Off the Record — the Exclusive Cafés

Pima County sheriff’s employees wait for food at the Off the Record cafe at department headquarters on East Benson Highway.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s former second-in-command is facing seven federal charges including theft of nearly $500,000 in federal funds and conspiracy to launder money, newly released court documents show.

The Sept. 28 grand jury indictment, released Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, alleges that between 2011 and 2016, Christopher M. Radtke embezzled, stole or fraudulently obtained at least $500,000 of forfeiture money from the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers fund.

The Sheriff’s Department claimed it was donating forfeiture funds to the auxiliary volunteers fund, but the department itself was using the money, the indictment says. “This laundering of the forfeiture funds enabled the Sheriff’s Office to use the money free from regulations relating to forfeiture funds and procurement,” it says.

Radtke, who resigned Monday as chief deputy, could not be reached for comment, and it wasn’t immediately known if he has an attorney.

Public records previously obtained by the Star showed that between January 2010 and October 2015, the Sheriff’s Department transferred nearly $720,000 in forfeiture funds into the auxiliary volunteers fund.

Radtke was indicted after a months-long FBI investigation, which began after the Star reported that his niece, Nikki Thompson, took over a cafe inside the Sheriff’s Department’s headquarters in 2011.

Thompson was operating cafes inside headquarters and the Pima County Adult Detention Center without a county contract, and the department spent more than $30,000 in renovations and improvement to the locations, the Star reported in November 2015.

The indictment includes multiple allegations of conspiracy, several relating to cafe purchases, including nearly $2,000 for custom-designed chalkboards that were used as menu boards in Thompson’s two cafe locations.

Other allegations include:

  • In May 2011, Radtke requested $250 in reimbursement for a restaurant bill and tip. “Other Sheriff’s Office employees” requested $110 in reimbursement for a new microwave in the break room.
  • In September 2011, an employee of the department was issued a check for an $81 restaurant bill and tip.
  • In October 2011, an employee received a check for nearly $300 in reimbursements for materials to assemble a Santa’s sleigh for the department’s awards banquet.
  • In July 2014, Radtke spent $31 for a photograph and nearly $700 for model airplanes for the Sheriff’s Department. A few days later, the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Fund credit card was used to pay $50 in rush shipping fees for the planes.

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The six theft-related charges range in date from August 2011 through Feb. 15 2016, days after the Star reported that the FBI was investigating alleged department misuse of public funds.

“In regards to RICO money expenditures, there is a stringent process in place with independent review from an outside agency,” Sheriff Chris Nanos said in a statement Monday night, in which he announced Radtke’s resignation and indictment.

The forfeiture funds come from money seized under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

Nanos declined to comment on Radtke or the FBI investigation during a news conference Wednesday.

Nanos previously told the Star that the FBI had cleared him in the investigation and that he has not been formally interviewed.

An agency spokesman said Tuesday that the FBI does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

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

Caitlin is a watchdog reporter covering local government, the University of Arizona and sports investigations. She graduated from the UA's journalism school in 2014 and has won a dozen state awards for investigative and public records-based reporting.