Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Need to Reform the Use of RICO and Jail Enhancement Funds

Sheriffs Arpaio and Babeu
Sheriff Joe Arpaio spent $465,000.00 in Jail Enhancement Funds to purchase a new bus in violation of Maricopa County and state procurement rules.  Now it comes to our attention via the Arizona Republic that Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu spent over $53,000.00 to send 25 people to a conference in St. Louis:
The Pinal County Sheriff's Office spent more than $53,000 this summer to send 25 people to a weeklong conference in St. Louis where the sheriff received a national award.

Records show about half of the trip was paid by court fees given to the Sheriff's Office to improve county jails. The other half came from seized cash and property meant to fund investigations and prosecutions.
As noted, RICO funds are those monies received from confiscation of assets of those participating in a criminal enterprise.  Federal law allows RICO funds to pay for department operations.  In Arizona, a surcharge is collected on all traffic violations and other infractions and distributed by the state to the various sheriff departments to pay for jail improvements, training of detention officers and for jail operations.

In the case of the Jail Enhancement Fund, the law is written vague enough that the different sheriff departments have legally been able to spend those monies on just about anything they wish to.  In the case of the $465,000.00 to purchase a new bus, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors would most likely have approved the purchase through the procurement rules, but Sheriff Arpaio never went to the board for that approval.  Sheriff Babeu, on the other hand, has been going to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors hat in hand claiming poverty for his department.

RICO funds and the Jail Enhancement Fund are ripe for abuse due to these lax regulations.  It is beyond time for Congress and the Arizona legislature to tighten the definitions of proper use and enhanced oversight of these funds.  Until those needed changes are made, sheriff departments and county attorneys in Arizona will continue to misuse and abuse the two funds.  

It would be nice to trust that the various sheriffs and county attorneys to use the funds appropriately, but if the actions of Sheriffs Arpaio and Babeu as well as former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas have shown us, is that our trust has been misplaced.

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