Joe Arpaio's office misused up to $64 million, Maricopa County says (The Arizona Republic)

Joe Arpaio’s office misused
up to $64 million, Maricopa
County says

by Yvonne Wingett – Sept. 22, 2010 11:15 AM
The Arizona Republic

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors
will have to use the general fund to repay as
much as $64 million that county officials
said Wednesday the Sheriff’s Office misused
from a fund for jail operations.

The county’s Office of Management and
Budget on Wednesday unveiled its first
evidence of misuse of public funds by the
Sheriff’s Office, presenting key findings to
the board after hundreds of hours of staff
research.

Officials reviewed findings involving sheriff’s
purchasing-cards, the detention fund, cash
handling and extradition and travel policies,
County Manager David Smith said.

The detailed review of spending by the
county found stays in Puerto Rico and Belize
charged to county credit cards, and unusual
expenditures like first-class airfare
upgrades, stays at luxury hotels and
$2,215.48 spent at the Disneyworld Yacht
Club Resort.

“We have hundreds of dollars spent at
resorts, including room service … in what
appear to be leisurely activities,” said Lee
Ann Bohn, a deputy budget director.

The findings mirror those of an Arizona
Republic
investigation earlier this year into
Sheriff’s Office credit-card use.

According to some financial records, Bohn
said, training trips to Honduras by 10
Sheriff’s Office employees in July 2007 and
October 2007 cost $91,000 in salaries,
overtime, benefits and airfare.

Other major findings by county budget
officials substantiated that the Sheriff’s
Office tapped the jail-operations fund to pay
for functions not allowed under jail-fund
rules, such as salaries for deputies who
worked on public-corruption investigations
into county supervisors and judges.

Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson told
the board the county gathered business
cards left by deputies working Arpaio’s
corruption task force and discovered they
were being paid with detention funds.

County human-resources data, information
from a racial-profiling lawsuit and other
documents show many Sheriff’s Office
employees were not working in the same job
assignments recorded for them in county
records.

Wilson said the Sheriff’s Office kept a
separate set of personnel books detailing
actual work assignments. Those

assignments are different than information
kept on the county’s official human-
resources records.

“They actually kept a shadow system,” she
alleged. Wilson also asserted that the
Sheriff’s Office annually has spent at least
$16 million from the detention fund
inappropriately. The problem could stretch
back at least four years, she said, and could
cost as much as $64 million, possibly more
depending on how long the problem existed.

That money comes from a general sales tax
approved by voters. Its use is restricted to
spending on jail items such as food,
detention officers’ salaries and equipment

“That means there is a state law, and a voter-
protected funding source being violated,
and remedies will have to be taken,” Smith
said. “Is it $60 (million), is it $70 (million) . . .
is it more? That is the most serious issue.”

Wilson said budget officials needed more
records and more cooperation from sheriff’s
officials to determine the extent of the
problem.

Supervisor Andy Kunasek said he believed
the Sheriff’s Office needed an audit of the
fund. The agency over the last year has
resisted at least five audits of their books.

Sheriff’s officials also were alleged to have
misused jail-enhancement funds, backfilling
the account using general fund dollars that
are less restrictive, Bohn said.
“Should we be getting a freeze exemption
approval before processing the (purchase
order)?” one Sheriff’s e-mail said. “This
could be something sensitive that shouldn’t
go through the county.”