Extraditions performed by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office were "inexplicably exorbitant" but not a criminal misuse of public funds, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke has decided.
At the request of County Manager David Smith (see below), Burke's office conducted a review of how Sheriff Joe Arpaio's employees brought suspects to the Valley from locations all over the country. After looking at the situation for months, Burke's investigators concluded that no crime had occurred. That's not to say Burke thinks Arpaio's office spent money wisely.
The average cost of each extradition under Arpaio's watch was about $2,000 over the last several years, compared to about $344 in Pima County, Burke wrote in a June 22 letter to Smith (also below).
Burke's letter didn't address the $99 million misspent from the jail tax fund -- but mentioned investigators are still "diligently" looking into that and other allegations made by Smith.
County officials had rightfully complained that the extradition trips weren't performed with an eye toward saving money, and often included an extra day for the weary, traveling deputies to do a little fishing or other types of R&R.
We explored this issue last year while checking into the infamous SCA fundraising scandal.
New Times learned last year that the shady Sheriff's Command Association, a group of donors who secretly raised funds later used for ad to attack Arpaio's political opponent, Dan Saban, had met on a fishing trip in Alaska. We heard it was possible the county paid for the October 2006 trip, possibly as part of a faux extradition trip. It turned out we were wrong -- there really was an extradition during the suspected time-frame of the SCA trip. (It turned out, as we reported in our April story about the SCA scandal, that the SCA Alaska trip had really occurred in July of 2007.)
Yet paperwork showed that the MCSO made an awful lot of extradition trips to Alaska. In the October-November 2006 trip, a receipt showed how deputies had traveled all the way to the northlands to pick up a lowly car thief, staying two days at McClure's Rustic River Retreat at a cost of $204. Oddly, the owner told us that he doesn't offer use of his cabins in that time frame and probably referred the deputies somewhere else. The whole thing sounded, well, fishy.
Burke, in his letter, said the MCSO "employed an inexplicably exorbitant and baffingly unique option for extraditions," and had failed to protect taxpayer money.
Sheriff's officials did seem to use the extraditions for personal reasons, says county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick: "Certainly, the fishing trips raised eyebrows."
Yet Gerchick adds that they're "glad no crimes had been committed" and it's good that prisoners were picked up.
The county will help figure out ways to keep such expenses down in the future, she says.
One possible idea: When MCSO supervisors pack their bags for out-of-town extraditions, make sure they're not taking a tackle box.