montgomery Signature

Awarding Excellence:  Several MCAO Employees Recognized for their Service to the Community

Integrity, compassion, leadership. These qualities describe the employees at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office (MCAO), one of the nation's largest public prosecutorial agencies, serving nearly four million residents in the fourth largest county in the U.S. These prosecutors, civil attorneys, investigators, paralegals, victim advocates and administrative staff are committed to the ideals expressed on our official seal: service with integrity, ensuring justice for all.
Several of these employees were recently recognized for their integrity, compassion and leadership at the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) Annual Prosecutor’s Conference. The 2019 event was held June 19-21 in Phoenix. In addition to providing a variety of services to prosecutors around Arizona, the primary mission of APAAC is to coordinate and provide training and education to Arizona prosecutors.

Lacey Fisher
MCAO DCA Lacey Fisher
Recipient of the Felony Prosecutor of the Year in a Large Jurisdiction from the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC)

At this year’s annual conference, Deputy County Attorney Lacey Fisher was recognized as the Felony Prosecutor of the Year in a Large Jurisdiction. Lacey is assigned to the MCAO Sex Crimes West Bureau and has prosecuted some of the worst of the worst offenders in her more than six years with the Office. “Lacey has chosen to specialize in cases involving some of the most vulnerable victims. These victims are children who have been repeatedly victimized, often at home first, then by a trafficker, then by ‘customers’ too numerous to count, said Rachel Mitchell Special Victims Division Chief. “The combination of fear and manipulation, while not unique to sex crimes, is noteworthy in its magnitude. These children, quite simply, have no one. Lacey’s job of convincing them to cooperate is a long-term effort.”
APAAC also recognized Phillip Quihuis with the 2019 Legal Assistant Lifetime Achievement Award. Currently assigned to the MCAO Capital Litigation Bureau, Phillip’s 20+ years of experience with the Office make him more than worthy of this award. Capital Litigation Bureau Chief Patty Stevens often refers to Phillip as “Emperor” in recognition of his exceptional dedication to our capital litigation work.

Phillip Quihuis Award
Phillip Quihuis' 2019 Legal Assistant Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC)

“Phillip is simply exceptional in all that he does,” said Patty. “Phillip’s list of contributions to not only the Capital Litigation Bureau, but also to MCAO is lengthy. His commitment to the development of other paralegals in the Office, as well as his exemplary daily work on difficult homicide cases is invaluable. He conquers roadblocks and forges ahead, often doing difficult work on delicate cases.”
Three deserving MCAO prosecutors were bestowed Lifetime Achievement Awards at the conference. Together, these career prosecutors have nearly 90 years of experience and have given outstanding service to the citizens of Maricopa County. Special Counsel Mark Faull and Repeat Offenders Bureau Chief Mitch Rand along with former MCAO Law Enforcement Liaison Keith Manning were recognized for their lengthy careers and significant contributions to prosecutors in Arizona.
“These awards recognize three careers who have made differences in the lives of victims and in our community,” said County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Each day they exemplify professionalism, respect and team work. Congratulations and thank you.”

Shannon Struble
MCAO DCA Shannon Struble
Recipient of the Gang Prosecutor of the Year Award from the Arizona Gang Investigators Association (AZGIA)

Also held in June was the Arizona Gang Investigators Association (AZGIA) Annual Training Conference where Deputy County Attorney Shannon Struble received the Gang Prosecutor of the Year Award.
AZGIA’s annual conference provides an opportunity for Arizona law enforcement partners to meet and discuss common issues in gang-related investigations and prosecution as well as related training from nationwide experts. In her nearly five years with the Office, Shannon has spent three of them in the Gang Bureau, working closely with law enforcement agencies to ensure gang members are held accountable for their criminal actions.
This year Shannon has been involved with two large scale gang investigations and prosecution efforts that resulted in a reduction of crime in targeted areas of the county. “I am pleased that Shannon won this important AZGIA gang prosecutor award,” said Mike Gingold, MCAO Gang Bureau Chief. “Shannon is a dedicated gang prosecutor, respected by her peers and law enforcement partners and she works diligently to seek justice in all of her cases.”

Gina Godbehere
MCAO Bureau Chief
Gina Godbehere

Recipient of the 2019 Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Award for her work as a
civic leader

In July, Community Based Prosecution West Central Phoenix Bureau Chief Gina Godbehere was selected to receive a 2019 Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Award for her work as a civic leader. The Gabe Zimmerman Public Service Award recognizes non-elected public servants who contribute to their communities, improve civic life and collectively shape a better future for all Arizonans.
Gina’s work, along with Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux, on the now annual “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Conference” was recognized at the Annual Arizona City County Management Association lunch last month. “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life,” now in its third year, includes more than 5,000 students, counselors, law enforcement members, parents and education advocates who join together annually to identify and eradicate the stigma and consequences of bullying and to prevent teen suicide.
Gina, Dr. Matos DeBlieux and the “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life” program were also the recipients of a 2018 National Association of Counties (NACo) achievement award. This program, originally started as a grassroots effort, empowers Arizona kids to say something and avoid being victimized.

Jon Eliason and Cesar Tirado

How EV Prosecutor Got Justice for Rape Victims
Jim Walsh, East Valley Tribune
This article originally appeared in the July 15, 2019 edition of the East Valley Tribune

Sexual assault victims from the East Valley and throughout the nation are finally getting justice – even though they had to wait far too long. In Maricopa County alone, an exhaustive quest to test a backlog of more than 4,500 sexual assault examination kits dating back 27 years is finally winding toward an end early next year with about 200 kits to go. In Phoenix, the person who spearheaded this four-year campaign to right a wrong was Gilbert’s Jon Eliason, a former Mesa city prosecutor who served as division chief of the Special Victims Bureau at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office at the time the campaign began. “You have all these women who went through an exam fully believing that the police would analyze it,’’ Eliason said. “I can’t imagine there was a victim who went through the examination who expected it would not be tested. “It’s doing the right thing, bringing closure to victims and arresting bad guys for violent, intimate crimes,’’ Eliason said. Defendants who might have thought they got away with felonies a decade or more ago are going to prison instead, thanks to the inexorable trail of DNA evidence and a more enlightened approach by police and prosecutors. These criminals include Michael Joseph Paladino, 30, who was linked to sexual assaults that involving six victims about 15 years ago, when he was a minor, in Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa. One victim was 13. Paladino was indicted in December 2017 on six counts of sexual assault and was sentenced in June to five years in prison and lifetime supervised probation as part of a plea bargain that spared the victims from testifying. Another man who had skated was Nur Muktar. He was linked by DNA from an untested kit to a sexual assault inside a vacant Tempe apartment in 2002. Eventually, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. With the approval of County Attorney Bill Montgomery, it was Eliason who saw a moral imperative for his office to participate when one of his prosecutors came back from a  conference in 2015 and told him about an exciting – and generous – project launched by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Vance, the son of a noted U.S. diplomat, launched a national campaign to eliminate the backlog by passing out $38 million in grants to police and prosecutors, including $1.9 million to Maricopa County in October 2015. Vance’s grants came from forfeiture funds seized from banks accused of violating U.S sanctions. It was enough money to test 3,100 out of the 4,530 rape examination kits that had accumulated in Maricopa County since 1989. Tempe police, one of the first Phoenix metro law enforcement agencies to embrace the program, obtained a $369,000 grant independently from Vance’s office and tested 546 kits that had accumulated since 1993. At a New York press conference in March attended by a Tempe victim, Vance said he had obtained a promise from the U.S. Department of Justice to match his “investment’’ in testing the grants – greatly expanding his program’s impact in eliminating an alarming backlog of rape examination kits. Eliason said this teamwork paid off in Maricopa County, with his office receiving a $1.2 million federal grant in 2016 and $1.7 million in 2017. That money went toward finishing the testing and hiring two detectives to assist in the project. Among the detectives’ duties was combing through old police reports to prepare the kits for testing to determine which evidence would be most likely to return a “hit,’’ a DNA sample matching one already in the federal system. Eliason said about 230 kits still need to be tested by two labs approved nationally to handle the testing, Sorenson Forensics in Utah and Bode Technologies in Virginia.

Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit

“With our $38 million investment, we have begun to rectify what has been a tragic failure of government and law enforcement at all levels – a decades-long, systemic denial of equal rights for women in the justice system,’’ Vance said. Since Vance’s attack on the backlog started in September 2015, more than 55,000 kits have been tested in 32 jurisdictions in 20 states, with 18,803 new DNA profiles developed. As of March, there had been 186 arrests nationwide and 64 convictions, including 47 for sexual assault. The efforts have paid off in Maricopa County as well, with 12 arrests and seven convictions on Tempe cases. Eliason said more than 800 kits were tested from the East Valley cities of Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, generating 172 hits. The majority of those were in Mesa, where 602 kits were tested, which generated 134 hits, Mesa police Sgt. Matt Lawes said. Sgt. Mark Marino, a Gilbert police spokesman, said all of his department’s backlog was tested as of 2018, but he said he did not know the number. Sgt. Dan Mejia, a Chandler police spokesman, said 120 Chandler kits were tested. He said 80 cases were reviewed and closed, while 40 are pending review. Chandler police re-evaluated three cases for potential charges. One case was dropped when the victim did not wish to pursue further investigation, while the two others are awaiting additional DNA testing. “Chandler detectives throughout the years have submitted cases for testing appropriately when DNA became readily available,’’ Mejia said. “So, in most of these cases, DNA was not a factor with regards to substantiating some of the elements required in a sexual assault.’’  In the West Valley, the grants paid for police departments to get 467 kits tested, with 87 DNA hits obtained.
Eliason, now division chief of the Major Offenders Bureau, said the 14 convictions stemming from testing the kits so far have been on relatively obvious cases and that the DNA information obtained from other kits may eventually lead to additional arrests years into the future. He said he anticipates that the DNA trail from the kits will eventually lead to arrests in two homicides. “I am confident in the next 12 months, we will be talking about a murder case,’’ Eliason said. He said that overlooking the unexamined kits – a potential source of incriminating evidence – makes no sense from a prosecutor’s point of view. “Here’s a way to develop cases,’’ he said. “It’s a lot like, you go to an old gold mine, the first place you look is the tailings.’’  In several incidents, the old rape examination kits helped police establish a pattern of behavior, identifying a serial rapist, Eliason said. “If you have three of them, they become a lot more powerful than one by itself,’’ he said. While police and prosecutors dug into the backlog, they also sought to make sure the same mistake was never repeated by establishing the Maricopa County Sexual Assault Kit Protocol Work Group. The study group included police, prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates who established protocols for investigating sexual assault cases. “Every victim counts,’’ Eliason said. “It was setting standards. We want to make sure this never happens again.’’  Tasha Menaker, co-CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, praised Eliason’s efforts, but she said more work needs to be done for the legal system to treat victims with respect.
“I think it’s a positive thing,’’ Menaker said. “I’m pleased the kits are being tested now and I’m glad we have protocols in place.’’  But she said the backlog also demonstrates why many victims – an estimated 70 percent to 80 percent – don’t report sexual assaults to police, believing that the criminal justice system will ignore them. “If you went through the effort to go through the exam and nothing happens, you feel your voice wasn’t heard,’’ Menaker said. “It’s a bigger issue than just the kits. At the end of the day, we still blame and stigmatize sexual assault victims.’’   While a sexual assault leaves an indelible scar on a women’s psyche, undergoing the 13-step rape kit examination can also be humiliating. Throughout the metro area, victims are brought to facilities such as the Mesa Family Advocacy Center, where they can be interviewed by a detective and examined by a forensic nurse, who administers the sexual assault examination kit. “If they have the courage to come forward, it’s a one-stop shop. You can tell the story once,’’ Lawes said. For many years in Mesa, the sexual assaults kits had been sent to the Mesa Crime Lab the next day, with results generally coming back in about two weeks, he said. “The backlog is not recent cases. It’s older cases when DNA testing was expensive. They were very judicious about which kits they tested,’’ Lawes said. Many of these untested kits were on “he said-she said’’ cases in which the victim identified her attacker and consent was the key issue, Lawes said. In some cases, DNA might tend to confirm a victim’s identification of a suspect, but it might not necessarily lead to an arrest because of the consent issue, he said. “Evolution of DNA is part of the puzzle. Then, you have to overcome customs,’’ he said. “It was not possible to test everything back then. It was cost prohibitive.’’  Police understand DNA evidence much better today and take a broader approach, realizing it can not only identify suspects, but also link them to more than one incident, including cases in other states, through use of a federal databank, Tempe Detective Greg Bacon said. “It’s something that will never happen again,’’ he said. “When you look back at the grand scheme of DNA, there may have been a disconnect on what DNA could do.’’


 ‘The power of DNA’ - Paladino’s case seems like a classic example. In a sentencing memorandum, Jesus Acosta, his defense attorney, outlined a series of allegations that never resulted in sexual assault charges. Gilbert police referred Paladino to juvenile authorities. He was placed on intensive probation for three years and received mental health treatment, according to a pre-sentence report. But testing the old rape kits, dating back to 2003, linked Paladino to the series of assaults in which the victims told similar stories. The victims included a 13-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl. A 17-year-old victim said Paladino dropped out of high school at the time because his nickname was “The Rapist,’’ according to a pre-sentence report. In Arizona, the age of consent is 18. In the report, Paladino claimed that he had sex with more than 200 women and had difficulty recalling details. “He commented that his sex drive was ‘pretty high’ when he was younger and he was ‘a little rough,’ but he denied intending to hurt the women,’’ the report said. Paladino generally claimed the sex acts were consensual, even though any sex act with an underage victim in Arizona is considered a sex crime. “The defendant commented that when girls get upset, they accuse you of raping them,’’ the pre-sentence report said. Acosta argued for leniency, saying that Paladino had given up drinking and had become a good family man, even running his own landscaping and auto repair businesses. “The defendant is deeply and sincerely sorry for his actions,’’ Acosta wrote. “Mr. Paladino has a conscience and he knows there is no excuse for his actions.’’  But a probation officer viewed Paladino much differently after reviewing reports of how his victims were traumatized, with one reporting anxiety, depression and a hospitalization. “The defendant’s actions demonstrated he was more concerned with fulfilling his own personal sexual interests and desires than for any negative long term emotional or psychological impacts his actions could potentially have on his victims,’’ the probation officer wrote. In the end, Paladino pleaded guilty on June 12 to one count of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault. He was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Warren Granville to 5.25 years in prison and lifetime supervised probation. He also must register as a sex offender. “Now, we understand the power of DNA,’’ Bacon said.

MCAO’s 2018 Annual Report Is Now Available

MCAO Annual Report

Did you know that from 2016 to 2017, the crime rate fell 1.4% to 3,422.9 crimes per 100,000 Arizonans? Or that our Felony Pretrial Intervention Program (FPIP) has grown since we concluded the pilot phase by over 100% with a recidivism rate of less than 5%? These are just some of the statistics and factoids you’ll find in our 2018 Annual Report, which is now available online at

This annual report provides information on office operations with updates on crime and a new perspective on the handling of criminal cases.  We highlight important cases handled in the last year, illustrating work performed by prosecutors in addition to facts and figures demonstrating how this Office impacts crime in our community and processes the cases submitted by law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
“Once again, the MCAO has built on past accomplishments and set the bar even higher and this report presents a comprehensive picture of this work,” said Maricopa County Bill Montgomery. “The people of Maricopa County can be confident that we will continue to serve with integrity, ensuring justice for all.”

MCAO Detectives Bringing Hope to Kids

MCAO Detective John Byrd, Solano Mentorship Program Graduate and MCAO Division Chief Karen Ashley
MCAO Detective John Byrd, Solano Mentorship Program graduate and MCAO Division Chief Karen Ashley

Two years ago, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO), together with other Valley law enforcement partners, focused on the area of 19th Avenue and Camelback Road, an area where residents had alerted law enforcement of a spike in criminal activity. Prosecutors joined with detectives and crime analysts to identify, arrest and prosecute several offenders who were identified as crime drivers, some of whom were as young as 15 years old. Apart from these offenders, the neighborhood is filled with eager yet vulnerable young students just trying to get to school, in addition to concerned parents and business and community leaders who are interested in changing the story. Right in the middle of the area is Solano Elementary School. Following a community event at the school involving MCAO Investigations personnel, Principal Renee Hamill approached MCAO detective John Byrd and asked if the Office could help the school and become more involved with the students.
After several weeks of follow-up discussions and brainstorming, members of the MCAO Investigations Division and Principal Hamill introduced a mentorship program. The school identified 10-15 male students in 4th through 6th grades who needed extra help at school, some with behavioral issues and others with obstacles at home, including absentee dads. MCAO detectives joined teachers and the 15 invited students at the first mentorship event. The goal was to make a connection and forge new relationships. MCAO Detective John Byrd teamed up with Principal Hamill and the selected students and held the first mentorship event. The goal was to make a connection, forge new relationships and introduce relatable, positive role models who could share their stories. Some of these stories included many of the same obstacles the students in the program were facing every day. Detective Byrd remembers that first meeting and the moment when “these kids started to see themselves in the detectives” – and after that they simply “started nourishing that connection.”
From there, the mentorship program grew and follow-up events were scheduled. Movie Night at Solano Park was held so families could gather at the park, meet new people and feel safe. MCAO Investigations personnel joined neighborhood families and staff from Solano School to help forge those connections. MCAO personnel also sponsored a Walk to School Day where they met young students in the apartments across from the school and simply walked with them, through this same park to school, initiating conversations and instilling trust. Soon after presentations began and several were given on important issues like bullying, self-esteem, academics, the importance of test scores and positive role-modeling. Meaningful conversations were held after each presentation where MCAO detectives, lieutenants, the assistant Chief and the Chief answered questions and took a personal interest in each of the children’s stories. A curriculum was then created by the school and MCAO to address real time behavioral challenges. As the mentorship program progressed, Solano teachers reported positive changes in these students, which often reverberated to the larger group.
One Solano teacher sent a note back to MCAO detectives reporting an incident she witnessed in her classroom. The student mentee had “stepped up” and demonstrated leadership in the classroom when a negative incident was occurring. The teacher questioned where this new behavior had come from and the student answered simply, “the mentorship program.” Another positive example occurred after the third mentorship meeting. The mentees joined the rest of the classroom at recess, while the detectives remained on the playground. One of the mentees had a sad look on his face and simply walked up to Detective Byrd and reported he was sad his dad wasn’t around and wondered why. Detective Byrd reached down and gave the student a big hug, recognizing the trauma in his heart was speaking and he wanted someone to simply validate his pain.
By the time the mentorship program wrapped up at the end of the school-year, the 10-15 young men were ready to graduate. Outfitted in their regular school uniforms supplemented with neck ties, the graduates received “diplomas” and photos and participated in a ceremony with Principal Hamill, teachers, parents and family members and MCAO personnel. The mentees proceeded with confidence to the front of the classroom, when their names were read. Prior to the ceremony, MCAO detectives and the assistant Chief checked each Windsor knot and instructed the boys on the proper way to wear this attire. Most of the young men had never worn a tie, let alone been taught how to tie a tie. Deputy County Attorney Mischa Hepner was proud to participate in the inaugural program and could see the changes in the graduates, “I could see the difference that this program made in their lives. We gained a better understanding of their struggles and I understand the appreciation developed for their classmates, teachers and even their community. It was heart-warming.”
Although many of the mentees moved on after graduation, some to a new school in a different grade, others to carry on what they learned with their classmates and friends at Solano, the mentorship program will resume in August. Solano Principal Hamill will select 20 new participants and MCAO “mentors” will take time to get to know the mentees and begin forging relationships with the Class of 2020.
Also new this August is a girls’ mentorship program at Solano that will be led by MCAO Juvenile Division Chief Beth Beringhaus. Detective Byrd sums up his experience with the program, “every mentee is vulnerable to a life of crime and we are helping them redefine who they are and what they can achieve. It’s possible to give a child something they’ve never had before and that is a feeling that never gets old.”

MCAO Investigations Division Chief Karen Ashley agrees, “The relationships forged with MCAO staff members and the youth in this community reminds us why we got into this profession: To make a difference. It truly takes a village to raise a child and being part of the Solano Village has been good for all of us.”

Solano Mentorship Program Graduate Class

Life After Prison:
Overcoming Adversity with a Mission to Help Others

In 2004, Leon Minkinka was one of 40,000 cases prosecuted in Maricopa County Superior Court. His four-and-a-half-year sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections ended in 2008 and he was released to a halfway house in Phoenix. One of the first things Leon did upon leaving prison was to secure a job. He was lucky enough to find a driving job in Scottsdale, which he kept for the next ten years, showing up every day at 6:00 AM and demonstrating to his boss that his was the right hiring decision.
The second thing Leon did upon release was write a letter. The letter he wrote was to the Maricopa County prosecutor he faced in the courtroom in 2004. The prosecutor attempted to offer him a plea agreement that included a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence, instead of taking his chances at trial where he would have faced eight to ten years. Although Leon didn’t want to accept the plea, he ultimately did. While incarcerated, he realized the two-year sentence he was hoping to receive would not have been enough to make a positive change in his life. Leon’s letter included his appreciation for the prosecutor and he actually thanked him. That prosecutor was Bill Montgomery. Bill wrote Leon a letter back and then another letter came from Leon and, more than ten years later, the two are still in touch, talking once or twice a year and sometimes in-person visits. “Bill Montgomery told me he believed in me,” says Leon. “His words meant a lot to me and they still do.”  Earlier this year, Bill Montgomery visited Leon at his business and ended up staying for more than two hours, talking with Leon and several of his employees, all of whom are former inmates. “Leon already possessed within himself what he needed to be successful. His problem-solving skills, perseverance and hard work helped him overcome his past,” said Bill Montgomery. “Even greater than this accomplishment, is his desire to help others lead a new, fulfilling life. I am grateful to know him.” 

Leon was smart and he was driven and he knew that he wanted to be part of the solution. He didn’t want to return to prison and his experience living in a halfway house had convinced him he needed a plan, not only to make his life better, but to help others being released from prison.
Recidivism is a problem, not only nationally, but here in Arizona. In 2018, 45.8 percent of inmates in Arizona prisons had already served a prior prison term. Leon had the energy and the ideas on ways to impact this rate and help give others a real second chance. After a couple of failed attempts at businesses and foundations, he realized he had to re-think things and now he seems to have hit on the right formula.
With the help of an involved Board of Directors and community supporters, Leon formed Fresh Start. Fresh Start is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, based in Scottsdale that serves incarcerated individuals and their families throughout Arizona. Fresh Start, with Leon at the helm, supports individuals and their families by giving them tools to build bright futures. Sometimes that is giving them a ride to a job interview, sometimes its helping them get their foot in the door with a potential employer and sometimes it’s helping them and their families secure housing or regular meals.

Great Deals A to Z Interior
Leon Minkinka's store Great Deals A to Z has a little something for everyone.

In addition to Fresh Start, Leon opened and manages a successful resale store in east Phoenix called “Great Deals A to Z.” Here he employs former felons who stock the store with merchandise from estate sales, storage units and even eBay. His team catalogs and cleans the items and researches their value, eventually re-selling them at a fair profit; in fact, enough of a profit to maintain payroll and help provide some financial assistance to Fresh Start.
When Leon is not researching Craigslist for stock, he can be found helping recently released inmates find jobs, write resumes and prepare for job interviews.
“I live by five simple rules and I encourage my employees and all the folks who pass through Fresh Start to do the same,“ Leon proudly states.

  1. Helping others helps us all.
  2. Lead a clean, sober life.
  3. Lead a crime-free life.
  4. Lead a productive life.
  5. Even a troubled past can have a positive future. 

Leon happily recalls several success stories from Fresh Start including Joe who was homeless upon release from prison and was running from probation. Leon helped Joe successfully complete probation and the two now have worked together for several years. Then there was Pam, released from prison with nowhere to go. Leon helped her find a driving job where she excelled until being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. And Leon’s proudest moment? His own success in getting all his rights restored. Leon persevered through paperwork and court filings and finally had all his rights restored. He can vote now and even sit on a jury. “I set out to accomplish this goal and I accomplished it,” says Leon with a smile. Leon doesn’t let much get in his way. He’s learned to count on other people and they can count on him. He encourages those who reach out to him for help to “build things on their own” and don’t set yourself up for failure. Leon knows that his work and passion are having an impact on recidivism and he’s proud of the families and former inmates he has steered towards a better path.
To support Great Deals A to Z, visit the store at 4031 N. 24th Street in Phoenix. You can also reach Leon at 602-957-3911 or visit:

Great Deals A to Z Storefront

Dr. John Vivian and Grace Ku Bring Vast Knowledge and Experience to MCAO’s Diversion Bureau

Dr. John Vivian and Grace Ku
Dr. John Vivian, Diversion Program Evaluator, and
Grace KuDiversion Contracts Compliance Administrator

The Deferred Prosecution Program at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is made up of several diversion programs: Check Enforcement, Child Abuse, Drug, Felony Pretrial Intervention Program (FPIP) and Justice Court. Under authority of the County Attorney, the Maricopa County Juvenile Probation Department administers Juvenile Diversion Programs. Two new diversion programs, Animal Cruelty and a program serving the seriously mentally ill will be available in August of this year.

This month, we would like to introduce you to two new members of the Diversion team who have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they are bringing to help develop MCAO’s Diversion Program. They both have an extensive criminal justice background and their knowledge and expertise is critical to the development of our programs.
Dr. John Vivian, Diversion Program Evaluator, arrived at MCAO with over 37 years of experience as a criminal researcher. He has worked with several Arizona agencies, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Corrections, as well as serving on several special commissions. During his lengthy career he has authored numerous studies, particularly on recidivism, and he has taken an in-depth statistical look at juvenile offenders. “I’m an applied researcher. While I started out in the academic world, I left to see it infused into new and existing programs to improve them,” said John Vivian. “I have worked on the Corrections side of criminal justice for many years and it’s satisfying for me to work on an alternative to sentencing, providing diversion opportunities for those who can successfully benefit from them.”
John is a self-described “metrics person,” and has particular experience gathering data and analyzing programs. He is using his experience and skillset to develop a scorecard for MCAO’s diversion programs. The scorecard is an accumulation of metrics that ultimately serves as a management tool to improve diversion services and to help offenders in the successful completion of their prescribed program. He will also be overseeing the production of an annual report, and creation of a program evaluation tool. He is enthusiastic and excited about the ways Diversion will add to the programs already offered at MCAO. John is an avid outdoorsman. He loves to go hiking—particularly in the Sedona area. He has seven grandkids, with whom he likes to go skiing, kayaking and continue to find new adventures.
Grace Ku is the new Diversion Contracts Compliance Administrator. Grace comes to MCAO with more than 26 years of experience with the County, most recently as Juvenile Probation’s Division Director of Probation Services. In that role, she worked on key policies and strategic planning. Grace’s work at MCAO will help secure the foundation of the Bureau so she can better track and report how it is functioning.

Grace became involved in criminal justice first through an internship in 1991 with Juvenile Probation. She enjoyed working with youth and helping them improve their life’s outlook. She has previously served as a probation officer and later in her career she worked on firearms investigations and matters of professional conduct. “Diversion brings the idea that there’s hope that people can change, that they can impact their own circumstances, said Grace. “Diversion helps offenders make amends and eases an often over-burdened system. With diversion, an offender is held accountable, but is able to address the underlying issues that may have influenced the decision to participate in criminal activity.” Grace loves to travel and typically takes 2-3 trips a year to places like Germany, Australia, Greece, Italy and China.
“Diversion programs offer our prosecutors another option to help seek justice and reduce crime, said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Our success is not achieved through simply tracking wins or losses, which we do not do, but rather we measure success by seeking justice for the victims, the offender and our community. Programs like diversion allow eligible offenders a chance to stay in their communities while learning the skills to stop the cycle that may cause them to reoffend in the future.”

Diversion provides opportunities for criminal offenders to receive counseling and treatment for a variety of underlying issues that may have contributed to their offenses. By successfully completing these programs, an individual can avoid prosecution and incarceration, and hopefully avoid reoffending. Diversion Programs Bureau Chief Patti Cordova adds that “Dr. Vivian and Grace Ku are both extremely competent and experienced. The Bureau is only better because of them and the community will benefit as well.”

Your Vigilance Still Needed
to Prevent Deaths in Hot Cars

Don't Leave Me Behind caution sign

We are now into the last month of our summer-long “Don’t Leave Me Behind” Vehicular Heatstroke Campaign, but even as we look toward a successful conclusion, we cannot let our guard down. It is still far too hot to leave a child or pet in a parked car.
In our heat, a vehicle’s interior can rise 20 degrees in just ten minutes. Even if the temperature outside is only in the 60’s, a parked vehicle can reach 110 degrees in minutes. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable to heatstroke in hot cars because their body temperature rises faster than a human adult.
“It is never ok to leave a child or pet in a parked car this summer. Whether you are a parent, guardian, caregiver, uncle, aunt, neighbor or friend helping out, if you have a child in the backseat you have precious cargo. You must remember they are there and remember your responsibility,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Since kicking off the campaign in May, there have been a number of close calls across the Valley with young children being left in cars. Luckily, every one of those incidents ended without further tragedy. The same held true for pets this summer with many close calls, including Suzie who was found by police offers after being in a hot car for six hours. The resilient German Shepherd luckily made a full recovery and is now enjoying a new forever home.
“During the Summer, the Arizona Humane Society’s Emergency Animal Medical Technicians respond to about 40 calls a day, and up to half of those can be heat related. It is important to keep pets inside as much as you can and never leave them in a parked vehicle which is like a hot oven that can turn deadly to an animal locked inside,” warned Tracey Miiller, Arizona Humane Society Field Operations Manager.
Serving as a tool for responders is the “Good Samaritan” law—enacted just last year—which provides civil protections to those who may need to help a child or pet in distress. Also encouraging is the progress we are seeing in our state with changes in the law including HB 2671, signed into law by the Governor, allowing for greater penalties for the worst cases of animal abuse.
This year the “Don’t Leave Me Behind” Vehicular Heatstroke Campaign has brought partners together who are driven to keep the summer free from deadly tragedies. Supported by not only the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, but also the Arizona Humane Society, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the goal has been to ensure that not another life was lost to this 100% preventable tragedy. Sadly, a young life had already been lost prior to the launch of the campaign in May however it only strengthened the partnership’s resolve to ensure that NOT ONE MORE life is lost this summer in our community.
“Last year, in 2018, there were no deaths in the Valley from children being left in a hot car, but tragically we did have one child this year, so clearly there is a need out there for us all to be aware and it is so simple. This is 100% preventable, but you have to be aware that it has a possibility of occurring. You cannot let down your guard or believe that it can’t 
happen to you,” said Dr. Anthony Pickett, Phoenix Children’s Hospital Emergency Department Physician. Having a strategy to remember there is a child in the backseat especially when you are outside of your normal routine is the best way to prevent tragedy. You can leave your phone in the backseat or if you have a car with keyless entry leave your key fob in the back, and the car will alert you if you try to lock the door and walk away.
The campaign officially ends on August 31 and all of the partners hope to join with our community to celebrate that we achieved our goal of NOT ONE MORE. For more information on the campaign or helpful reminders for caregivers visit the campaign website

MCAO Vehicular Heatstroke Campaign - Parents and caregivers, look before you lock. Keep our kids and pets safe. Sponsored by: Phoenix Children's Hostpital, the Arizona Governor's Office of Highway Safety, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the Arizona Humane Society.

Learn More About Criminal Justice at the
MCAO Citizens Academy

MCAO Citizens Academy

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a prosecutor, or how a criminal case gets to trial, our Citizens Academy is for you. Applications are now being accepted for fall sessions.

The Citizens Academy takes you behind the scenes to show you how a case progresses from the initial investigation through final sentencing. You’ll sit in on courtroom proceedings, take a tour of the jail, and learn about trial exhibits, cold case investigations and more.

Classes last one full day, and upcoming dates are listed below. Classes fill up fast, so apply early.

For more information and to register, visit:

Upcoming Dates

September 18, 2019
October 16, 2019

November 13, 2019

Looking For A Guest Speaker?

Presenter in front of audience

Did you know that MCAO has a Speakers Bureau that provides knowledgeable speakers to discuss a wide range of criminal justice issues to students, civic organizations, business groups and parents at no cost? Our experienced Deputy County Attorneys, paralegals and staff members will volunteer their time to provide informative sessions on topics that include: Personal Safety, Domestic Violence, Frauds & Scams, Bullying, Identity Theft, Criminal Justice Careers, Neighborhood Safety, Internet Safety, Substance Abuse Prevention, Victims’ Rights and more.
To request a speaker, visit our website and fill out the Speakers Bureau Presentation Request Form located in our Community section. For more information contact us at 602-506-3411 or at

Cases of Community Interest

Mugshot Marc Laquon Payne

Marc Laquon Payne Sentenced to 35 Years For Driving Car Into Police Officers

Marc Laquon Payne was sentenced to 35 years in the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to three counts of attempted first degree murder, four counts of aggravated assault, two counts each of endangerment and criminal damage and one count of resisting arrest.

“This defendant’s intentional and reckless actions put the lives of many in danger that day and directly threatened the lives of three police officers who were serving and protecting our community. This sentencing will provide him with enough time to reflect on his decisions,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

» View Full Story «

Mugshot Robert Interval

Robert Interval Sentenced to 25 Years for Killing Girlfriend Despite Remains Never Being Found

Robert Interval was sentenced to 25 years in the Department of Corrections after being found guilty of second degree murder for the death of his girlfriend 34-year-old Christine Mustafa.

“This defendant’s actions have left the victim’s daughters without a mother and a family without a beloved sister and daughter, and our community permanently deprived of her talents and vitality. This sentencing holds this defendant fully accountable for his actions,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

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Mugshot Caleb Bartels

Caleb Bartels Sentenced to Natural Life For Killing a Mesa Teacher

Caleb Bartels was sentenced to natural life plus 15 years in the Department of Corrections after being found guilty of first degree murder, aggravated assault and burglary.

“This case involved the senseless death of a beloved math teacher who is mourned not only by his family, but by his students and community,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “This sentencing is a fitting punishment for the unjustified taking of an innocent life.”

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Mugshot Joseph John Henn

Former Priest Returned to Maricopa County to Face Charges 16 Years After Fleeing Country

Joseph John Henn appeared before a judge for his arraignment hearing on multiple counts of child molestation, attempted child molestation, sexual conduct with a minor, and attempted sexual contact with a minor. It is alleged that Henn sexually abused at least three boys all under the age of 15 in the late 1970s to early 1980s while he served as a Father in the Salvatorian Order of the Catholic Church in Phoenix.

“Pursuing justice for crime victims is a constant source of motivation for law enforcement and prosecutors no matter how long it may take or how far we have to go,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “The recent arraignment of Joseph Henn illustrates our commitment to justice and further reflects the reality that neither position nor title will shield someone who harms children from accountability.”

» View Full Story «

Mugshot Michael Paul Adams

Michael Paul Adams Indicted on First Degree Murder Charge for Death of 17-Year-Old Victim

Michael Paul Adams was indicted by grand jurors on July 10 on one count of first degree murder in the tragic death of a 17-year-old victim at a convenience store on July 4, 2019.

Prosecutors intend to prove that the defendant used a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument, intending or knowing that his actions would cause the death of this innocent victim. A criminal charge is not evidence of a crime. The defendant is presumed to be not guilty unless and until prosecutors have proven each element of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

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Mugshot Brittany Zamora

Brittany Zamora Sentenced to 20 Years For Sexual Conduct with Teenage Student

Brittany Zamora was sentenced to 20 years in the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to sexual conduct with a minor, attempted molestation of a child and public sexual indecency in connection to a sexual relationship with a young student.

“This sentencing is fitting for an individual who exploited her position as a teacher to groom and then abuse a young teen student,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “Prosecutors and law enforcement will continue to be relentless in making Arizona the most unwelcome place for child sex predators.”

» View Full Story «

Mugshot Jose Orellana-Ruiz

Jose Orellana-Ruiz Sentenced to 27 Years For the Murder of His Infant Daughter

Jose Orellana-Ruiz was sentenced to 27 years flat in the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to second degree murder for injuring and killing his three-month-old daughter.

“Adrianna Gutierrez deserved more from the man who was her father. Instead of the love, encouragement, and support she should have received over the course of her life, her life was senselessly ended,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “While 27 years cannot restore Adrianna's life, it is a clear demonstration that the defendant has a price to pay.”

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Matthew Moreno Mugshot

MS-13 Member Matthew Moreno Convicted for Violent Threats Against Police

Matthew Moreno, a documented member of the notorious MS-13 street gang, was convicted on both counts charged by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office—threatening or intimidating and assisting a criminal street gang—both are class 3 felonies.

“MS-13 is known nationwide for furthering its interests and expanding its control through extremely violent and barbaric crimes,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “The defendant’s threats and actions are indicative of this culture and law enforcement will act to protect our community from this growing menace.”

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