Questions are being asked about the timing and nature of comments Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier made last week about the conclusion of a three-year state review of an FBI investigation into the misuse of RICO funds by members of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD).
“Sheriff Napier took what should have been a straightforward announcement about a serious matter that continues to splinter our agency and instead he used it for purely political purposes,” a longtime sworn deputy told Arizona Daily Independent. “There was nothing healing nor honorable in how he handled the report.”
A Pima County resident shared that sentiment in a comment on the Pima County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page.
“The timing of this is fascinating,” noted William Soland. “Somehow, some way, the AG’s report came out just after ballots went out for the primaries, in an election year when Nanos is running (and has a primary). It’s less than a month before the primary election. And here’s a county official who suddenly has an excuse to use his official FB page to remind us all about allegations against his political opponent.”
In 2016, the FBI spent hundreds of manhours looking into PCSD’s use of RICO forfeiture monies, which were supposed to be used for crime prevention and to support specific types of law enforcement activities. The investigation confirmed some staff members misappropriated RICO funds to pay for ceremonial and public relations events, as well as other unauthorized uses, for nearly two decades.
Former PCSD Chief Deputy Chris Radtke would later sign a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office which ensured him no federal prison time for his admitted theft of the public RICO monies for personal use. He was the only person prosecuted in the case, although Brad Gagnepain, chief of staff to then-Sheriff Chris Nanos, was a person of interest until he killed himself in June 2016.
But the FBI’s determination of no widespread corruption wasn’t good enough for Napier, who beat Nanos in November 2016 to become Pima County’s top lawman. So in June 2017, Napier asked Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to take another look at the matter, just in case someone had broken state laws.
“Prior to my taking office there was an extensive federal investigation into the misuse of RICO funds at the department,” Napier stated at the time. “This resulted in a single person being indicted on several federal felonies. Some in the community and within my department feel that others may have culpability, and the sanction provided was inadequate given the scope and apparent vast nature of the offense.”
Then on July 17, more than three years after Brnovich agreed to look into the RICO matter, Napier announced he received the attorney general’s findings 10 days earlier.
In a written statement, Napier pointed out the AG’s report “does not find criminal culpability on the part of existing members of the Sheriff’s Department,” and that “supposition to the contrary is irresponsible.”
That may be a reference to PCSD Chief Karl Woolridge, one of Napier’s top staffers who purportedly received a 2013 memo that addressed the possible misuse of RICO funds. The memo was turned over to the FBI amid suggestions that an employee was asked to edit the document at the time to avoid changing spending practices.
However, Napier was just as quick to share his opinion that the AG report places “some responsibility” for the RICO schemes on former sheriffs Clarence Dupnik, who served from 1980 to 2015, and Nanos, who was appointed to the office upon Dupnik’s retirement.
“Ultimately, the agency head is responsible for thoroughly reviewing and recommending approval of RICO expenditures with respect to both legality and appropriateness,” Napier said.
But nowhere in the 13-page report does it mention the former sheriffs being responsible for nor even being cognizant that RICO monies were being misused. In fact, Nanos is only mentioned four times in the report.
Napier’s suggestion that Nanos played any part in the RICO misfeasance comes just as Democratic Party voters started receiving their mail-in ballots for the Aug. 3 primary election to determine whether Nanos or PCSD Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey will face off against Napier, a Republican, in November’s general election.
For his part, Nanos chose to focus on the Attorney General’s report when asked about Napier’s comments.
“After a complete and thorough investigation -which is Napier’s words- by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and now the Arizona Attorney General, I was cleared of any wrongdoing or having any knowledge of wrongdoing,” he said Sunday.