Barbara LaWall

Barbara LaWall has been with the county attorney’s office since 1977 after graduating from the University of Arizona.

The state Attorney General’s Office said the Pima County Board of Supervisors can use the county attorney’s anti-racketeering funds to pay for outside legal reviews of funding requests.

The opinion from Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office came after Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall refused to approve the expense and asked the AG’s office to review the situation.

“A request was made to the attorney general for an opinion regarding outside counsel’s payment and clarification has been received,” LaWall wrote in an email to the Star.

“The Board of Supervisors will not have to expend any general fund resources because payment for the legal review by outside legal counsel will be made from the County Attorney’s anti-racketeering funds.”

In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases involving Arizona law enforcement agencies’ misuse of funds seized from individuals accused of crimes, through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also called RICO. The funds are meant to be used for crime-prevention and crime-fighting purposes, but federal investigations revealed some of the money was being misspent at the Pima County and Pinal County sheriff’s departments.

In February 2017, former Pima County sheriff’s chief deputy Chris Radtke pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of theft of federal funds, after he was indicted for felony counts of conspiracy to launder money and theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.

An FBI investigation that began after the Star reported on possible misuse of funds revealed that over the past 20 years, sheriff’s employees improperly spent nearly $500,000 in RICO funds.

In response to the issues, legislators amended the law, requiring county boards of supervisors to review and approve the county attorney’s funding requests, which LaWall was previously able to approve on her own.

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In January, after stripping LaWall of the ability to approve her own funding requests, the Board of Supervisors voted to hire a Phoenix attorney to review and weigh-in on the legality of all future requests.

At the time, LaWall — who is still required to approve requests for use of RICO funds by her office — denied the supervisors’ request to use those funds to pay J. Arthur Eaves for his external review. In a December memo, LaWall deferred to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office previous decision that the law doesn’t allow for that type of expenditure.

It’s unclear how much Eaves has billed the county since starting work in January, but County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the expenses have been nominal.

“We have been paying from the general fund but not much to date,” Huckelberry told the Star. “Going forward, we will use the (RICO) fund to pay for legal review.”

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