Despite the fact that the Arizona Auditor General’s office found suspicious practices in use of RICO, (anti-racketeering) funds, former Pinal County officials, Sheriff Paul Babeu and Attorney Lando Voyles, will not be charged with any criminal violations.
In a report to the Arizona Legislature, Lindsey Perry, Auditor General stated, “…we determined that the former Pinal County Attorney failed to follow his office’s procedures and guidelines when awarding community outreach monies, and the former County Sheriff and county sheriff employees appear to have violated county conflict-of-interest policies. We have submitted this information to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for further review.”
Perry found that, in over 70 cases, the County was unable to provide an application or written proposals, or the documentation was incomplete or had missing information. Furthermore, the uses of the monies could not be determined, because much of it was not monitored to ensure it had been used for authorized purposes.
They also found that the former Pinal County Sheriff and his employees appear to have violated conflict-of-interest policies when participating in the award of community outreach monies to the non-profit Arizona Public Safety Foundation, an organization that they were heavily involved with.
The Auditor General forwarded her 40-page report to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office.
After their review, the Attorney General spokesman Ryan Anderson said that there was not enough evidence to prosecute either Babeu or Voyles on criminal charges.
Ironically, the issues cited in the Auditor General’s report may have also saved Babeu and Voyles from criminal charges.
According to AZCentral, Anderson explained, “We never found proof of criminal activity,” he said. “One of the reasons is that record-keeping was so poor.”
The current Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said the County has implemented a new system of checks and balances that require multiple levels of approval, explanations as to the proposed use of the monies and documentation that the monies have been spent as expected.
After Babeu and Voyles left office, Arizona state lawmakers reformed RICO laws in 2017, adding more stringent reporting requirements to increase transparency. Now County prosecutors must receive approval from their Board of Supervisors for each RICO application received.
Babeu and Voyles are still under investigation. In 2017, the FBI launched a probe into the RICO expenditures; and a federal grand jury, as part of a criminal investigation, is also looking into how Babeu handled profits from seized property.
What is RICO?
RICO stands for Rackateer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a 1970’s law put in place to help fight against organized crime within the United States.
Defendants in a RICO prosecution may have their personal assets frozen before a trial begins. They may also have their assets, mostly cash, seized in a civil asset forfeiture proceeding, even if they are never charged or found guilty of a crime.
According to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, “The seized funds augment the budgets of nearly 80 law enforcement agencies [in Arizona]… Anything suspected of being used as part of the crime, including cash, is… fair game for seizure… Because property is forfeited through a civil case instead of a criminal case, prosecutors are only required to prove that it’s more likely than not that the property was related to the suspected crime.”