Sheriff "I Just Love, Love, Love the Hispanic Folks" Arpaio has been spending RICO funds to train Honduran police in a region of Honduras, a tropical paradise known for its sunny climes and great scuba-diving. 34 paid officer work weeks, over 30K in direct expenses, and an unspecified amount of equipment have headed south of the border in connection with the program. The Phoenix New Times broke the story and channel 12 reports:
Hmmm. Considering recent controversial jail closings justified by budgetary constraints and the generally tight budget environment, one wonders why this is a priority for Sheriff "Want Some Paid Vacay, Hendershott, My Boy?" Arpaio? We'll see if sheriff department employees will still be headed south in March as scheduled, now that the cone of silence on the program is gone. The U.S. invaded Honduras on March 21st, 1907, perhaps Arpaio's boys are going down to participate in a historical recreation of the event?
In my view, this is clearly a case of a thinly justified use of RICO funds to send favored employees on paid vacations using seized booty. The training program likely has some real benefit to Hondurans, and there does seem to be some approval by the Maricopa Board of Supervisors and the Governor's office for a training relationship with the Hondurans, but it is unclear that the extent of the program, or the paid man-hours involved, were directly authorized. Looks to me like Joe got the thin edge of the wedge in by getting the Supes and Governor to give a nod to some donations of equipment, and then tacked on junkets for his cronies himself.
Regardless, all of this is of questionable value to the citizens of Maricopa. I think they likely expect and deserve that seizures and forfeitures from criminals operating in Maricopa be used to ameliorate the effects of crime in Maricopa, not Honduras.
I like to know the officers on our streets well-rested and recently-laid, as much as the next guy, but there's a fine line between treating employees well and misuse of public funds. Lowered stress for these public servants is certainly a public good, but this program certainly gives the impression of being a slush fund for deputies to head south for a little paid vacay in exchange for giving a few lectures or demonstrations. If Sheriff "How Do You Say 'Per Diem' in Spanish?" Arpaio can produce some proof that these were really working vacations with 8-hour-a-day training schedules justify those man hours, I might change my mind about whether this program is actually corrupt, but regardless of any taint of corruption it seems like a wasteful use of limited resources.
It seems apparent that some enforcement agencies are getting up to some questionable stuff with these non-budget recovery assets, such as RICO funds. Recently, both the Maricopa and Pima County Attorneys blew a big wad of such non-budgetary funds on big glossy public information puff-pieces that were clearly campaign literature on steroids. Both offices justified the publications with the plausible public purpose of educating the public about their services and programs, and helping to prevent crime, but like these trips to Honduras, there is clearly also a plausible private benefit derived from the expenditures. The policies as to how and where these funds can be deployed clearly could use some tightening to avoid any appearance of impropriety when we discover some are being used to buy Margaritas in Honduras.
The episode with the county attorneys and some controversial billboards featuring Governor Napolitano have prompted some action in the state legislature to restrict the use of any public funds for public communication that could be deemed to promote an incumbent candidate for office. Such legislation, if properly drafted and implemented (two caveats that I do not give the current majority caucus the benefit of the doubt on), could be useful, but it only addresses one aspect of the problem. Sheriff "I wonder if any police agencies on the Riviera need some training?" Arpiao's little Honduran adventure indicates that the legislature's response may not be nearly comprehensive enough.
UPDATE 2/27: Well, it didn't take long for Sheriff "Does my tail look good tucked between my legs like this?" Arpaio to shut down his Honduran sub-station.
And it turns out that County Attorney Andy "Arrest the Press!" Thomas is the public official with the responsibility of seeing that RICO funds are spent wisely. Why am I not surprised that he approved this little boondoggle for his buddy Sheriff "Andy, my boys could use a tan" Arpaio.
The Maricopa County Democratic Party released the following statement about the scandal:
Sheriff Joe Arpaio has caved in to public pressure and the media and has suspended his controversial foreign aid project to Honduras, telling KTAR that "until we get out of this budget crunch, we're going to put it on hold." The MCSO attempted to provide cover for this waste of RICO funds saying it was to track the MS-13 gang, but never explained why they have never sent anyone working on gangs to the country, and instead sent two traffic investigators, a homicide investigator and an aviation expert. Let's just hope that this doesn't end the investigation.
A new report by Channel 12 states that the operation spent 34 of payroll, 125 hours of overtime, nearly $6,800 in shipping costs, and charged to a MCSO credit card $2,976 to buy measuring equipment, traffic accident templates and fingerprint kits that were given to the Honduran government--all paid for with YOUR tax dollars. Again, if this is an anti-gang project, why do they need traffic accident templates? What is even more revealing is that the story reports Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas is the person responsible for approving these funds!
One other small problems with Sheriff Joe "All them brown folk are interchangeable anyhow" Arpaio's excuse of MS-13 as the basis for he program: MS-13 originates from El Salvador and operates to a lesser extent in Guatamala and Mexico, but not in Honduras.
MS stands for Mara Salvatrucha. Get it? El Salvador? And Mara is La Mara, a street in El Salvadoe. If Sheriff Joe "Get me an atlas" Arpaio doesn't even know that about MS-13, color me unimpressed by his anti-gang efforts.