Tucson Police and Prosecutors Advance Fight Against Sexual Assault

No means no

Continuing the fight against sexual assault in our community, the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney’s Office have received a $1 million grant to help process a backlog of 1,200 previously untested rape kits. The grant has already enabled TPD to test 400 kits, allowing officials to connect 61 of those to a DNA profile in a national database. The first sexual assault case that has grown out of the grant program is the prosecution of Nathan Loebe, who was arrested in Kentucky and is now waiting to be extradited back to Tucson. Evidence from some of the rape kits recently tested with money from the new grant connects Mr. Loebe to nearly a dozen counts of sexual assault in Tucson dating back to 2002.

Struggling to prioritize sexual assault prosecutions

Sexual assault is a major problem in our community and at the national level. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Making it to adulthood is no guarantee of safety, though, as the NSVRC also estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Despite the severity of the problem of sexual violence, it remains a crime that is notoriously under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-punished. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network reports that only 11 out of every 1000 rapists will be referred for prosecution, versus 37 out of 1000 robbers and 105 out of 1000 non-sexual assailants.

sexual assault numbers

Here in Pima County, the disparity between rates of prosecution for sexual crimes and other types of offenses is particularly problematic. For far too long, we have refused to prioritize the prosecution of sexual assault and instead focused on prosecuting non-violent drug offenses. For 11 out of the last 15 fiscal years, the highest percentage of criminal cases the Pima County Attorney filed in Pima County Superior Court were drug cases.

Pima County drug and sex prosecutions

The Arizona Department of Corrections’ own data shows that, as of February 2017, the highest percentage of prisoners in the state – 22.1% – are behind bars for drug offenses. Only 1.3% of prisoners are being held for rape/sexual assault.

February 2017 DOC stats

New $1 million grant helps process TPD’s rape kit backlog

TPD’s crime lab is constantly busy processing evidence from thousands and thousands of criminal cases. According to Police Chief Chris Magnus, the new grant allows TPD to outsource the testing of 1,200 previously untested rape kits, which will help make the detection and prosecution of sexual assault in our community more effective.

It goes without saying that the prosecution of sex crimes should be a top priority of the criminal justice system. The trauma associated with sexual assault can last a lifetime, and lead to a host of difficulties.

Sexual assault survivor stats

Additionally, there is a powerful correlation between surviving sexual assault and later involvement in the criminal justice system. Nearly 50% of imprisoned women that researchers spoke to in one study reported they were abused as children, and 70 – 80% of sexual abuse survivors reported excessive drug and alcohol use later in life.

 Not only will testing old rape kits help bring justice to people who have already been sexually assaulted, it will also help prevent future assaults. Many sexual assailants are repeat offenders. In one study undertaken by researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Brown University School of Medicine, most undetected rapists researchers examined were repeat offenders; almost two-thirds of them raped more than once, and a majority also committed other acts of interpersonal violence, such as battery, child physical abuse, and child sexual abuse. Repeat rapists each committed an average of 6 rapes and/or attempted rapes, and an average of 14 interpersonally violent acts.

The Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney Office’s cooperation in securing the new grant is the kind of law enforcement that should be applauded and encouraged. The more our community steps away from imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and the more we focus on investigating and prosecuting violent crimes and sex crimes, the safer and more just Pima County will become.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney Does Not Prosecute Hate Crimes

prosecuting hate crimes 3

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. Recent days have seen the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement just last week promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.

– Joel Feinman

Under LaWall administration Pima County incarceration rates swamp Maricopa

Pima County Attorney mass incarceration

Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall was first elected to office in 1996. In that time we have seen an explosion in the population of the Pima County jail, a growth even larger than what took place under Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County.

According to figures collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization, between 1970 and 2014 the Maricopa County Jail incarceration rate grew by 58% per 100,000 residents, while the Pima County Jail incarceration rate exploded by 210%. In 2014, the last year for which comprehensive numbers are available, Pima County actually had more people being held in its jail per 100,000 residents, 320, than Maricopa County had per 100,000 of its residents, 301.

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The average length of a jail stay in Pima County has also increased dramatically, from 14 days in 1996 when Ms. LaWall was first elected to 23 days in 2014.

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This vast increase in incarceration rates would be more comprehensible if Pima County was experiencing a historic crime wave, but according to Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, our state is enjoying record low crime rates. In an article they co-wrote and published in The Arizona Republic in December, 2015, Ms. LaWall and Mr. Montgomery told the people of Arizona that “Arizona crime rates [had fallen] to 40 – 50 year lows,” that violent crime was at its lowest level since 1971 and property crime at its lowest level since 1963, and that “the big news in Arizona is that we are outpacing the national decline [in crime] by a significant margin.”

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At the same time as crime is falling, so are the number of people arrested. The Arizona Department of Public Safety reports that, from 2002 – 2013, the number of people arrested in Pima County fell by 30% – this at a time when Pima County’s population increased by 12%.

Our criminal justice system is not created and maintained by a deus ex machina. Real people decide every day who goes to jail and how long they stay there for. Every day the Pima County Attorney decides who to recommend bail for, who to try and hold in jail with very high or no bail, and what kinds of mandatory jail terms to offer in plea agreements. Until we start holding them accountable, until we start demanding answers for why we have exploding incarceration rates at a time of historically low crime and arrest rates, the plague of mass incarceration and the erosion of our civil liberties will only worsen.

– Joel Feinman

County Attorney LaWall refuses to participate in county’s highest level justice council

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

For more than two years Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has refused to participate in meetings of the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council (JCC).

Founded in 2006 and reestablished in 2014, the County Administrator created the JCC to serve as a policy level forum for discussing the operations of the Pima County criminal justice system, and addressing systemic issues of mutual concern to Pima County’s many law and justice agencies.

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memorandum creating the Pima County Justice Coordinating Council

To these achieve these ends the voting membership of the JCC was originally limited to only 6 top officials, who largely dictate how the Pima County criminal justice system operates.

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The Pima Liberator has collected and reviewed the minutes of the 16 meetings of the JCC held since the Council’s reestablishment in July 2014. These minutes prove that Barbara LaWall, elected Pima County Attorney since 1997, has never attended a single meeting of the JCC.

Pima County Justice Coordinating Council meetings
June 24, 2014 – County Attorney absent
August 28, 2014 – County Attorney absent
September 25, 2014 – County Attorney absent
October 23, 2014 – County Attorney absent
December 4, 2014 – County Attorney absent
January 22, 2015 – County Attorney absent
March 26, 2015 – County Attorney absent
June 11, 2015 – County Attorney absent
September 10, 2015 – County Attorney absent
November 12, 2015 – County Attorney absent
January 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
March 24, 2016 – County Attorney absent
May 26, 2016 – County Attorney absent
July 28, 2016 – County Attorney absent
October 13, 2016 – County Attorney absent
January 25, 2017 – County Attorney absent

It is important to emphasize that the County Administrator envisioned the JCC as a mechanism top County officials could utilize to make the justice system more fair, efficient, cost-effective and accountable to the taxpayers.

The Liberator attended the most recent JCC meeting, held on January 25. Among the 31 senior justice system stakeholders present were: Chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, Pima County Public Defense Services Director Lori Lefferts, Tucson City Court Presiding Magistrate Judge Tony Riojas, Pima County Public Defender Steve Sonnenberg, Pima County Legal Defender Dean Brault, and Pretrial Services Director Domingo Corona. The group discussed the progress that a number of departments and courts are making on criminal justice reform, including holding a 6th weekend warrant resolution court that quashed 600+ warrants and helped over 1,000 local residents, expanding the Pima County Sheriff’s home detention program, which has a 97% success rate and has saved the county $450,000, and replicating the success of the Tucson City Mental Health Court, which has become a state-wide model of restorative justice for defendants with mental illness. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, absent from this meeting like she has been from every other  JCC meeting, choose not to participate in any of these discussions.

It is true that elected officials have demanding jobs, which often require their attention in multiple places simultaneously. But missing every single meeting of our justice system’s highest-level policy body is more than a simple scheduling conflict. Because the County Attorney has tremendous power and statutory discretion to drive rates of indictment, imprisonment, and incarceration, any meaningful criminal justice reform proposal requires Ms. LaWall’s personal buy-in and cooperation. Ms. LaWall’s perfect record of absenteeism from the JCC demonstrates that she has little interest in how other stakeholders in the justice system believe it can be improved, and little drive to cooperate with those stakeholders to make our system more fair and cost-effective.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney violates law by not reporting 2016 diversion rates; admits only 3 felony defendants into program in 2015

Pima County Attorney diversion program

Most people assume when they are charged with a crime there are only two possible outcomes: go to trial, or plead guilty to a less serious charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. However a little known – and little used – Arizona law also allows prosecutors to offer defendants who want to avoid trial “deferred prosecution,” also known as “diversion.” Under this program, if a defendant pays fines and restitution and attends supervised treatment programs, their case will be dismissed BEFORE they are found guilty of any crime. This is obviously a huge advantage to defendants who want to get jobs, school loans, or professional licenses; if they successfully complete diversion, they are left with a clean record of no conviction. Under the law passed by the Arizona legislature, which defendants get offered deferred prosecution is up to the “sole discretion” of the County Attorney. However, the Legislature does require each County Attorney to “[e]stablish and maintain” a record of how many people they enrolled in deferred prosecution programs each fiscal year. These legally mandated reports are archived on the website of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorney’s Advisory Council (APAAC), and they make for interesting reading.

In fiscal year 2015/2016, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall did not file any deferred prosecution report whatsoever, in violation of A.R.S. §11-362(B). Ms. LaWall did file a report in fiscal year 2014/2015, however it was only a general description of her diversion programs, and did not include any of the statistics that are required by state law. These statistics are supposed to inform the public how many defendants the County Attorney enrolled in diversion, and how many defendants successfully completed the program. Some of the 2015 stats did see daylight on January 20, 2016, when Ms. LaWall submitted a budget memo to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in which she lauded her adult diversion program on the last page.

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Pima County Attorney 2015 budget memo, pg. 15

Despite the fact that, year after year, the largest percentage of felony cases Ms. LaWall files are drug cases, and despite her claim that the success rate for diversion is “93% for substance abuse charges,” the Pima County Attorney saw fit to offer deferred prosecution to only 3 felony defendants in 2015. Pima County taxpayers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the prosecution, probation supervision, and imprisonment of the rest.

Sadly, the number of defendants offered diversion is only decreasing. On page 9 of an outline of 2016 “financial highlights” the Pima County Attorney sent to the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors in support of her proposed budget for fiscal year 2017/2018, Ms. LaWall wrote that she diverted 165 fewer adults from prosecution in 2016 compared to 2015, despite the fact that the success rate for felony diversion increased from 60% to 80%, and the success rate for substance abuse diversion increased from 93% to 94%. Significantly, Ms. LaWall did not inform Mr. Huckelberry or the Board just how many adults accused of felonies she allowed into diversion in 2016.

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Pima County Attorney 2016 “financial highlights”, pg. 9

Even for those very, very few defendants whom the Pima County Attorney does offer diversion / deferred prosecution to, their ability to succeed in the program and emerge with a clean record depends very much on the amount of money they have in their pockets.

In December, 2016, The New York Times published a series of articles examining diversion programs across the country. Their research revealed “that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance” by entering a diversion program. This is because a defendant’s ability to enter and complete such a program hinges on their ability to pay the program’s fines and fees, which can be thousands of dollars. As the Times noted, “In a country where 27 million households make less than $25,000 a year, even $500 can be prohibitive.” The Times surveyed almost 200 defense lawyers across the U.S. about their clients’ experiences with local diversion programs, and two-thirds of the lawyers said fees were a barrier for their clients. A brief quiz accompanied the story and illustrated how legally and economically difficult it can be for many people to enroll in and successfully complete deferred prosecution programs.

Here in Pima County, as you can see from this standard fee schedule the Pima County Attorney attaches to each diversion plea, diversion costs defendants a minimum of $630 to $840. The true cost can be thousands of dollars more, depending on how much restitution the defendant must pay.

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2012 diversion fee schedule

A defendant’s failure to make payments doesn’t just delay their completion of the program: failure to pay everything they owe ensures that the County Attorney terminates them from diversion and reinstates all of the original, more serious charges. Here is a complete diversion plea from 2012, omitting names and case numbers. On page 6 the plea clearly states,

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2012 diversion plea agreement termination clause

This clause, which is in all diversion pleas the Pima County Attorney offers, exposes a sad truth of the entire deferred prosecution program: if you have money, you can complete the program and your case will be dismissed. If you are poor and cannot pay you will be terminated from the program – or never allowed into it in the first place – and you will almost certainly become a convicted felon for the rest of your life.

Equal protection under the law is one of the values that makes our country great. It was enshrined in our Constitution by the 14th amendment in 1868, after the crucible of the Civil War. It epitomizes one of the most important beliefs that Americans died by the hundreds of thousands to validate; that the law should protect us all equally, regardless of race and religion and gender and class. But how hollow has this promise become when the amount of money in your pocket determines how much justice you will receive?

– Joel Feinman

Postscript / Editors’s Note

This article was originally published on January 23, 2017. One day after its publication the Pima County Attorney released her fiscal year 2015/2016 diversion report on the website of the Arizona Prosecuting Attorney’s Advisory Council. The report is dated August 8, 2016, more than 6 months before it was finally published.

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According to the report the Pima County Attorney offered deferred prosecution to only 5 felony defendants in 2015/2016, despite the program’s 80% success rate. In comparison the Pima County Attorney offered diversion to 8 individuals or businesses who were cited for selling tobacco to minors.

As of this writing the Pima County Attorney’s fiscal year 2014/2015 diversion report still omits how people the office enrolled in the deferred prosecution that year, in violation of A.R.S. §11-362(B).

Pima County Attorney plea agreements punish crack far harsher than powder cocaine

Pima County Attorney plea policy

The biggest racial disparity in the sentences handed down to drug offenders is for crack-related crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 79% of 5,669 crack offenders sentenced in 2009 were black, versus 10% who were white and 10% who were Hispanic. For decades, state and federal sentencing laws have punished crack offenses far more harshly than powder cocaine offenses. Before 2010, federal law contained a 100:1 disparity; crack offenders faced a 10-year mandatory minimum for carrying 10 grams of the drug, while the same penalty would not apply to a powder-cocaine offender unless they were caught with 1,000 grams.

Thankfully, in 2010 President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced the crack/powder cocaine federal sentencing disparity to 18:1. While the FSA did not conclusively end racially tinged disparities in federal drug sentencing laws, it was a step in the right direction. What the FSA did not address, and what no federal or state sentencing reform law can address, are the racial disparities involved in plea polices.

Elected prosecutors play a large – and largely unnoticed – role in exacerbating and maintaining our system of mass incarceration both locally and across the nation. The prosecutor’s total control over the plea agreement process dictates which defendants go to trial, and the lengths of prison terms for the 95% of defendants who give up their right to a trial and plead guilty.

Yet plea agreement policies are often shrouded in secrecy. Almost all prosecutors consider their process of deciding which defendants get which kinds of pleas “work product,” which makes plea policies impervious to Freedom of Information Act requests and disclosure motions. Thus, plea negotiations occur in seclusion from the light of accountability. But sometimes, the sunlight can penetrate.

The Pima Liberator has obtained an undated copy of the Pima County Attorney Narcotics Unit “plea policy guidelines.” These guidelines were set by Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, and they dictate to her line prosecutors which kinds of plea agreements they are allowed to offer to which kinds of offenders.

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Per the Pima County Attorney’s own plea guidelines, there is an almost 3:1 disparity between how much crack and how much powder cocaine will cause that office to require a defendant to serve prison time for possessing drugs for sale. It is also worth noting that the Pima County Attorney remains far more interested in sending low-level crack dealers to prison than people who sell pills like Oxycodone and Percocet, despite the increasingly fatal effects these pills are having in Pima County.

The Pima County Attorney has never publicized or explained her insistence on a nearly 3:1 crack/powder cocaine prison disparity, and considering the historic opacity of the process used to justify which defendants go to prison, it is highly unlikely she will do so now. But like so many other aspects of our criminal justice system, this plea policy raises serious questions about who we are sending to prison, and why. Finally, the dictates of plea policy clarifies a truth which those working in the criminal justice system have long known; that the County Attorney considers themselves and not judges the final arbiter of who, in their own language, “must serve prison time,” and for how long. This is further evidence – not that any more was needed – that in today’s criminal justice system power over freedom vs. imprisonment, and even life vs. death lies almost exclusively with the prosecutor.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney RICO funds disappear then reappear, then spent on advertising & promotional items

Pima County Attorney RICO funds

A close analysis of public documents reveals serious questions about how the Pima County Attorney accounts for and spends RICO funds.

Under Arizona law “racketeering” is defined as a laundry list of criminal acts that are committed for financial gain. If the police seize a person’s property whom they suspect of committing a racketeering (or RICO) offense, that property can be forfeited and auctioned off, even if the person is never actually convicted of a crime. That is, innocent people who have never been suspected of committing a crime can – and do – lose their property to RICO forfeiture.

Recently Pima County’s RICO procedures were subject to FBI scrutiny, and in October the second in command of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department resigned after being indicted by the Department of Justice for misusing RICO funds.

What has been subject to far less scrutiny is the role the Pima County Attorney plays in determining how RICO money is spent. Under Arizona law, County Attorneys may distribute the RICO funds allocated to their county to whichever agencies they see fit. Though RICO laws were first written with the intention to fund gang, crime, and substance abuse prevention programs, in FY2015-2016 County Attorney LaWall only allocated 0.08% of available funds to these efforts.

RICO laws and forfeiture proceedings generate considerable amounts of money every year. According to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, which was created in 1982 by the Arizona legislature to monitor and report on RICO spending, the Pima County Attorney’s master RICO account contained more than $12.6 million at the beginning of fiscal year 2015 – 2016. Out of this sum, the County Attorney chose to give the Pima County Sheriff Department’s  “Financial Services Unit” more money than any other law enforcement agency received – $533,000.

Per the Sheriff’s Department, that is the unit responsible for budgeting and finance, not operations or investigations. To all other Sheriff’s Department units, Ms. LaWall allocated $0, while eight other Pima County law enforcement agencies – including the Pasqua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham Police Departments – also received $0. The Pima County Attorney did see fit to spend the second-largest sum of RICO dollars on her own office – $491,278.

(opening the below images in a new tab will magnify them and make them easier to read)

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Significantly, at a time when both law enforcement officers and line prosecutors are clamoring for long-delayed raises, former Sheriff Chris Nanos and current County Attorney Barbara LaWall simply banked hundreds of thousands of RICO dollars. At the end of FY2015 – 2016 Ms. LaWall chose to bank more than $500,000, instead of spending that money on crime prevention.

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This practice is not necessarily the norm in Arizona. In FY2015 – 2016, the Maricopa County Attorney spent every cent of their RICO money.

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Examining the Pima County Attorney’s RICO accounts over the last sixteen years reveals bigger problems than end-of-the-year surpluses. Between June 30 and July 1, 2005, almost $60,000 seems to have disappeared from the books. And while public documents reveal that the County Attorney had $438,524 in its account on June 30, 2011, the office reported that it didn’t have any money at all in its account on July 1, 2011. Indeed, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, the Pima County Attorney did not have one cent of RICO money from July 1, 2011, until January 1, 2012, when they suddenly reported a positive balance of $622,467.

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Finally, public databases reveal idiosyncrasies in the way Ms. LaWall spends RICO funds. Per the Arizona State Government’s General Accounting Office, in fiscal year 2015 – 2016 the County Attorney spent $4.6 million in RICO Special Revenue funds. This money went to expenses as varied as parking subsidies, advertising, and life insurance. Almost $13,000 went to “promotional items,” $14,000 went to “vacation payouts,” and $1.277 million was spent on “other miscellaneous charges.” The Pima County Attorney has never publicly defined “miscellaneous,” nor explained why such an opaque line item consumes such a large portion of the fund.

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These documents make clear the critical need for a comprehensive audit of how the Pima County Attorney accounts for and spends RICO funds, a need made even more pressing by the recent FBI and Justice Department investigations into the matter. Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall is the sole distributor of county RICO funds, and as such must be held accountable for their use. It is important to remember that the original intention of the RICO laws was to fund gang, crime, and substance abuse prevention programs. While spending $13,000 on promotional items and $1.2 million on “miscellaneous charges” may not be prohibited by law, the Pima County Attorney’s primary responsibilities are to administer justice and prevent crime. Ms. LaWall has the capacity to use RICO funds to fulfill these responsibilities for the residents of Pima County, but there are troubling signs that justice is not being served as well as we need and deserve.

– Joel Feinman