Not Approved: A third of County Attorney's RICO requests for outside agencies

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A major development tonight into questionable RICO requests by the Pima County Attorney's Office.

KGUN9's investigative team has been digging deep into where RICO money is going and after our probe revealed questionable spending by the county attorney that led to the board of supervisors hiring outside council to examine expenditures.

County Attorney Barbara LaWall wanted the supervisors to approve a quarter of a million dollars to 50 non-profit agencies -- all at once -- without an outside legal review. Three of the board members decided otherwise at the Feb. 6th board meeting.

Ally Miller said, "I'm not saying a single thing on this list is wrong. I'm saying I don't have the expertise to determine that and no one on this board does." Sharon Bronson said she was also concerned. 
 
But Ramon Valadez said he didn't think having the attorney review the request is worth the money. "We're talking about using a legal resource to then review each one of these applications. That doesn't make sense to me."

Miller said, "And even if we go beyond what we think the statute requires to make sure we're doing the right thing." 

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry advised the board that his staff reviewed the materials and believe the awards meet RICO guidelines and regulations. Huckleberry wrote that he did not believe the 50 grants requires review by the new outside legal counsel -- Artie Eaves.

Two weeks later, at the February 20th board meeting, the supervisors reviewed the attorney's recommendation.
   
The five Pima County supervisors broke from the public meeting and walked into executive session to get legal advice and direction on the indirect RICO expenditure requests by the County Attorney. 

The supervisors had to decide what -- if any -- information would be shared with the public.

When the supervisors returned, they decided, "We have a motion and second on the floor to release the document given to us in executive session by our attorneys," said Chair Richard Elias.

The board released the confidential attorney client privileged document -- written by Eaves.

He explains "though state RICO guidelines are broad, clearly funds are not meant to go to every noble community based group." RICO expenditures are only appropriate for community-based program whose missions have law enforcement goals and connections.

Out of 50 outside agencies, the outside counsel recommended approval for 33, though Eaves issued specific recommendations.

For example, 
Amistades -- $5,000
Recommendation: The County Attorney should ask for documentation at the end of the year the funds were sued as described and NOT for other purposes of this organization.

Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse -- $10,000
Approve -- $5,000
Warning: Pima County Barbara LaWall should be advised that Emerge's proposal offers to promote PCAO by putting the PCAO logo on materials and the website. Featuring the PCAO logo is probably not problematic, but Ms. LaWall should be careful to ensure that Emerge's effort do not cross the line into campaign materials. 

The board voted to approve the 33, but 17 requests, a third, are questionable -- totaling about $85,000.

Bronson said, "Those he's asked to seek clarification, we direct the County Attorney to provide that clarification hopefully within the next 30 days." 

For example, Higher Ground -- a Resource Center requested $5,000. Eaves wrote that the organization failed to establish how its mission supports law enforcement. He wrote that one of the purposes is to provide "college scholarship," which is "a specifically prohibited use of RICO funds."

The 17 grant request that Eaves advised to Seek Clarification.

Angel Heart Pajama Project
Casa de las Ninos
Educational Enrichment Foundation
The First Tee of Tucson
Higher Ground A Resource Center
Lohse Family YMCA
Marana Broncos Youth Football 
Metropolitan Education Commission
Midvale Park Neighborhood Assn.
PPEP Microbusiness and Housing Development Development Corp.
Rincon Optimist Club
The Shyann Kindness Project
Sunnyside Neighborhood Assoc.
Tucson Urban League - Project Yes
Tucson Youth Development
Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona
Youth On Their Own

Eaves wrote that it might be possible for agencies to provide additional information to satisfy relevant laws and guidelines, which could lead to the expenditure being approved at a later date.

Eaves states: 

Overall, her procedures are acceptable,. One issue is that (LaWall) states a maximum grant amount of $5,000, but then grants some organizations $10,000. One issue this Board will have to decide is how closely a community group needs to be allied with law enforcement to merit a RICO grant. Many applicants are after school programs which keep kids off the streets during high risk hours. Many of these have no other real connection with law enforcement. 

Maybe misstates permissible uses.
Miscategorizes many expenditures as community based.
Problem with limit of percentage of fund to community groups.

Recommendations for Pima County Attorney's Office
A. Stick to the stated maximum amount
B. Require larger groups with diverse activities some of which fall outside of authorized uses to provide accounting for use of funds.

We'll continue to investigate and keep you updated.

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