The county will be seeking an outside auditor to review all future expenses and the past five years’ worth of Pima County Attorney’s Office’s expenses from its anti-racketeering fund.
Earlier this year, shortly after former sheriff’s Chief Deputy Chris Radtke’s conviction for misuse of federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) funds, Arizona legislators tightened laws governing the use of such money and how it will be distributed.
One recent change in state law requires the Pima County Board of Supervisors to review and approve the County Attorney’s Office requests for money from the County Attorney Anti-Racketeering Revolving 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.
In the past, the county attorney was responsible for approving all requests for money from the anti-racketeering fund, including its own. The new law requires that except in emergencies, the County Attorney’s Office must submit an application to the Board of Supervisors and receive its approval before using any money in the fund.
In a 4-1 vote, the board decided to adopt the policy, which requires certification by County Attorney Barbara LaWall, or a designated deputy county attorney, that the proposed expense is for an authorized law-enforcement purpose.
“What I think this policy does do is provide a lot more transparency than we were seeing in the past in regard to RICO expenditures,” said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
The policy also requires the county attorney’s finance department to provide a detailed explanation of what the money will be used for, which is much more transparent than the limited information law-enforcement agencies often provide in their requests, Huckelberry said.
The requests will be made either as direct expenditures, which directly serve law-enforcement purposes of the County Attorney’s Office, and indirect expenditures, which indirectly serve by funding community-based programs, activities or events. Direct expenditures will be incorporated into the annual budget, but the indirect expenditures will be presented individually to the board for approval.
The policy also provides funds for the board to hire outside counsel to review any proposed use of money from the anti-racketeering fund, which Supervisor Sharon Bronson proposed the board make use of and hire an outside entity to review the past five years worth of expenditures to ensure laws were followed.
Although the policy allows the board to review only the county attorney’s request for money from the anti-racketeering fund, some supervisors would like to have the opportunity to review other agencies’ requests for funding.
“It was the County Attorney’s Office overseeing 18 years of misuse of funding,” said Supervisor Ally Miller. “Had the whistleblowers not come forward, we would’ve never known about it. I would like to see the board have a more strict policy where we’re reviewing all of it.”
Last September, Radtke was indicted on multiple felony counts of conspiracy to launder money and theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, in connection with more than $500,000 in purchases that were unrelated to crime fighting or prevention.
In February, he accepted a plea agreement for three misdemeanor counts of theft of federal funds and was sentenced to one year of probation, 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay $3,000 in fines.
The County Attorney’s Office is still responsible for approving RICO requests for all law-enforcement agencies in the county, including the Tucson, Marana and Oro Valley police departments.
“The county attorney is supportive of the new policy that the Board of Supervisors adopted. We favor transparency,” said Chief Deputy Pima County Attorney Amelia Cramer. “All of the anti-racketeering fund documents are and have been public records for decades and are open for the board to review as they see fit.”
In the situation of the Sheriff’s Department and Radtke, federal court documents showed that individuals in the department committed fraud against the County Attorney’s Office when filing their requests for RICO funds, Cramer said.
“There was no documentation in the County Attorney’s Office that revealed that fraud, so this new review and policy and procedure is not something that could necessarily prevent somebody from committing a crime and committing fraud,” Cramer said.
In February, the attorney’s office changed its procedure for disseminating money from the anti-racketeering fund to reduce the likelihood of someone perpetrating fraud on the office, Cramer said.
“Now, the law enforcement agency can submit a proposed expenditure request, but they don’t get a final approval. They get approval that it would be a legally authorized expenditure under the law and guidelines as they exist today,” Cramer said.
The agency can then go ahead and make the purchase and submit the receipt to the County Attorney’s Office before being reimbursed.
Supervisor Ramón Valadez, who voted no, said he’d rather the board make decisions regarding future expenditure requests.
“We chose an overall direction where we’re potentially handing off our responsibility to a third party, and I’m not comfortable with that,” Valadez said.