Andrew Thomas spends public money to bring sinners to Christ

The number one purpose of the Missionette program, according to its Web site, is "to win girls to Jesus Christ through love and acceptance."

It's the Girl Scouts, only sponsored by your local evangelical church: uniforms, merit badges — and lots of talk about Jesus' edict to "go and make disciples of all nations."

It's a rite of passage for many Christian girls.

It is not, however, something that ought to financed with public money. Obviously.

But public dough is exactly what's underwriting the Missionettes at one Phoenix church. Last March, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office wrote a $5,000 check to support the Missionettes at Abundant Living Center.

Do not be mistaken, readers. This was not a personal check from County Attorney Andrew Thomas. (That would be okay.) Nor did it come from Thomas' campaign coffers. (Also okay, although kind of weird.)

No, the office financed the donation with RICO funds — money seized from illegal enterprises and granted to law enforcement for four purposes: racketeering investigations, gang prevention, substance abuse programs, and substance abuse education.

RICO strictures come straight from the U.S. Department of Justice. And I can assure you that Justice hasn't added any provisions saying that it's cool to give RICO moneys to churches instead.

In fact, the expenditure is clearly illegal — a clear violation of the separation of church and state outlined in the Constitution.

And the Missionettes are only the tip of the iceberg.

I reviewed RICO fund expenditures by Thomas' office during his tenure and found $168,000 in earmarks for church-based programs and Christian ministries — many of them blatantly focused on converting people to Christ.

Many of the ministries in question don't focus even indirectly on gangs or substance abuse. That means they don't fit Justice Department requirements. And some of the ones that do deal with substance abuse issues are "Bible-based" programs — meaning they are not eligible for public money. Period.

If anyone should understand the law, it's the county's top prosecutor. But records show that at least two of his staffers signed off on the payments — one of them Phil MacDonnell, Thomas' top aide. (Thomas' office declined comment.)

And that's not all.

I originally asked to see the county attorney's RICO records because I was curious about all the public service campaigns his office has been running. Every time I turn on the TV, there's Thomas, giving parents helpful tips or telling kids to stay off drugs.

Those spots are funded with RICO money. I found records showing that, during Thomas' tenure, the office has spent $2 million on TV ads, radio spots, and billboards.

Unlike the giveaway to Christian programs, that's legal. But something I found in the records makes me question whether Thomas is more interested in stopping drug use — or promoting himself.

Ever notice how the ads focus on Thomas, rather than the sort of local celebrity (Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb) who might actually have sway over kids? There's a reason for that.

The ad agency Thomas hired to shoot the commercials is the very same company that produces his campaign commercials.

They're "selling" Thomas, just as they did during his two previous runs for office — only this time, they're doing it with public money.


Nobody official monitors RICO spending. Like other law enforcement agencies in Arizona, the county attorney has to turn in only big-picture data to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission for each quarter's spending. No line items are included.

When I requested a list of the office's RICO fund projects, it took five months and a strongly worded letter from New Times' attorney to get them. Even then, I didn't get a nice organized spreadsheet: We're talking a giant pile of invoices. So all numbers in this column come from my calculations, after five hours of note-taking and another two hours of basic math.

But the most disturbing things in the records don't require a calculator to understand.

Chief among them? Thomas' earmarks to Christian organizations that clearly intend to use the funds for proselytizing on Jesus' behalf.

In addition to the Missionettes, the earmarks include:

• $15,000 for a Mesa church called the Eagles Wing Faith Center, in part to "develop a new program to expand their outreach by implementing a family resource center."

• $7,500 for the Phoenix Metro Master's Commission, an organization that sponsors a nine-month "discipleship-training program dedicated to making Disciples of Christ," according to its Web site.

• $5,000 for a "Christ-centered 12-step recovery ministry" at Covenant of Grace Church in Phoenix.

• $20,000 for Teen Challenge of Arizona, an organization affiliated with prominent evangelical minister David Wilkerson.

• $23,000 for the Roman Catholic Diocese's mentoring program for kids with parents in jail.

• $5,000 for the AsSalt arena tour — actor Stephen Baldwin's attempt to reach skater kids and bikers with the Gospel.

As best I could tell, there were no grants to religious groups other than Christian ones. And grants to secular groups seemed few and far between.

Eugene Volokh is a professor at the UCLA School of Law who writes about school choice and First Amendment issues. He says that Thomas' office is "absolutely in trouble" if it prefers one type of faith-based group over another, or if they prefer faith-based groups to secular ones.

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17 comments
Scott
Scott

I really hope the New Times makes a bigger issues of this when the election rolls around. The general public needs to be informed on his misdeeds come election time. I also hope New Times turns over their investigation to the AG's office for an investigation.

William Crum
William Crum

It's time for the legal process to begin. To put in the terms that Sheriff Joe's followers states, illegal is illegal. Take Thomas to court and either retrieve the public money or send him to jail.

ConservativeCC
ConservativeCC

im so sick of andy thomas and im a republican! im going democrat this election and voting for tim nelson!

Coz
Coz

Now there's is a fact....Romley just worked for the devil, Thomas is the devil.

>>It was bad under Romley and even worse under Thomas

REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OF
REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OF

To the Arizona Legislators. Please create a "Registry for Corrupt Public Officials", to go along with the "sex offender registry", the DUI Mugshots and Billboards, the Drug Mugshots and Billboards,etc.... Since the legislators and elected officials think these registries are a great idea, we should not exclude other groups, now that we have begun to create groups of sub-classes of people. So start now "REGISTRY FOR CORRUPT PUBLIC OFFICIALS" -- you can use the RICO funds to fund it. It benefits all the public to know and see who the corrupt officials are. It would be a public service.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

County Attorney Thomas has brought the problems upon himself. He acts as though he is above the law and because he has made serious mistakes that have harmed people's lives and used public money he should not have for his own political agenda, he now seeks immunity.

While he actively seeks harsh long prison sentences for first offenders with no presumption of innocence or due process, and he promotes zero tolerance policies, then his own policies and beliefs should be used against him on the "first offense"! The public should not have to wait for which complaint is dismissed or not dismissed. Many complaints have been filed and we know the AZ Bar has rejected one or more of our serious complaints against Thomas. We feel the AZ Bar is either intimidated by Thomas actions and threw our complaint out, or Thomas is crying wolf like he did at Harvard. He has over and over abused his power against those he deems worthless. Since his reign has taken us back decades and centuries, then in other times it would have been said "off with their heads"! Andrew Thomas needs to reap what he sowed.

Andrew Thomas should be disbarred from practicing law in the state of Arizona to mark the beginning of cleaning up corruption in Maricopa County, AZ and the state. Thomas has threatened the very quality of life here and we are in worse shape then we were 8 years ago. It was bad under Romley and even worse under Thomas.

It's time for a New Face with REAL experience and knowledge of urban problems in Arizona -- we'll vote for Gerald Richard for County Attorney.

AZ Observer
AZ Observer

County Attorney Andy Thomas does not deserve anything better than, first offense, harsh punishment, be disbarred from ever practicing law and put on a "registry of corrupt public officials" for all posterity. Then and only then will he realize what he has inflicted on hundreds of professionals and people in Maricopa County. If he is responsible for creating over 40,000 felonies in one year going through Maricopa County Superior Court, then this is a prosecutor who is only interested in convictions for career gain, who does not seek fairness or justice, should no longer hold the office. Thousands of lives and families are destroyed in the process and the taxpayers foot the bill for this destruction, not only monetarily but a loss to society. Andrew Thomas must face the complaints and litigation coming his way. In the meantime, we need a new County Attorney. Those in his office who remain silent, are complicite in his misconduct.

Coz
Coz

http://www.eastvalleytribune.c...

Thomas cites 'immunity' in New Times lawsuit Comments 10| Recommend 2 Nick R. Martin, Tribune Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants a high-profile lawsuit against him thrown out because he believes he has "absolute immunity" from such cases while in office.

Thomas asked a federal judge last week to dismiss the lawsuit from Phoenix New Times, which accused him, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and a private Valley attorney of a years-long conspiracy to target the newspaper.

Arpaio and the private attorney, Dennis Wilenchik, have also in the past week asked the court to throw out the lawsuit for similar reasons.

New Times was the subject of a criminal investigation last year by Wilenchik, who was hired by the county attorney's office as an independent prosecutor. The attorney was asked to secretly explore whether the newspaper broke an obscure state law by posting Arpaio's home address on its Web site.

The investigation came to a halt in October when the newspaper's editors published a story revealing Wilenchik had obtained a subpoena seeking Internet records for all the users of the newspaper's Web site. New Times never turned that information over and the matter was later dropped.

The story landed the editors in jail for illegally revealing a secret grand jury investigation, but it also caused Thomas to fire Wilenchik and end the criminal investigation.

New Times and its editors, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, filed the lawsuit April 29 in Maricopa County Superior Court, accusing the trio of officials of abusing their power and working together to suppress the paper's rights to free speech.

Last week, Wilenchik asked that the suit be moved to federal court because it deals with civil rights issues, generally within the federal purview.

New Times' attorney, Michael Manning, said on Thursday that the change of venue means the case will probably move more slowly, given that the U.S. courts are currently clogged with cases.

"But we're happy in either place," Manning said.

In asking the judge to dismiss the suit this week, Wilenchik also said he should have immunity because he was doing county business when he made the decisions in question.

While the lawsuit "is long on bluster and accusations," wrote his lawyer, Scott Zwillinger, "it fails to establish a violation of (the newspaper's) constitutional rights."

Manning said he is planning to respond to each of the motions one at a time, but declined to say what he would argue.

Said Manning of Thomas' and Wilenchik's claims of immunity: "I think they may have a different view after they read our response." Also from the evtrib:

http://www.eastvalleytribune.c...

Dem rivals attack Thomas on 'absolute immunity' Comments 6| Recommend 5 Nick R. Martin, Tribune The political rivals of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas lashed out at him Friday for saying he is entitled to �absolute immunity� in lawsuits against his office. One called it a sign the Valley�s chief prosecutor believes he is above the law.

Thomas cites 'immunity' in New Times lawsuit

The scathing rebukes came from two Democrats who are trying to unseat Thomas, a Republican, in an election this fall.

The candidates were reacting to news that Thomas had asked a federal judge to toss out a high-profile lawsuit that accuses him of abusing his authority during last year�s botched criminal investigation of a Valley newspaper.

Thomas asked for the suit to be dismissed in part because he believes state and federal laws make him immune from having to answer questions about his official duties in lawsuits.

Candidate Gerald Richard, a former high-ranking Phoenix police official, literally laughed at the notion when asked about it Friday. �Yeah, right,� he said.

�No one is above the law,� Richard said. �When you have someone who says, �No one can check me, no one can double-check me� � that really concerns me.�

Richard pointed to another move Thomas made just last week asking the Arizona Supreme Court to halt numerous ethics investigations into his office by the State Bar of Arizona because he believes the probes are politically motivated.

�My greatest concern right now is with Thomas giving this blanket statement to everybody: �I am above the law and I cannot be touched,�� Richard said.

Richard�s criticisms echoed those made earlier in the day by his Democratic primary opponent, Tim Nelson.

The former chief legal counsel to Gov. Janet Napolitano, Nelson said the investigation last year of Phoenix New Times �reflects a flagrant and dangerous abuse of power.�

�If Andrew Thomas is found immune from liability,� Nelson said in a written statement released by his campaign, �the only recourse for the citizens of Maricopa County will be at the ballot box.�

Thomas is one of multiple Maricopa County officials being sued by the newspaper over the bizarre and tangled investigation that ended last October with no charges ever being filed.

Thomas had hired an independent prosecutor to explore whether New Times had broken a little-known state law by posting the home address of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on the Internet.

The investigation later crumbled when the newspaper revealed how deep the probe had gone; it even targeted readers of New Times.

Thomas fired the special prosecutor, Dennis Wilenchik, over the case but continued to say New Times probably broke the law.

In April, Phoenix New Times, which is the flagship of a national chain of alternative weekly newspapers, sued Thomas, Wilenchik and Arpaio, accusing them of collectively abusing their powers and targeting the paper.

Last week, the New Times lawsuit was moved to federal court and all of the defendants asked a judge to dismiss the case, calling it �frivolous� and �unprecedented.�

A spokesman for Thomas� office, Special Assistant County Attorney Barnett Lotstein, said Friday it�s important for the judge to dismiss the case because it could open the door to thousands of lawsuits from people who feel they have been wrongly

prosecuted.

�Every defendant in every (jail) cell could sue the prosecutor,� Lotstein said. �It would tie up the courts forever.�

State and federal courts have both said prosecutors are immune from the large majority of lawsuits against them. Still, both sides on Friday acknowledged that gross misconduct by a prosecutor, such as doing something illegal or unethical, is not protected.

Lotstein said the county attorney�s office believes it has not broken any laws and should not be subjected to such cases.

But most of Thomas� fights, his opponents argued, may have never existed if the county attorney�s office focused more on serious crime than politics.

�Why does Thomas spend all his time fighting journalists, the attorney general, and the Bar association?� said Nelson campaign manager Josh Kilroy. �Shouldn�t he spend that time fighting murderers and rapists?�

Concerned Christian
Concerned Christian

A starting place for those who want to complaint about RICO funds and public money, given to specific Christian organizations by County Attorney Thomas can contact, American United for Separation of Church and State. We spoke with a lawyer, Aram Schvey, who was going to look into all this.

As a concerned citizen and Christian, one day it's Christians, another day it may be another group. As a Christian, I don't condone elected officials using the Church and God to gain votes and advance policy and their agenda. This reeks of hypocracy when someone like CA Thomas has taken the money to give to the Churches, like taking from one to give to another. Thomas is someone who does not practice Christian values yet gives his "crime prevention seminars" in the Churches. He shows little humanity, fairness or compassion or civil decency, towards people, with his "zero tolerance" and "hang em in the town square" mentality and policies. Thomas is a destroyer, not a builder, and has the state and community in legal chaos while the taxpayers have to foot the bill! We've had enough of Thomas lies, hypocracy and misconduct. He is a disgrace to the office of County Attorney.

Hopefully American United for Separation of Church and State will help those wanting to file a complaint against County Attorney Thomas. As a concerned citizen, one might try calling and asking for Aram, a lawyer, in the organization, who seemed helpful. He can be contacted at 202-466-3234 or by email: schvey@au.org

Coz
Coz

Thomas is a Clown and Arpaio is a Joke.

Both are bad news for Humanity in general and Maricopa County.

Maybe they should share a cell together.....then they dream about spending RICO funds together.

Registry needed for Corrupt Pu
Registry needed for Corrupt Pu

Good idea -- RICO funds should be used to get the story out, equal to what CA Thomas used to build his name and "sell" himself.

Great investigative work, Sarah, keep it up. At least it's on the internet where it can be passed around. Thomas the taxpayers money to pay for his legal fees and to promote himself -- that should be a "felony" punishable with manditory minimum sentencing of 10 years minimum then get put a a "register for corrupt public officials", mug shots on the internet and the Billboards. That would be sweet justice.

Using the churches and God for political purposes is a disgrace. He's deceiving the public and good people of AZ.

Tidy
Tidy

The only shame here, is that it's a shame this story wont be seen by a wider audience.

Can we use RICO funds to get it shown on TV? Now that would really be fighting crime! It could end with Thomas in pink boxers....

Larry
Larry

RICO funds may just sink BOTH Nickel Bag Joe AND Candy Thomas in the election this fall! Vote for Dan Saban and whoever is strongist against Thomas. Maybe a 3rd candidate will emerge in the County Atty. race.

CooperG
CooperG

What's with the "normal" newspaper or TV reporters? Why can't they find this stuff? This needs to be investigated.

Ted
Ted

Sheriff Joe is also a master at using public funds to put his mug in front of the public. I was surprised when I saw a recent help wanted ad in the Arizona Republic for MCSO positions in the county jail. It included a picture of Joe and a blurb that basically said help us in the battle against illegal immigration.

Maybe you can ask Joe what people working in a jail do in his fight against illegal immigration or why he put such a political statement in a help wanted ad.

Mari
Mari

Wow. Someone should report this to the FBI. Or report him to the State Bar (heh heh).

Coz
Coz

Arizona, land of the most corrupt, self serving politicians in the US.

No wonder Arizona is going to hell in a hand basket.

 
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