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.
Sheriff Joe, whose wrinkled mug normally has to be sandblasted away from TV cameras, wouldn't be interviewed for the Channel 12 report. But the MCSO told Dana that the Honduran trips had the "unwavering support" of the Guv and the Board of Supervisors. Dana cited one unnamed supervisor who said the Supes voted to send computers to Honduras as part of the program. Still, according to state law, Candy Thomas (a.k.a. "Little Joe") has the yea or nay over the way the MCSO spends RICO funds.
Channel 12 did score a cool quote from Republican state Senator Bob Burns, who told the station that the Honduran adventure has "some kind of strange smells about it." Speaking to The Bird, former County Attorney Rick Romley said the use of RICO funds can be tied to investigations, but with the Honduras training, he wondered, "Where is the investigation?"
Romley confirmed that, under his watch, RICO expenditures were overseen by one of his chief deputies and were tightly monitored.
But for Thomas and Arpaio, RICO cash seems to be viewed as a bottomless slush fund, to be used for self-promotion or for Hawaiian-shirted private projects like the Honduran enterprise.
"This isn't right," Buckeye police chief and Arpaio rival Dan Saban told this toucan. "Not when the people in Aguila are arming themselves because they have no protection. They have people dying in the jails because they're under-staffed. We have a law enforcement need right here under Sheriff Arpaio's nose: The need to supply us with satellite facilities. Our citizens are paying for us to spend extra hours transporting and booking prisoners. And we're providing resources to another country? That's aggravating."
The aggravation's just beginning.
MCSO Captain Brian Beamish told Honduran radio jock Roatan Bruce last year: "There is more training scheduled for the beginning of the year (2008), and it is going to continue for the next several years." That means more RICO money that should be earmarked for programs in Maricopa County will continue to be funneled down to Central America.
The big question is, why? If the MCSO's going to embark on such a shameless scheme in the first place, why Honduras instead of, say, Mexico — where such an expenditure might make an ounce of sense considering the human trafficking and drug smuggling that comes across the border?
Perhaps, Mexico just wasn't scenic enough for the upper-echelon deputies.
Could it be that MCSO honchos are planning their post-MCSO lives in a banana republic where they might serve as cop consultants? Do MCSO pooh-bahs have investments down there that dovetail with their professional interests? And is their use of RICO funds for this unusual purpose illegal in any way?
The Bird will keep you posted as he pecks away at this controversy.
You know, there are two things this Wild Turkey likes about disgraced ex-special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik.
They used to tell that joke about Tricky Dick Nixon back in the day, but it works for Dennis the Menace, too, especially after his recent op-ed in the Arizona Republic, where he clumsily attempted to rationalize his actions in the October debacle that saw The Bird's bosses, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, arrested on bum raps.
Wilenchik dug his hole deeper just one day after New Times announced its Notice of Claim against Wilenchik, his former boss County Attorney Candy Thomas, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the co-defendants in that prelude to a lawsuit. (See "Blowback," Stephen Lemons, February 21.)
In his self-serving Rep article, Wilenchik whaled away at former employee William French, heretofore a respected prosecutor and judge before signing on to Wilenchik's pirate ship, the Wilenchik & Bartness firm. A week earlier, French, who resigned shortly after the Lacey-Larkin arrests, told the Arizona Republic that Wilenchik was responsible for the questionable collars resulting from the misdemeanor offense of revealing illegal grand jury subpoenas, as Lacey and Larkin did in "Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution," their October 18 cover story.
"Somers told me that Wilenchik said, 'No more Mr. Nice Guy. We're going to arrest them,'" French recalled for the Rep, referring to his colleague at Wilenchik's firm, attorney Rob Somers. "That's what happened. From what I read, Dennis said something like, 'There was a mistake from someone in my office.' You don't make that kind of mistake."
Knowing the once and future toxic-mold litigator, The Bird's sure Wilenchik couldn't contain himself after French threw him under the proverbial bus. Like Run-D.M.C. sang back in the day, "You talk too much/Homeboy, you never shut up!" Wilenchik just has to have the last word, even if that last word contradicts what he's said before.
Throughout his rebuttal to French, Wilenchik tried driving in two lanes simultaneously. He argued that it was the Sheriff's Office that made the decision to arrest Lacey and Larkin, and that he and his underlings had zip to do with it. At the same time, Wilenchik asserted the arrests were justified and lawful.
"The decision to bring the owners of the New Times downtown was therefore not only called for under the law," wrote Wilenchik, "but was the decision of the Sheriff's Office, not mine."
Will the real Dennis Wilenchik please step forward? Back in October, the Wily One was ready to blame the arrests on flunkies Somers and French. In a statement released to the press, he called the whole thing "the result of a miscommunication." Wilenchik wanted Lacey and Larkin only to be cited, and "if they refused to accept the citations, they could be taken to jail and booked, then cited."
This direction from Wilenchik "was apparently misunderstood by the other Special Prosecutors, which resulted in a request that the MCSO deputies arrest, book and cite Messrs. Lacey and Larkin, rather than attempting to just issue them citations."
Wilenchik maintained in the press release that the arrests were "completely legal, and some might argue more than justified." He concluded by insisting that "the County Attorney, Sheriff Arpaio and I had no personal knowledge that Messrs. Lacey and Larkin would be arrested that evening until after they were, nor would they or I have condoned such action in advance."
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Thing is, Wilenchik did condone it in advance, in a legal document titled the Application for Order to Show Cause. Wilenchik submitted the application to Judge Anna Baca, presiding judge over Maricopa County grand juries, on the day that Lacey and Larkin published Wilenchik's unconstitutional and over-broad subpoenas. It demanded the arrest of Lacey, Larkin, and their lawyers, and it asked that crushing fines be imposed on New Times. In the course of a year, these fines — aimed at bankrupting the paper — would have equaled $90 million.
This doc was faxed to all parties about 2 p.m. on the same day as Lacey and Larkin's nighttime arrests. It was signed by Wilenchik, and flunky French's name appears directly beneath his then-master's.
So who's telling the truth about the arrests? French? MCSO flack Paul Chagolla, who pointed the finger at special prosecutors French and Somers as having negotiated the arrests? The Wilenchik who, at one point, e-mailed New Times concerning the authorship of the arrests, saying "Don't know. If I find out, will be back"? The Wilenchik who blamed his lieutenants? Or the Wilenchik who now says the MCSO did it?
All this cynical sandpiper's sure of is that Colonel Mustard didn't do it in the kitchen with a freakin' wrench, and that Wilenchik better be offering Rob Somers a corner office with a view and a partnership in the firm right about now.