FLORENCE — Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has sent out a notice to supporters requesting donations in his fight against the ACLU, which has irritated at least one county GOP leader who thinks the pitch is misleading.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last month against the sheriff and Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles alleging improper use of Arizona’s forfeiture laws relative to RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) monies, violations of due process to citizens and improper use of RICO funds.
In the letter, which is signed by Babeu and also lists the Paul Babeu for Sheriff Committee at the bottom, he accuses the ACLU of “chasing headlines” with another “frivolous lawsuit.”
“Help us set the record straight and respond to the ACLU’s desperate attempt for headlines by chipping in $25, $50, $100 or more now,” Babeu wrote. “Join me today by helping us provide the resources to respond.”
Western Pinal Republicans President Garland Shreves said the letter seems to imply the donations would be used to cover legal fees fighting the ACLU in court, although Babeu doesn’t specifically say how the donations will be used. If he plans on using the money to pay for legal expenses, Shreves has a big problem with that. Shreves said that would constitute fraud, considering the Pinal County Attorney’s Office is required by law to provide Babeu’s legal defense. And those costs would come directly out of the pockets of Pinal County taxpayers.
In an email, he accused Babeu of instead using the ACLU lawsuit as a way to drum up campaign donations.
“His request to have money sent to him for political purposes under the guise of paying his legal bills as though he was paying is just plain wrong,” Shreves said of Babeu. “It (ticks) me off.”
Shreves, also head of Citizens for Fair Taxation, is currently leading a recall effort against some Central Arizona College Governing Board members over a countywide tax hike.
Babeu campaign manager Mike Noble said the sheriff needs the donations for political purposes.
“The sheriff has to defend himself politically, and unfortunately the taxpayers will have to pick up the tab,” Noble said in an email. “He also needs the resources to fight back politically, and clearly this is a politically motivated lawsuit. The media knew about this lawsuit before the sheriff even knew. They were more concerned about getting this to the media before PCSO.”
Noble said it was no coincidence that the law firm Perkins Coie joined the ACLU in the lawsuit. It is the “same law firm that represents Nancy Pelosi,” Noble said. Pelosi is the Democratic minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.
One example of alleged forfeiture abuses cited in the lawsuit involves San Tan Valley resident Rhonda Cox and her son, Christopher Clark. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office seized her truck, based on the actions of her son.
Sheriff’s deputies determined Clark was driving the truck with a stolen hood and cover stashed in the back of the vehicle. PCSO seized the truck based on the stolen items, even though Cox said she was unaware of the stolen items.
The lawsuit asks Pinal County to reimburse Cox for her vehicle.
On Tuesday, Voyles released a statement defending the seizure of the Chevy Colorado truck.
“Although Cox was listed as the registered owner, facts obtained in the investigation showed the truck to be used by, and under the control of, Clark, supporting PCAO’s lawful use of the civil forfeiture process,” he said.
The ACLU complaint lists many alleged abuses of RICO funds, with a large amount of the funds being funneled through the Arizona Public Safety Foundation, an organization with strong ties to Babeu and the sheriff’s office.
Over the past three fiscal years, $652,677 was transferred out of three RICO funds — of the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, the sheriff’s office and the Pinal County Narcotics Task Force — and into the foundation from a period of July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2015.
And even though RICO funds, per state law, are supposed to be used for things like gang prevention programs and substance abuse programs, records show large sums of money used for other purposes through the foundation.
According to its most recent IRS tax filing in 2013, APSF spent more than $300,000 on line items such as advertising and promotion ($41,268); shirts, uniforms and badges ($45,958); employee/volunteer appreciation ($45,581); travel and meal costs ($38,504); employee relief ($33,152); and a catch-all category of “all other expenses” ($91,906).
The lawsuit claims this usage of RICO funds is improper and lacks transparency.
“At a minimum, it seems like funneling money to a private group which buys things for him and his department, defendant Babeu is able to avoid procurement laws and other transparency regulations which usually apply to government purchasing,” it states.
RICO funds are dispersed at the behest of Voyles, a political ally of Babeu. The two Republicans ran together as a “Law & Order Team” during the 2012 campaign.
Reach Maricopa Monitor News Editor Brian Wright at 568-4198 or email@example.com.