A new $50 million pot is available to local law enforcement in Arizona and along the U.S.-Mexico border for border-security projects.

The money comes from a $94 million settlement that Attorney General Terry Goddard's office reached with Western Union earlier this year to end a seven-year investigation into drug smugglers' use of wire companies to move money across the border.

Goddard's office sent out grant applications Monday to city, county and state law-enforcement agencies in Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico. Each state is guaranteed at least $7 million, Goddard said.

The money can be used to attack the issue of cross-border smuggling of drugs, people, weapons or money, he said. The drugs and people come north into the U.S., and the weapons and money go south to fuel the cartels' operations.

Money-laundering projects will be a priority, but grants are open to all operations related to border security, such as new prosecution and investigative plans, Goddard said.

"It provides highly flexible support to state and local law enforcement that has not been available before," Goddard said. "This is basically designed to help them with what they think they need help with in terms of fighting border crime."

The Department of Homeland Security's Operation Stonegarden grant program offers money to local law enforcement for overtime border security shifts and some equipment, but that money has some restrictions. For instance, it cannot be used for new hires.

This $50 million can be used to hire people, although agencies will have to figure out how to fund any new position beyond the initial grant, Goddard said. It's not restricted to U.S. law enforcement, either. Money won't be given directly to Mexican police, but border police in the United States can obtain grant money for partnership projects that target cartel members, Goddard said.

Money from the $94 million settlement is also being used for a border-crime unit devoted to prosecuting crimes committed by Mexican cartels.

The team will be made up of 10 to 12 prosecutors and investigators, many of whom will work from the federal Intelligence and Operations Coordination Center, working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he said.

Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com