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PHOENIX (CBS5) -
In August of last year, a conspiracy theory peddler named Jerry Corsi gave a presentation to the Surprise, AZ Tea Party. That speech set in motion a series of events that would lead to the self-proclaimed "Toughest Sheriff in America" calling President Barack Obama's birth certificate a fake.
At Corsi's urging, the Surprise Tea Party created a petition, demanding that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office investigate the president's birth certificate. It's an issue Corsi was familiar with. He's been pushing the idea that Obama is not a US citizen for years.
Corsi is a contributor to and editor of the website WorldNetDaily, which is known for publishing conservative-leaning conspiracy theories. They have included:
The idea that Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh had connections to middle eastern terrorists;
That TWA Flight 800 was destroyed by terrorists and covered up by the Clinton administration;
And lately, that Obama's birth certificate is a fake.
Corsi came under considerable criticism when he argued that the official story of what brought down the World Trade Centers was a cover up.
In the meantime, Arpaio assigned the birth certificate investigation to his Cold Case Posse and despite Corsi's past, promptly added him to the team.
The other main member of the Cold Case Posse is its director, a former police officer from New Jersey named Mike Zullo. He and Corsi have since teamed up to sell the results of their investigation as a book, available for purchase online.
Arpaio defended his investigators during an afternoon news conference, arguing that their past and potential profit motive did not interfere with their work.
"Look at the evidence and forget who's in bed with who," Arpaio said.
Zullo denied that money was a motivating factor for his involvement in the case.
"I didn't make anything on that book," said Zullo, although he later admitted that he had received checks totaling $1,350 from the publisher.
Zullo said he donated the money to his church.
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