A former chief deputy escaped felony charges in a money fraud case that rocked the Pima County Sheriff's Department. A district judge accepted the plea deal and sentenced Christopher Radtke to probation.
Attorneys KGUN9 talked to, including the former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, called it a "super sweetheart' plea deal. Radtke confessed to misusing a half million dollars of seized drug money. He faces 7 felony counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and theft, but the charges were reduced to 3 misdemeanors of theft.
Even the new sheriff, Mark Napier, didn't want the judge to accept the sentence agreement calling it a violation of the community's trust in law enforcement.
The judge's ruling wasn't the only surprise to some in the courtroom.
The district judge accepted the plea deal Friday morning and sentenced Radtke to 1-year probation, 100 hours of community service and a 3-thousand dollar fine. Radtke had agreed to no longer work in law enforcement or Pima County government.
The US Attorney in the case explained why he made that plea deal. "Mr. Radtke was the only individual we had enough evidence to charge in this case. But this has been going on for 18 years now. Multiple police officers including those in higher leadership positions. We did not have the evidence against them."
The judge said though Radtke lacked courage to come forward to expose the corruption, it wasn't enough to impose a harsher penalty. But one of the first whistleblowers, union leader Sgt. Kevin Kubitskey, disagrees saying the scales of justice tipped the wrong way. "They just saw a law enforcement officials commit a felonious crime and get away with it. Get a slap on the wrist. What message are we sending as law enforcement when that happens."
And he wasn't afraid to tell the US Special Attorney, Dave Backman when he confronted him right outside the courtroom doors. KGUN9 Valerie Cavazos witnessed the exchange, but couldn't capture it on video because cameras are not allowed in the federal building.
Outside the federal building, Kubitskey told KGUN9, "I told him that I did not agree with his statements. I thought that he did a poor job in his investigation and in his prosecution of this case."
"I differ. I think this case has been highly successful. Before we filed this case there was corruption at the Pima County Sheriff's department that is no longer there. He has paid a price for this and nobody else in the sheriff's department has," said Backman, outside the federal building.
Kubitskey told Backman he tried numerous times to call him, but he never received a return phone call.
"This is not something that should be swept under the rug as it seems to have taken place in federal court. We expected, I expected a lot more from the justice system than what we saw here today," said Kubitskey.
Radtke was given the opportunity to make a statement to the judge, but he declined.
The bombshell dropped by the defense attorney, Sean Chapman, in the courtroom. He told the judge over the course of the 18 years that "Sheriff's officials and the Pima County Attorney's Office knew about the funneling of money into the SAV account."
Kubitskey said, "That statement took me aback inside the courtroom because if they knew this was going on why aren't they being held accountable? They're the highest level of justice when it comes to prosecution. Why are they not being held accountable. Why are they not being looked at?"
Backman said, "So the Pima County Attorney's Office had to approve all of these requests. We did not have any evidence that the County Attorney's Office was complicit in this. But they did have to approve these. The problem was that the paperwork being submitted to the County Attorney's was fraudulent."
The chief deputy in Pima County Attorney's Office told Cavazos a few weeks ago that the F-B-I and US Attorney cleared them of any wrongdoing, but Backman said the US Attorney's Office did not "clear" them because they didn't investigate the PCAO.
I reached out to the Pima County Attorney's Office. Barbara LaWall sent this email response.
"Mr. Chapman's assertion is absolutely false. My Office had no knowledge whatsoever of Chris Radtke's illegal "funneling" of anti-racketeering money for unauthorized purposes.The Sheriff's Department requested authorization to expend its anti-racketeering fund on a number of legitimate purposes authorized by Arizona statutes and by the federal Anti-Racketeering Guidelines. One of those legitimate purposes was to support the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers. The Sheriff's Department had three separate Auxiliary Volunteer groups.My Office was never informed and had absolutely no knowledge that Mr. Radtke diverted funds that had been approved for use by one of the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteer groups for other purposes, including purposes for which the expenditure of anti-racketeering funds was not authorized.My Office had absolutely no involvement in, and absolutely no knowledge of, the criminal fraud perpetrated by Mr. Radtke."
Another surprise statement -- this time made by the judge in court. Addressing Radtke directly, he said if Radtke happened to see him in the grocery store, he encouraged him to say hi.
KGUN9 reached out to Sheriff Mark Napier, who said he's surprised by the ruling. He plans to consult with the FBI and the Arizona Attorney General on whether to pursue a state investigation.
KGUN9 will continue to investigate.