This week, two Arizona House committees will consider a bill; HB2477, aimed at bringing much needed reforms to civil asset forfeiture practices. In response, some Arizona prosecutors are spreading fear in an effort to preserve what has become a sizeable stash of cash.
Pinal County Attorney Chief of Staff Garland Shreves took fear mongering to a whole new level this weekend when he posted on Facebook that “HB2477 it is an anti- Law Enforcement bill and it will promote drug lords to bring and hold their blood money here in Arizona if this passes.”
Shreves called on “friends” to contact legislators and “state clearly your opposition. Law enforcement all across Arizona opposes this bill. Please support the new county Attorney in Pinal County Kent Volkmer and the New sheriff Mark Lamb. The Arizona Association of chiefs of police oppose this bill. The sheriff’s association opposes this bill Let’s kill it.”
At issue are funds generated by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The law allows law enforcement to remove “the tools of crime from criminal organizations” and deprive “wrongdoers of the proceeds of their crimes,” by recovering property that may be “used to compensate victims, and deter crime.” To that end, monies are to be used for law enforcement supplies and training in their efforts to specifically fight criminal organizations and/or aid victims.
Pinal County had served as the poster child for the misappropriation of RICO funds. Pinal County is also the subject of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The organization is suing on behalf of a poor mother, whose only vehicle was taken by Pinal County after it had been borrowed by her son and used in a drug deal.
It was facts in that case, and the questionable use of funds for political purposes that led to Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles’ loss in the 2016 Republican Primary. Voyles was defeated by Kent Volkmer. Volkmer had pledge to clean-up the office. He also challenged the hyperbolic rhetoric of both Voyles and former Sheriff Paul Babeu regarding the dangers facing Pinal County residents.
Based on Shreves’ post, it doesn’t look like much has changed in Pinal County since Voyles had agreed to meet with staff from the Arizona Attorney General’s office to coordinate an attack on legislators like Rep. Bob Thorpe, who might dare to reform RICO spending and protect due process rights.
While innocent citizens have their property confiscated by law enforcement officials without ever being charged with a crime, little to nothing happens to guys like Voyles and Babeu, who abuse their power and the funds.
For example, former Pima County Sheriff Chief Deputy Chris Radtke just last week, pled guilty to three misdemeanor counts of theft of public (RICO) money. The plea agreement includes a stipulated sentence of one year of probation with the special condition that the defendant will never seek a position in law enforcement or with Pima County and that seeking such a position will be considered a breach of the plea agreement.
Radtke didn’t even have to pay restitution to the taxpayers of Pima County despite the fact that he was charged originally with multiple felonies.
As the ADI reported last week, for approximately 18 years until July 2016, officers at the Pima County Sheriff’s Department engaged in a scheme to launder RICO/forfeiture funds to circumvent the strict restrictions on the use of those funds, according to admissions made in a court document filed in connection with the plea agreement. The officers collaborated together to make it appear that the Sheriff’s Department was donating the RICO/forfeiture funds to the Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers (SAV), although the funds were actually used by the Sheriff’s Department.
Although he admitted to being part of a conspiracy that spanned 18 years, it is unlikely that any of his co-conspirators will be charged at all.
It is unknown how many innocent people – if any – paid for the model airplanes and art Radtke and his cohorts bought with RICO funds.