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Updated Aug 12, 2014 - 4:21 pm

MCSO employee suspected of leaking sensitive information

PHOENIX -- A civilian employee for an Arizona sheriff's office is facing charges that he impersonated a police officer to get terrorism-related records that he later gave to a writer.

Investigators say Tuesday that Maricopa County Sheriff's Office employee Joseph Asarisi Jr. portrayed himself as an officer to access dozens of documents through a homeland security network and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. The Peoria man is accused of then giving documents to author Jack Murphy. The documents were supposed to be viewed by only law enforcement officers.

Asarisi, who has worked in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's inmate laundry division since 2003, has pleaded not guilty to charges of impersonating a police officer and felony computer tampering. He remains an employee of the agency but is on administrative leave.

Joshua Davidson, Asarisi's attorney, said his client denies any wrongdoing and that Asarisi's bosses approved of him applying for and receiving the documents.

``He received authorization from his immediate supervisor when he set out to have this information made available to him,'' Davidson said.

The sheriff said his investigators have no information showing that Asarisi intended to use the information in the documents to harm others. Arpaio said his investigators are pursuing the possibility that Asarisi was infatuated with the author.

The records in question included subjects such as national security threats and drug movements, the sheriff said. ``These are not top-secret documents, but they are secret only for law enforcement to know,'' Arpaio said.

Arpaio's office announced the charges against Asarisi on Tuesday, though he was arrested and indicted in late June.

The agency said the investigation began after sheriff's technology employees noticed a large number of terrorism-related documents on Asarisi's computer profile. Investigators searched his home and work computers.

The documents included records on terrorism and human trafficking.

An examination of Asarisi's email accounts showed he used his sheriff's office email address to show he worked for law enforcement, the sheriff office said.

A message left for Murphy wasn't immediately returned Tuesday.

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