The Pima County Sheriff’s deputies are calling on Sheriff Mark Napier to request an audit of the RICO fund. Pima County Deputy Sheriff Association chairman Eric Cervantez said in a letter to KGUN9 News that transparency is “the only way to build confidence.”
The demand follows a news report by KGUN 9 News investigative reporter Valerie Cavazos in which former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley questioned the County’s claim that an audit would interfere with an investigation by the Attorney General’s office.
At issue for the deputies and Pima County residents is the illegal use of RICO funds, the disparate treatment of Sheriff staff, the statement made by Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier that the Attorney General does not take the investigation seriously, and the need for outside counsel to review future RICO requests.
A conspiracy involves at least two people
In the interview with Cavazos, Romley discussed the suggestion that the Pima County supervisors retain outside legal counsel and secure an audit by the Arizona Auditor General. “County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry suggested the board wait because the Attorney General is investigating the Pima County Sheriff’s Department,” wrote Cavazos. “Huckleberry had said, “I think we have time on the independent authority because we don’t want to do anything until the Attorney General concludes his investigation because it’s a criminal investigation and we would not want to interfere with that in any way.”
“I don’t understand why,” Romley told Cavazos. “The Auditor General works with the Attorney General all the time. The Auditor General worked with me all the time when we’re doing a criminal review as well. When I did an investigation, after I retired as the County Attorney in Maricopa, of the county manager in Pinal County. I brought the Auditor General in to work with me and we made both recommendations on things that needed to be improved upon. Plus, I brought criminal charges against the county manager for stealing funds. I mean I don’t know why he’d be saying that. That makes no sense to me.”
It makes no sense to the deputies’ union either. In his letter to Cavazos, Cervantez wrote: “PCDSA believes that a combined investigation from the Attorney General’s Office and the Auditor General’s Office would be best. This would allow for the entire issue involving RICO be resolved faster than waiting for two separate investigations and be put to rest.”
In May, former Pima County Chief Deputy Sheriff Chris Radtke was sentenced for his role in an 18 year conspiracy to launder RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) funds. Although he was charged with crimes that were part of a conspiracy, Radtke was the only member of the Sheriff’s office.
Disparate treatment reveals double standard
The obvious failure of the justice system and residents’ reaction to it prompted Napier to request the Arizona Attorney General’s office to look into the matter. However, Napier was caught on tape acknowledging that the request was more of a publicity stunt than part of an effort to clean up the department.
In a surreptitious recording, Lt. Joe Cameron captured Napier’s admission. Napier’s comments were featured in an investigative report by Cavazos. Cameron turned over recordings he made of conversations with Napier to Cavazos. Napier told Cameron that he believed most of the leadership the Department were guilty of misusing RICO money.
Napier told Cameron that the Attorney General’s Office “had no intention nor did they have any desire “to investigate the misuse of RICO funds, reported the ADI in September. In fact, they think it is silly.” He claimed that he “looked a little silly for even asking them.”
While documents show that Napier promoted staff that misused RICO funds, he has now reprimanded Cameron for recording him. In the letter of reprimand, Napier claims that Cameron violated “Pima County Sheriff’s Department Rules and Regulations, Pima County Law Enforcement Merit System Rules, Pima County Merit System Rules, and Pima County Personnel Policies.”
The letter reads in part:
You are being issued this Letter of Reprimand for surreptitiously recording candid conversations you had with Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, while you were both on-duty, at the Sheriff’s Department Administration Building. After obtaining, the secret recordings, you provided the taped information to a local news reporter. You also conducted on-air interviews with the reporter and with a host of a local radio station, during which you were identified as .a lieutenant with the Department in charge of the Records Management Section. In the course of one of the interviews, with the radio talk show host, you discussed details regarding a particular process in the Records Unit, as well as your dissatisfaction with the manner in which officials with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department addressed Public Records Requests.
In January and July of 2017, you secretly recorded conversations with Sheriff Napier utilizing a IPhone concealed on your person while both of you were at the Sheriff’s Department Administration Building. During the conversations, you inquired about and expressed your concern over the Arizona Attorney General’s (AG) review of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) investigation into the alleged misappropriation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) funds by Department personnel. You advised Sheriff Napier you wanted to be interviewed by the AG’s Office and you were insistent their investigators conduct a complete follow-up investigation. Sheriff Napier listened to your concerns and discussed with you the status of the inquiry. You also recorded a conversation regarding your dissatisfaction regarding alleged conflicts of interest in the handling of Public Records Request by officials in the Department. You subsequently turned over the recorded conversation to a reporter with the local media who utilize the information; along with additional information she received through Public Records Requests to conduct on-air and in-person interviews with you.
During the news stories, that aired on August 31, 2017, you were identified as Lieutenant Joseph Cameron, with 30 years of law enforcement experience with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, In charge of the Records Management Unit. The segments contained several excerpts from your recorded conversations, you obtained contrary to Department Rules and Regulations, with Sheriff Napier. You expressed your dissatisfaction with the open, on-going investigation Into the alleged illicit RICO expenditures, as well as your opinion as to commanders whom you believe should be held accountable. You acknowledged commanders on the Department are held to a higher standard from your closing quote in the corresponding article to one of the interviews. “We’re told we’re held to a higher standard. And the higher you go in an agency the more of a higher standard you are held to…”
On September 5, 2017 and September 6, 2017, you were interviewed, in person by a local radio talk show host live on the air. You were identified as Lieutenant Joseph Cameron with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in charge of the Records Management Unit. During the interviews, you admitted to secretly recording Sheriff Napier on January 27, 2017, and on July 11, 2017. In the July 11th recording, amongst various other topics you discussed with Sheriff Napier, you advised the talk show host you expressed your concerns about alleged conflicts of interests, to the Sheriff,· in regards to the handling of – Public Records Requests by officials within the Department. You elaborated on the conversation you had with the Sheriff, during your interview, and further conveyed your discontent regarding the process. By offering your opinion to a member of the media about a specific records procedure, after being identified as the lieutenant in charge of the Records Unit on the air, you acted in your official capacity, and therefore, contrary to Rules and Regulations. In addition to discussing your dissatisfaction with the investigation into RICO expenditures, you also advised the radio host you anticipate some form of discipline in the form of a suspension, demotion, or termination. You stated, ”If you go off the reservation, at least in my agency, they come after and you pay for it.”
The ADI reached out to Sheriff Napier for his response to the deputies’ request. “I think it is best to let the AG complete its work. Nothing about respecting this process in anyway or form precludes subsequent review by the Auditor General. The results of the AG review can only serve to help guide a future audit. I am respecting the process,” responded Napier in an email.
Aside from Napier’s recorded statements, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has thwarted efforts to reform RICO. As a result, Napier’s respect for the process leave his deputies wondering if he respects them. One deputy, who asked not to be identified stated, “For a guy who went through the University of Arizona’s LGBTQ sensitivity training it’s surprising how little sensitivity he is showing to his deputies and the residents of Pima County.”
Another deputy told the ADI, ““I prefer to stay anonymous because of retaliation that seems to be going on. If the Sheriff wants to put this behind the Department, then why wouldn’t you do a combined investigation? By waiting until the Attorney General is finished only prolongs the outcome unless the outcome is known and the purpose in waiting is to say that the Attorney General found nothing. All deputies know that there is more to this story. It seems like Judge Romley knows what he is talking about and is using a common sense approach that seems like the only way to approach this. If there is nothing to hide then why not do it and establish trust where it currently is not?”
“Transparency, accountability, integrity”
Earlier this month, Supervisor Steve Christy released a statement in support of Romley’s opinion that Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall should not review RICO requests. Romley said that because LaWall’s office relies on RICO funds, a conflict-of-interest exists. Christie stated:
I sincerely hope, in the name of transparency, accountability and integrity, that the Board of Supervisors retains an outside, independent, expert counsel to not only continually monitor and analyze all elements of RICO fund activities, but to set forth a formal review and authorization procedure for the RICO fund process.
This establishment of procedure and the creation of a system of review would start at the collection of RICO funds and flow all the way through to their final disbursement.
The Board of Supervisors are not experts in this area and as a sitting County Supervisor, I for one, do not feel comfortable directing, identifying, approving, or disbursing RICO funds.
That “arm’s length” distance and procedural layer between the Board of Supervisors, the County Attorney’s office, and the RICO funds themselves, is essential in restoring public confidence in the RICO fund process.
Confidence is desperately needed say deputies. Confidence is desperately needed say deputies. The Association once backed and supported Napier. Members say they simply want transparency in order to establish confidence once again in the Department.
Because Cameron was punished and others have experienced or have seen what they perceive to be retaliation while chiefs Woolridge, Johnson, or Gwaltney, who were involved significantly in the misuse of RICO funds, remain in power, confidence has evaporated.