Former MPD detective accused of theft filed for bankruptcy

A former police detective accused of stealing $1,300 in April while investigating a drug smuggling case filed for bankruptcy during his employment with the Maricopa Police Department.

Jose Lizarraga, 45, who began working for the department in August 2007, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court in July 2009. Court documents show Lizarraga owed various creditors more than $933,000.

The detective was arrested July 2 on charges of theft, forgery, fraudulent schemes, tampering with a public record and attempted money laundering. He pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month in Pinal County Superior Court. He was released from custody on a $10,000 bond.

Lizarraga resigned from the department July 5. has left messages for his attorney, Michelle Mozdzen, who works at the Law Offices of Michael Storie in Tucson. Those calls have not been returned.

Lizarraga’s bankruptcy case was closed in May; he was discharged of debt payments totaling more than $931,000. The majority of the money owed – about $921,000 – was to Wachovia bank, owned by Wells Fargo, for properties in California that went into foreclosure.

Assets totaling almost $135,000 were exempt from the bankruptcy. These included household items such as chairs, a couch, beds, and others, as well as a 2007 Chevy Cobalt, a Glock 9 mm pistol and two dogs. Lizarraga also listed more than $108,000 from the California Public Employees Retirement System, a state agency that oversees pension and health benefits for California’s public employees and their families, and $16,000 from Arizona’s employee retirement system.

Listing such benefits in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing does not necessarily mean the person is receiving the funds.

Documents also state Lizarraga sold a 1950 Ford – a vehicle he received following a divorce – for $6,500. He used the money “to live off of and pay living expenses for a time period,” according to court records.

The former detective also owned a business from March 2006 to November 2006 called FNF Motorsports in Phoenix. The nature of the business is listed as “custom tires and wheels.”

A call on Tuesday to his attorney for the bankruptcy case, Christopher Dutkiewicz, was not returned.

While the court documents show Lizarraga owning property in California and receiving state employee benefits, it’s not clear when he lived on the West Coast or where he worked. Lizarraga was employed by the Mesa Police Department prior to working for MPD. From December 2004 to July 2008 he lived in Queen Creek.

In 2009, he was divorced living with his 16-year-old daughter in Gilbert. Last fall, he married Ember Conley, the former deputy superintendent of the Maricopa Unified School District. Conley took a job this summer as superintendent in the Park City, Utah school district.

Lizarraga’s most recent annual salary with the Maricopa Police Department was $68,029.26. According to the bankruptcy filing, his gross income from the department in 2008 was $62,618.40.

In the few days following his arrest and prior to his resignation, Lizarraga was placed on paid administrative suspension. In an email, Maricopa’s human resources director Karen Shaffer said “all benefits and payouts will be in accordance with all employee resignations.” She added that remaining vacation hours are paid out and health insurance terminates at the end of the month the employee resigns. Life insurance would terminate on the date of the resignation.

Lizarraga was arrested following a joint investigation by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

He is accused of stealing $1,300 on April 7 during an investigation with the sheriff’s office and the FBI, according to Pinal County court records.

The investigation involved a drug smuggling case. He’s also accused of submitting false documents regarding his investigation into the case and has admitted to authorities he threw the $1,300 out the window of his department-issued vehicle.