Last week, a report from the Arizona Office of the Auditor General found that some RICO monies collected by former Pinal County Attorney and former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu were misspent.
RICO is shorthand for anti-racketeering laws. They currently give authorities wide latitude to seize assets in criminal cases, whether or not a suspect has been charged or convicted of a crime. Property may be sold at auction, and the proceeds may be used to fund other law enforcement operations. Critics of the laws say they provide incentive to enforcement agencies to unduly enhance their operations.
“The Pinal County Attorney failed to follow his office’s procedures and guidelines when awarding community outreach monies, and the former County Sheriff and county sheriff employees appear to have violated county conflict-of-interest policies,” a cover letter to the report states. “We have submitted this information to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for further review.”
The audit reviewed the period between January 2013 and December 2016 and, according the Auditor General, considered various forms of evidence.
“The review consisted primarily of inquiries, observations and selected tests of internal control policies and procedures, accounting records and related documents. The review was more limited than would be necessary to give an opinion on internal controls. Accordingly, we do not express an opinion on the effectiveness of internal controls or ensure that all deficiencies in internal controls are disclosed.”
The report lists findings that say Voyles’ office did not always follow established procedures in awarding the funds or follow up on how the funds were spent. The Auditor found inadequate records of whether or not the benefitting organizations used the money for authorized purposes. The report also found that Sheriff Babeu’s office violated similar established procedures and did not disclose conflicts of interest. One of the findings stated: “Former County Sheriff and county sheriff employees disbursed $151,645 of community outreach award monies for unauthorized purposes benefiting county attorney and county sheriff programs.”
In April 2017, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and Pinal County Attorney’s Office (PCAO) were visited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and unnamed items belonging to Babeu and his staff were collected without warrant.
A lawsuit was filed in July 2016 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Perkins Coie law firm against PCSO and PCAO, claiming that the county agencies were misusing RICO funds and funneling money through the Arizona Public Safety Foundation.
The foundation was once run out of PCSO, and hundreds of thousands of dollars ended up in the Sheriff’s Office coffers.
Current Pinal County officials Sheriff Mark Lamb and Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said that their offices have been cooperating with authorities. Volkmer said that his office asked the Arizona Auditor General for assistance in the matter last year.
The full report can be viewed here: https://docs.google.com/viewerng/viewer?url=https://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/PinalCountyAttorneysandSheriffsOfficesAntiRacketeeringMoniesJanuary2013throughDecember2016Review.pdf.
Photo above: Former Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles and former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu in a 2006 campaign photo.