The FBI is interviewing Pima County Sheriff’s Department employees in a probe of possible misuse of public funds and corruption.

Three employees within the Sheriff’s Department told the Star that they’ve been interviewed by the FBI. The employees asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution for speaking about the investigation.

Sheriff Chris Nanos and members of the senior command staff are being investigated for how the department spent money, including funds seized in drug investigations.

The FBI does not confirm or deny investigations, said Andrew Black, assistant special agent in charge of the Tucson office.

The FBI’s probe was initiated after a Star news story in November revealed the niece of Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke was operating a cafe for employees in the Sheriff’s Department headquarters without a county contract.

At the time, sheriff’s and county officials said the arrangement did not violate county procurement rules.

Nanos said he hasn’t been approached by the FBI. But he said if there is an investigation, it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

With all of the national problems with terrorism and crime, there are more important things for the FBI to do with its time, said Nanos, who became upset when asked about the investigation.

“If the FBI in Tucson has nothing better to do with their time than investigate a cafe in my station and purchase of a $4,000 refrigerator, that’s disappointing,” Nanos said. “Someone should be looking in D.C. about what the Tucson office is doing with its time and money.”

“If they need some real policemen to do their jobs, I’ll gladly help them out with that,” the sheriff said.

The department spent nearly $20,000 of county funds on equipment for the cafe at headquarters, and a second cafe in the jail that was found to be operating without a required health permit, Pima County records show.

The department also failed to follow state law that required it to offer the food services contract first to a program that helps legally blind entrepreneurs, which is run by the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Radtke said in November that when the department was looking for someone to run the café in 2012, he suggested his niece, a professional chef who owns a downtown restaurant. Radtke said he then removed himself from the process.

Department organizational charts show that when Nikki Thompson opened Off the Record-The Exclusive Café in the sheriff’s East Benson Highway headquarters in 2012, Radtke was the captain overseeing administrative services, the department that handled all equipment purchases for the cafe. Current chief of staff Bradley Gagnepain was then the administrative bureau chief, heading up Radtke’s division.

When Thompson opened a café in the jail in 2014, Radtke had been promoted to operations bureau chief, and Nanos had become chief deputy under then-Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. Gagnepain was still chief of the administrative bureau.

After disclosure that the jail cafe lacked a health permit, Radtke received and forwarded correspondence related to its operations, emails obtained by the Star show. Thompson elected to shut down after the Health Department notified her of the required steps to obtain a permit.

Several of the employees interviewed by the FBI say the alleged misuse of funds for the cafe was part of the questioning, but the FBI also questioned the department’s use of RICO funds, money that comes from drug seizures. That money is supposed to be used for crime-fighting.

When contacted by the Star in November, Sheriff’s Capt. Harold Janes said the money for the cafe came from RICO funds, but he later said it came from the general tax fund.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191. On Twitter: @caitlincschmidt

Public safety reporter covering police, fire, courts, and sports-related legal issues.