The Republic’s politics team discusses Russians ads targeted at Arizonans, the migrant caravan and fraud allegations in Phoenix marijuana dispensaries on May 15, 2018. Carly Henry/azcentral.com The Republic | azcentral.com
Before this week, William James Tierney II was a mostly forgotten peripheral figure in Arizona politics, a relic from the 1990s who had failed to make a mark among the state’s Republican operatives.
That changed Thursday when he and his brother Robert Henry Tierney were arrested on federal charges of operating fraudulent political action committees that bilked unsuspecting seniors and others nationwide out of millions of dollars.
Even before the felony case, William Tierney had been involved years ago in what some people saw as underhanded politics and he had been embroiled in a fight over millions of dollars in a family fortune from a gardening business.
This week’s criminal case, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, jarred some who worked with Tierney in Arizona and left others surprised by the allegations of fundraising fraud in politics.
“My heart has just fallen,” former Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock said when learning of the allegations. “You have not made my day.”
The brothers are charged with operating nine PACs that took in millions from small-dollar donors, usually in the name of helping conservative causes. Authorities allege the Tierneys siphoned off most of the money through a network of shell companies that masked they have described as “scam PACs.”
Federal authorities say William, 46, and Robert, 40, defrauded donors out of $23 million. Prosecutors allege the scam was a bonanza for the brothers, who pocketed at least $3.5 million but spent less than 1 percent toward political contributions.
The brothers conned donors through a web of pass-through entities and aliases to hide the racket, prosecutors say. They deliberately avoided news coverage.
A local attorney referred questions to the brothers’ attorneys on the East Coast.
Republicans contacted by The Arizona Republic vaguely recalled William Tierney and his past involvement in local GOP politics during the 1990s, describing him as a junior-level consultant who was passionate about conservative social causes. No one seemed to know much about his younger brother.
Many had not seen or heard from William for years.
“I thought he dropped off the planet,” former U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said.
Dan Godzich, a Republican involved in candidate campaigns and initiatives, said people had “shied away from using” William partly “because they didn’t think he was very reputable.”
Dedication to politics
Others recalled his dedication to politics and grassroots campaigns.
Brock, who served in the Arizona Legislature and on the Board of Supervisors, said William advised him to start attending monthly legislative district meetings if he wanted a future in politics. William connected him with local politicians and business leaders after he moved to Arizona and later helped get him elected to public office.
Brock said he ran into William a few years ago and told him he was working in “call centers.”
The two men have lost touch, Brock said.
“Bill was very instrumental in helping some of us Republicans get elected, and you know, he was very straight up with me and my association with him and his brother,” Brock said. “I’m so sorry to hear that…