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Sanctions Imposed on AZ Sheriff's Office

Sanctions Imposed on AZ Sheriff's Office

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right, signs an autograph for Joseph Parker, left, of Corona, Calif. , as he arrives to a rally supporting Arizona's controversial illegal immigration bill Saturday, May 29, 2010, in Tempe, Ariz. [AP]

Arizona Republic via YellowBrix

May 30, 2010

MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ – The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday imposed major financial restrictions against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, saying the sanctions were necessary to stop potential misspending.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office has the largest budget of any county agency at $269 million.

The five supervisors unanimously limited Sheriff’s Office employees’ purchases on county credit cards to $200, required staff to reapply for cards by June 11 or face cancellation, and make Sheriff’s Office officials justify the need for outside bank accounts.

The board also hinted that more restrictions could come: Supervisors asked county officials to develop a policy that would limit all non-emergency travel for Sheriff’s Office employees next fiscal year and make additional general financial and management recommendations.

Sheriff’s spokesman Brian Lee said the board is being “extremely dangerous and irresponsible.”

He said the board was retaliating against Arpaio for not turning over the documents and because of investigations into Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox.

The board’s decision came after the Sheriff’s Office refused to turn over five years’ worth of financial data subpoenaed by the supervisors. Arpaio also refused five attempts by the county auditor to review operations and credit-card transactions.

“What’s management left to do?” County Manager David Smith asked the board. “Throw up our hands and say, ‘Oh well, we’re sure we’ll luck out and all 3,000 employees of the Sheriff’s Office are honest 100 percent of the time’?”

Sheriff’s officials maintained the actions would jeopardize public safety and slow deputies’ response if they didn’t have immediate access to funds. Officials said attorneys would request from the court an emergency temporary restraining order.

County officials repeatedly disputed that the restrictions would affect public safety and pointed out the office’s chief financial officer can charge up to $50,000 on her card for emergencies. If Sheriff’s Office officials must spend more, they would have to ask permission from the county manager, who would immediately allocate the money, county spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said.

An estimated 700 to 900 sheriff’s officials – from deputies to procurement officers – have the cards, typically used to pay for gas, airline tickets for extraditions and other goods.

County Chief Procurement Officer Wes Baysinger said Sheriff’s Office officials must adhere to the credit-card policies. Generally, he said, the average monthly credit-card limit for a deputy was about $10,000. However, that limit increased depending on business needs. For example, a procurement officer would have a higher limit.

The board has asked Arpaio since March to turn over financial documents so officials can see exactly how Sheriff’s Office officials are spending money. Officials believe misspending may have occurred but want detailed paperwork to determine the extent.

Arpaio refused. The board subpoenaed detailed credit-card transactions, work assignments, a list of all detainees or defendants extradited and a list of all bank accounts dating to 2005.

Still, Arpaio did not turn over the documents before the deadline. The board tried to convene a contempt hearing on Monday. But attorneys for the Sheriff’s Office took the matter to court, and a Superior Court judge ruled the board could not force Arpaio to attend the hearing. The judge scheduled a hearing on June 4 to discuss whether the board could order the sheriff to appear at a contempt hearing.

“We have information that our budget department shared with us that there are misuses,” Wilcox said. “We do not want to impede public safety, we do not want to put anyone at harm, and the recommendations going forward do not do that, they gain control of the fiscal picture.”

The board’s actions:

• Cap at $200 all Sheriff’s Office employees’ credit-card transactions, effective as soon as possible but no later than Tuesday. The action forbids staff from breaking transactions into smaller increments. The board directed the Sheriff’s Office’s Chief Financial Officer Loretta Barkell to only use her credit card for single transactions up to $200. Barkell can use her card for emergencies with a single purchase of $50,000, which must be approved by county management in writing within 24 hours.

• Requires all Sheriff’s Office employees to reapply for cards by June 11. The county’s chief procurement officer will cancel all cards unless they are approved by county management by June 30.

• Directs county officials to create a credit-card distribution policy for the board to soon consider. The policy would restrict credit-cards distribution, use or limits for the Sheriff’s Office next fiscal year.

• Directs county officials to propose travel-policy changes for the board to consider; the policy would limit all non-emergency travel for the Sheriff’s Office next fiscal year.

• Directs county officials to prepare further financial and management recommendations for the board.

• Directs all county officials to justify the need for outside bank accounts.

Based on court documents and county information, county officials believe Sheriff’s Office employees inaccurately reported staff work assignments and may have inappropriately paid some employees through a voter-approved fund restricted to only pay for jail activities. If true, the inaccuracies could involve up to $50 million in misused funds.

Another example provided by county officials: The salary of one deputy featured in a reality-TV show may have been paid for through the restricted detention fund instead of the office’s law-enforcement fund. Kelly Bocardo is listed in the county’s human-resources records as working in the Sheriff’s Office’s transportation unit, charged with taking inmates to and from court. County records suggest her salary is paid with detention funds. However, on the show, officials said Bocardo acted as a patrol officer and therefore her salary could not be paid for with detention money.

County officials also raised questions about possible improprieties on extradition trips. For example, records indicate non-employees were identified on extradition trips.

The supervisors’ Wednesday actions came after they adopted a tentative budget Monday that freezes the Sheriff Office’s access to racketeering and jail-enhancement funds starting July 1 until they can determine how money is being spent. Sheriff’s officials said the Sheriff’s Office will have to park 100 patrol cars paid for with RICO funds.

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