Stephen,I personal exchanged a few e-mails with Dana this week, yea, he seems to think he was the one that broke the story....Little does he know.But in any case, we're both glad to see them follow up on the report we made public first...
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It's a story "you'll see only on 12 News," crowed KPNX-TV anchor Mark Curtis, whose caterpillar mustache rivals that of Will Ferrell's titular character in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Curtis was introducing a recent piece by 12 News reporter Joe Dana about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies winging it down to Central America to train Honduran cops. The escapade — which is ongoing during a time of severe MCSO budget constraints — is spearheaded by Arpaio's "Dick Cheney," the county's Jabba the Hutt-sized Chief Deputy David Hendershott.
Glad as The Bird was to see Channel 12 follow this feathered fiend on the story, the station's still following. This wacky warbler's blogging bro, Feathered Bastard, first exposed the MCSO's Honduran adventure in mid-January, and The Bird complemented the Bastard's effort with its own version shortly thereafter ("Jabba in Paradise," January 24, 2008).
Then, days before the "12 News exclusive" aired, the Feathered Bastard scooped the TV station, revealing the results of a public-records request regarding the MCSO's "sister agency" program with the Honduran po-po. The docs showed that the training of this foreign law enforcement agency by MCSO bigwigs was getting paid for by state RICO funds to the tune of $31,777.83.
RICO funds are obtained through asset-forfeiture proceedings under state statutes mirroring the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, which allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets and property from criminals involved in offenses such as money laundering, extortion, or drug trafficking.
According to Arizona law, there are two revolving funds: one overseen by the Attorney General's Office; and one handled by the County Attorney's Office. The two statutes involved each state, "Monies in any fund may be used for the funding of gang prevention programs, substance abuse prevention programs, substance abuse education programs and witness protection . . . or for any purpose permitted by federal law relating to the disposition of any property that is transferred to a law enforcement agency."
How Honduran cops fit those requirements is a mystery, but it's likely that County Attorney Candy Thomas' office gave the okay for the expenditures. Attorney General Terry Goddard's spokeswoman, Andrea Esquer, returned this cockatoo's call to say that the AG's Office did not make any grants to the MCSO regarding the training of Honduran police. As this column went to press, County Attorney's Office flack Mike Scerbo had yet to get back to this grackle on why Candy's office apparently green-lighted this Jimmy Buffett-esque MCSO field trip.
Of course, the County Attorney's Office has had its own scandal regarding the use of RICO money as a cash cow. The Arizona Republic reported last month that $215K was spent on these lame-o crime-prevention pamphlets that appeared as inserts in local dailies. About $150K came from Thomas' general fund, the Rep reported. The remainder came from RICO funds.
Thomas' slick brochure doubles as a campaign mailer, as Thomas' name and mug appear prominently. Hey, at least Thomas has kept the money in-county! Arpaio, on the other talon, is spending our ducats abroad at a time when the MCSO is cutting expenditures left and right, whether it's jail visitation hours, satellite facilities, or overtime pay.
Cost to the taxpayer for the Honduran training is way higher than $32K as the nine MCSO officers involved were on official business during the junkets, and thus on payroll. There must be OT involved, as the trips sometimes lasted for weeks at a time, all on the county's dime.
The 108 pages of reimbursement requests and expense reports detail how plane flights to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, hotel bills, restaurant tabs, and even dry cleaning were all authorized by Hendershott and/or MCSO Chief of Business Operations Loretta Barkell.
One memo from Hendershott to Barkell is typical of the reimbursement pleas. Dated July 10, 2007, it reads:
"In the spring, as the official representative from the Sheriff's Office, I traveled to Roadan [sic], Honduras to establish and develop a sister city relationship focusing on drug law enforcement and human smuggling. I personally paid $812 toward the airline ticket. As this was official business, I am requesting reimbursement of this $812. The travel was funded from RICO."
The most galling of the RICO-financed expenditures came in June when the MCSO footed the bill for four members of the Honduran National Police to fly to Phoenix and meet with Sheriff Joe during "a weeklong tour of our operations between June 4, 2007, and June 8, 2007," noted a memo from Captain James Miller, commander of Internal Affairs, to Hendershott. The Honduran police force lacks the budget to pick up the tab, said Miller. So the MCSO should "obtain financing for round-trip travel hotel accommodations and food expenses for their entire stay." Both Hendershott and Barkell initialed the request with the note "approved, RICO fund."
It was during this all-expenses-paid trip, as the Feathered Bastard explained in his first item on the subject, that Governor Janet Napolitano, a political ally of Arpaio's, declared June 5, 2007, to be Bay Island Sister Agency Project for Justice and Service Day — the Bay Islands being the Caribbean paradise that lies just off the coast of Honduras and where much of the training seems to be taking place.