In February 2017, U.S. Attorney John Huber of the District of Utah washed his hands of the case against Pima County officials for the misuse of RICO funds. Huber called the misdemeanor conviction of former Pima County Chief Deputy Sheriff Chris Radtke a “just outcome.”
According to court documents, for over 18 years “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. 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.”
Over 20 years, well over $500,000 was laundered by Sheriff’s personnel. The illegal practice reportedly ended in July 2016, according to Huber.
One month prior, the alleged mastermind behind the laundering scheme, Pima County Sheriff’s Department Chief of Staff Bradley Gagnepain, took his own life.
Despite the best efforts of power players to block any action, Radtke was finally indicted in October 2016 in the midst of an ugly Sheriff’s race between incumbent Sheriff Chris Nanos and challenger Mark Napier.
With one indictment down, and surely more to come, voters and Sheriff’s Department personnel sought a fresh start and Napier defeated Nanos in the 2016 General Election.
For years, the Pima County Sheriff’s Office was best known as a corrupt enterprise dedicated to providing cover for and cocktails to corrupt County officials. From ignoring ominous and dangerous behavior from the likes of mass shooter Jared Loughner, to delivering alcohol to certain County big wigs on Mt. Lemmon, the Department’s reputation for serving a small segment of the population was cemented.
The reputation defied what most residents experienced when working with deputies in the field. The unearned tarnished reputation took its toll on morale over the years. Even before Napier assumed office, morale was on the rise to euphoric levels based only on the hope that he would truly clean house.
The euphoria ended quickly according to diverse factions within the Department. They saw nothing change. In fact, Napier kept two members of Nanos’ leadership team, who had appeared to be benefit from the laundered funds; Karl Woolridge and Deanna Johnson, in leadership positions.
Still, Napier had done what Nanos never could: warring factions in the Department were finally united in disgust.
United in disgust
Chief Karl Woolridge is married to Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela Woolridge. In 2011, Angela was lauded by then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for “exceptional performance and notable accomplishments towards the Department’s mission by an employee with fewer than five years of federal career service.” According to the Arizona Daily Star, before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Woolridge worked for Barbara LaWall at the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
The Woolridge’s relationship was believed by many to be the reason the case was “conflicted out” to Huber’s office.
Karl Woolridge was one of the recipients of a memo written by financial administrator Ron Jee in 2013, in which he warned that the RICO spending was problematic. According to a recent KGUN 9 News report by Valerie Cavasos, that memo was preceded by another that included the warning: “The guidelines also emphasize that the cost should not create the appearance of extravagance or impropriety.”
Jee told Cavasos that he was told to eliminate the word “extravagant” because it was a subjective term. However, that term is straight from the federal guidelines.
Cavasos reported that legal experts told her that “dropping that line could show intent and could spell legal trouble.” But few in the Sheriff’s Department believed it could spell legal trouble. After all, Woolridge was married to an Assistant U.S. Attorney and was believed to be cooperating with the FBI, so he would be certainly held harmless, Gagnepain was dead, Radtke would get a slap on the wrist and until Trump changed the U.S. Attorney in Arizona and its neighboring states, higher ups, who should have been held culpable would not be.
Time has shown that they were right all along. The one thing they were wrong about was what Napier would do to those “leaders” whose names appeared on RICO expenditure receipts. Not only did those “leaders” stay in leadership positions, Johnson was promoted.
Johnson is now best known for her purchases of ball gowns with RICO funds for the “extravagant” annual banquets paid for with RICO funds.
The fact that Woolridge went unscathed and Johnson was being promoted while sergeants’ were facing pay cuts put morale in a tailspin. No justice, no peace seemed to be the prevailing sentiment.
Ebb and flow
That sentiment and the general public’s feeling that Huber had not reached a “just” outcome may have been behind Napier’s request to the Arizona Attorney General to review the case and see if action could be taken on the state level.
Napier’s request buoyed morale in the Department momentarily.
It plunged again in response to Cavasos’ report last week on a conversation between Lt. Joseph Cameron and Napier. In that conversation, which Cameron secretly recorded, Napier dismissed the possibility that the Arizona General’s office was taking the investigation seriously.
In response to the news, Napier issued the following statement:
The Attorney General’s Office is the last venue available to me to have persons who may have criminal culpability to be prosecuted for the criminal misuse of RICO funds by my department. All these expenditures occurred under the prior administrations. People inside and outside the department urged me to take this step. I did. The prior federal investigation has already cleared current department members of federal criminal misconduct, indicting only former Chief Deputy Chris Radtke.
Weeks ago, I had a private candid/conversation with a friend and commander on my department that he solicited. He knew I would always make time to talk to him. Unknown to me he purposefully and secretly recorded our conversation and my very initial concerns about the AG review. This is a violation of not only trust, but also of department policy. He held this tape for weeks without taking any action. Subsequently, and unknown to him, I had more meaningful discussions with the AG and his team and indicated my desire for a thorough review. I met the investigative team for over an hour in my office. They were extremely professional and engaged. My subsequent conversations with the Attorney General and the investigative team have made me 100% confident that they are conducting a professional/detailed review of the matter. That review will take time.
There are extensive records indicating that many people at PCSD, over a period of years, expended RICO funds outside RICO expenditure guidelines. That is really not a new revelation. The federal investigation determined only one person (Radtke) expended those funds illegally. Now a state (AG) review will determine if anyone made expenditures that were illegal at a state level. There is a difference between not following RICO expenditure guidelines and illegally expending funds. This is important to understand.
Prior to taking any administrative action, it appropriate to allow the AG review to run its course. Undermining that review in the media serves no purpose, if our goal is to hold people criminally responsible. A tenured law enforcement commander should know this and that as a matter of practice we do not comment on on-going investigations. For reasons that are not clear to me, a private and candid conversation with one of my commanders, occurring weeks ago, was secretly recorded and is now being used to undermine the AG review. This seems entirely counter to the desire to hold people criminally accountable.
I am holding department members responsible, by subjecting them to a second criminal review of their actions. A year or so ago, I knew none of these people and had no relationship with them. The exception being the commander who recorded our conversation whom I have known for more than 20 years and obviously trusted. I have no reason/motivation to protect anyone. However, as your Sheriff I would hope you would expect me to provide all people due process, make responsible and thoughtful decisions, and respect the criminal justice system/process. If people have broke the law, I want them prosecuted (period) without respect to whether they are current or former members of the department. The AG review is the only avenue still available to me to make criminal prosecution happen. I will withhold any additional comments until the AG review is complete.
Napier’s statement astonished Sheriff’s personnel and left more questions. The most controversial statement is that Cameron is a friend. One staff member laughed at the thought that Napier and Cameron are friends. In fact, they advise that Napier’s supporters have attempted to smear Cameron, and Napier has told a number of people that Cameron “stalked” him and his supporters during the campaign. “Friends don’t generally stalk friends,” said the staff member who asked not to be identified. “Why is Napier blowing smoke up our asses,” asked the staff member. “Someone might believe him, but not anyone who knows them.”
Napier accuses Cameron of using the “private and candid conversation” to “undermine the AG review.” Nothing Cameron revealed could undermine the AG review. Other than the fact that Napier expressed little confidence in the AG, a sentiment shared by many, Cameron only addressed issues and documents that are part of the public record. What exactly did Napier say secretly that could cause the Attorney General’s investigation to be undermined?
When he first took office, Napier informed personnel that if he knew of any illegal activity it was his duty to report it. Personnel want to know if Napier reported the admissions made by his top staff to authorities. “He made the statement in secret,” the staff member stated. “Will he share that with the AG?”