The Pima County Board of Supervisors won’t be able to use the county attorney’s anti-racketeering funds to pay for an audit of the account, which board members approved earlier this month.
On Sept. 19, supervisors approved an audit of the past five years’ worth of expenditures out of the Pima County Attorney’s Office Anti-Racketeering Revolving Fund, along with all future expenses.
Since then, the board has learned it only has the option to audit RICO expenditures from Aug. 9 forward, and that supervisors can’t use money from the anti-racketeering fund to pay for an audit. “We can only use the money to get legal opinions on expenditures and settlements,” Supervisor Sharon Bronson.
Earlier this year, shortly after former sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Radtke’s conviction for misuse of federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization funds, Arizona legislators tightened laws regarding the use of such money and how it will be distributed.
One recent change to state law requires the board of supervisors to review and approve the county attorney’s office requests for money from the anti-racketeering fund.
The federal money, which comes from funds seized from individuals accused of crimes, is meant to be used by the county attorney’s office and local law-enforcement agencies for crime-fighting and crime-prevention purposes.
“We use our anti-racketeering funds to fund our staff, to support (community restorative justice boards across the county,) as well as supplies and services,” said Dave Smutzer, legal administrator for the Pima County Attorney’s Office. “There’s a variety of day-to-day expenses for which we use RICO funds to supplement the county attorney’s general fund.”
Because supervisors now have to approve all county attorney expenditures out of the anti-racketeering fund, they could decide to “cease to allow” the office to use the fund to pay for employees.
If the county attorney’s office isn’t able to pick up the costs of those employee salaries, that could force layoffs, Smutzer said, adding that if the county attorney’s office uses the general fund to pay for those positions, it couldn’t go back to using the anti-racketeering fund, as the positions would become part of the county attorney’s mandated services.
“I question the procedures that you’ve developed (for requesting RICO expenditures) and the changes that you’ve made from these original procedures,” Supervisor Ally Miller told Smutzer.
The board clarified that while it doesn’t have the authority to force the county attorney’s office to submit to an audit, the county attorney could request an audit.
“I see no reason to do an audit,” Smutzer said.
“I would say after what has happened with these RICO funds it might be a good idea to have a periodic audit, don’t you?” Bronson responded, referring to Radtke’s admission in federal court that the Pima County Sheriff’s Department had been misusing RICO funds for nearly 20 years.
“The historical evidence has shown that there was a fraud perpetrated on the county attorney’s office by the sheriff’s office employees,” Smutzer said. “There’s been no documentation or proof in any claims made that there’s been any misappropriation or misuse of county attorney’s funds.”
Going forward, the board has a few options. In Pinal County, Bronson said, the board of supervisors has asked the Attorney General’s Office to do an audit.
One option is to revisit the issue in three to six months and evaluate the county attorney’s expenditures during that time, before seeing if the office would be amenable to an audit at that time.
Before an audit can occur, the board would have to identify a funding source, said Andrew Flagg, deputy Pima County attorney in charge of the civil division.
“I think from an overall checks and balances and optics and comfort level, the county attorney’s office would welcome someone with a different set of eyes outside the realm of the county attorney’s office as these expenditures come forward, to have an automatic handing off to this expert or consultant or agency to declare their opinion that the expense is a legitimate use of RICO funds,” Supervisor Steve Christy said. “I just think that covers everybody’s bases.”
Miller asked Smutzer again if the county attorney’s office would be willing to submit to an outside audit, saying that she though it would bring “a lot of people a level of comfort.”
Smutzer referenced a memo from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, which identifies six steps the county attorney’s office would take to assist in transparency. Smutzer also said the county attorney would provide a year’s worth of historical expenditures by all law enforcement agencies and provide the data to the county, also agreeing to submit additional information with all future requests, showing a “law enforcement nexus” to justify the RICO expenditure.
Miller was quick to tell Smutzer he didn’t answer her question.
“If the board chooses to fund an audit, that is their decision to make. I’m not objecting to an audit,” Smutzer said.
Supervisors agreed to revisit the issue in three to six months.