The Sheriff’s Department former chief deputy was sentenced to probation in federal court Friday, wrapping up an FBI investigation into money laundering and theft that began more than a year ago.
Christopher Radtke, who had served a second-in-command to the Pima County sheriff, pleaded guilty in February to three misdemeanor counts of theft of federal funds, after he was indicted in September on felony counts of conspiracy to launder money and theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. His plea was accepted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Markovich.
Radtke was sentenced to one year of probation for each charge, to be served concurrently. He also was fined $3,000 and was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service in the next year. His plea agreement also contained a stipulation that Radtke not seek work in law enforcement or with Pima County.
The charges stemmed from a 2015 Star investigation about cafes located in sheriff’s headquarters and the Pima County jail, operated by Radtke’s niece, rent-free and without a required county contract.
Through public records requests, the Star learned the department had spent nearly $30,000 of money on the two cafes, which officials said came from RICO money but later said came from the department’s general fund.
After the news story ran, the FBI was contacted by a number of sheriff’s department employees and began an investigation into the department’s use of federal money. The months-long investigation found that Radtke embezzled roughly $500,000 in money seized under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.
Although no one else was charged as a result of the case, the investigation revealed that several members of the department were involved in practices to divert RICO money intended for the sheriff’s auxiliary volunteers fund, which was intended for crime fighting and prevention purposes, U.S. Attorney David Backman of the District of Utah said in court.
“We identified a person in the (department’s) upper leadership who was probably more culpable than Mr. Radtke, but he’s no longer with us,” Backman said, referring to the department’s former chief of staff, Bradley Gagnepain, who committed suicide last June.
The case started as a result of a “series of concerns” at the Sheriff’s Department, and the U.S. Attorney Office’s goal in prosecuting was to clean up the corruption in the department, Backman said.
“In this case, it’s been a huge success,” he said, adding that their first concern after charges were levied against Radtke was removing him from the Sheriff’s Department. “His resignation was a significant moment, because it took care of the problem.”
The challenge in the U.S. attorney’s case became if Radtke should be held to federal felony charges or if the office should proceed with a plea deal.
“I know that the plea is perceived by some as too lenient,” Backman said. “But under all the facts, this is appropriate.”
Radtke’s attorney, Sean Chapman, said in court that it’s clear from the letters submitted to Markovich that Ratdke is a well-respected member of the community who served it well for decades.
“Unfortunately, he made a mistake,” Chapman said, adding that the Pima County Attorney’s Office knew the RICO money was being used for other department purposes.
The reason for the long-running practice of diverting funds was so that the department didn’t have to go through the bureaucracy of requesting the money from the department’s general fund, Chapman said.
“It’s important to know that money wasn’t stolen; it was used for department purposes,” Chapman said.
In February, Radtke admitted that while the practice had been going on for 18 years, he was involved only during the last six years.
“Eventually he knew it was wrong,” Chapman said. “This will always be a mark on his reputation.”
When asked if he wanted to address the judge, Radtke declined.
People seated in the court’s gallery, many of them Sheriff’s Department employees, groaned in disappointment as Markovich said he was accepting the plea, despite the fact that he added the required community service, which was not a condition of the proposed agreement.
“This has been a difficult decision, being that the case started with seven felonies,” Markovich said, calling the case an indictment against the entire Pima County Sheriff’s Department for the last 18 years.
“The biggest irony in this case is the reason it ended up being filed is a lack of courage,” Markovich said. “He didn’t have the courage to end this practice.”
The irony existed in that no one ever doubted Radtke’s courage while he wore a badge for nearly 30 years, Markovich said.
After the courtroom cleared, Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey, president of the Pima County Deputy Sheriff Association, confronted Backman in the hall, saying this wasn’t justice and he should be ashamed with how the case was prosecuted.
Backman reiterated the goal was to end the corruption in the department and that had been achieved.
Because Backman doesn’t personally know all the players involved or have knowledge of all the players involved, he doesn’t have the right to make that claim, Kubitskey said.
“I don’t think he was well-informed or well-educated in regards to Christopher Radtke and what actually happened over the last 30 years of his career,” Kubitskey said later. “I personally know others that were involved that are still employed. To have him say he’s rid the Sheriff’s Department of that is way off base.”
It was disappointing that the seven felonies resulted in a misdemeanor conviction, in part because of what himself and the other whistleblowers who spoke to the FBI went through under Radtke’s reign, Kubitskey said.
“To walk away from a potential (sentence of) 80 years in prison and $1.5 million in restitution, the true victim here is the community,” he said. “What’s the community going to think now? That law enforcement officials at that level can get away with stealing their money? It doesn’t make any sense.”
It’s going to take time and effort to eliminate all the corruption in the department, but new Sheriff Mark Napier is making the right steps toward making the department whole again, Kubitskey said.
“You don’t just get rid of one person over 18 years and expect that it all gets cleaned up. It’s not logical to think that way,” he said.
Although the federal investigation is closed, Kubitskey said there’s always hope Napier could find ways to address the situation at the state level.
“I understand they wanted more out of this case, but I think this case has been highly successful,” Backman said in a later interview. “Before we filed this case, there was corruption at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department that’s no longer there.”
Addressing Chapman’s claim that the County Attorney’s Office was aware of the department’s misuse of funds, Backman said that although they hadn’t officially investigated the office, they had no evidence that the County Attorney’s Office was complicit.
“They did have to approve these (funding requests,) but the problem was that the paperwork being submitted to the County Attorney’s Office was fraudulent,” Backman said.
Recently, the County Attorney’s Office has changed the process for how RICO funds are requested, making it more stringent.