On Tuesday, Rep. Bob Thorpe’ House Federalism and Public Policy Committee heard testimony from Lieutenant Joe Cameron of the Pima County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) regarding the issue of the misuse of RICO funds.
Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is requesting that the Board of Supervisors today review and approve of RICO monies to various organizations. LaWall is requesting approval of funding for organizations and activities ranging from 88Crime, Inc. to the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, Inc.
The Pima County supervisors are expected to vote on the RICO requests at today’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.
Later in the day, Arizona legislators are scheduled to hear testimony from Pima County resident as to the ongoing misuse of RICO monies….
Thorpe, who has worked to reform Arizona’s asset forfeiture laws over the years, invited Cameron to share his experience with and concerns about the misuse of RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations) funds which are generated by law enforcement activities that result in civil asset forfeiture proceedings.
Cameron offered compelling testimony in which he shared the concerns of both fellow law enforcement officers and Pima County residents about the seemingly unfinished business of bringing personnel, who participated in what the FBI described as a “money laundering scheme,” to justice.
Earlier in the day, Thorpe advised Pima County supervisors in an email that he was concerned about “past and current practices within the office of County Attorney Barbara LaWall and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.” He wrote:
Dear Pima County Supervisors:
Last year, the legislature reformed RICO and Civil Asset Forfeiture laws in order to address abuses of these laws and the assets collected by county prosecutors from our citizens in civil court. I am greatly concerned as I learn more about past and current practices within the office of County Attorney Barbara LaWall and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
RICO and CAF laws were never intended to take monies from average citizens, who are not part of organized crime, to be used (abused) by government officials and agencies as a slush fund for non-law enforcement activities. These practices are counter to everything that embodies the concept of ‘public trust.’
LaWall’s current requests, that include a $5,000 payment to the Perimeter Bicycling Association of America, Inc., demonstrate to me that further state legislative action is needed in order to hold county officials personally accountable for their decisions.
State Representative Bob Thorpe
After receiving Thorpe’s email, the supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, delayed the vote to approve the requests from LaWall. They opted instead to have an independent attorney to review the requests for appropriateness.
Committee member Rep. Noel Campbell suggested that the committee send a letter to the Attorney General’s Office requesting a full investigation into Pima County’s RICO fund expenditures.
RICO funds are intended to be used for crime fighting activity, but among LaWall’s proposed RICO funded projects were free infant car seats, and pajamas.
Counter-racketeering expert Aaron Ludwig said of LaWall’s latest request. “Article 9, §7 of the Arizona Constitution, commonly referred to as the Gift Clause, provides: “Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, municipality, or other subdivision of the state shall ever…make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association, or corporation…” The Arizona Supreme Court has interpreted this constitutional provision to mean that the governmental entity giving the money to the private enterprise must receive adequate consideration (probably equal value) DIRECTLY. Indirect and potential benefits cannot be part of the computation of what the government receives. Furthermore, “…a public officer or other person…charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer or disbursement of public money is guilty of a class 4 felony…[if she]: without authority of law, appropriates it, or any portion thereof, to [her] own use, or to the use of another.” Does the expenditure of public money to bolster one’s own image or reputation or to win an election by giving public money to non-profit organizations that make her look good amount to appropriation of public money for her own use? Regardless of whether the conduct is criminal, all Arizona elected officials have taken an oath to uphold the Arizona Constitution, including its Gift Clause.”