Sheriff Joe Arpaio pays for the training of Honduran cops with RICO funds to the tune of around $32K, and counting.

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Paid for by your RICO dollars: Chief Deputy David Hendershott (left), the unchecked power behind Sheriff Joe Arpaio's throne, in Honduras with Bay Islands Police Commissario Julio Benitez; retired MCSO Deputy Roger Marshall; and Captain Jim Miller.

Remember my revelation last month that the upper echelon of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office was in Honduras training Honduran cops? The blog item, "Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Chief Deputy David Hendershott in Honduras???" and a later Bird item, "Jabba in Paradise," detailed articles written in Honduran publications online about MCSO pooh-bahs training Honduran police officers all through 2007 and on into 2008. There were photos of the officers involved, and accounts on the Web sites for Honduras This Week Travel and the radio program The Roatan Bruce Show of MCSO personnel teaching the Honduran po-po all about crime scenes and (very ironically) the evils of corruption.

My speculation at the time was that perhaps this was all being paid for through some U.S. government or international grant. Boy was I wrong. After obtaining 108 documents of MCSO expense reports through a public records request, it's now obvious from the notations on the reports themselves that the training of these Honduran cops is being paid for by the MCSO through tens of thousands of dollars in RICO funds -- monies obtained through asset forfeiture proceedings under the state laws mirroring the Federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, the law which allows law enforcement agencies to seize assets and property from those involved in offenses such as money laundering, extortion or the drug trade.

According to Arizona law, there are two revolving funds: one overseen by the Attorney General's office; and one handled by the County Attorney. The statutes involved also state that "Monies in any fund may be used for the funding of gang prevention programs, substance abuse prevention programs, substance abuse education programs and witness protection...or for any purpose permitted by federal law relating to the disposition of any property that is transferred to a law enforcement agency."

I don't know how the training of foreign cops fits into that definition, but throughout the paperwork I received, expenses such as plane travel, luggage handling, hotel stays, dry cleaning, meals and in one case the flight of Honduran cops to Phoenix, are noted as being paid for by state RICO funds, and are approved by MCSO Chief of Business Operations Loretta Barkell and by Chief Deputy Hendershott.

At least nine members of the MCSO traveled to Honduras for weeks at a time, costing a total of $31,777.82 in expenses reimbursed by RICO funds. The cost to the taxpayer is likely higher. The official nature and detail of the expense reports suggests that these deputies were on official duty and on-salary during their extensive stays in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, or in the Caribbean paradise of Honduras' Bay Islands. I'll be looking further into whether or not overtime was paid to the officers during their stays, though this seems likely as their junkets to Central America often included weekends.

Each of the Travel Authorizations and Expense Reports reference the purpose of the reimbursement being "Sister City Travel." On other Training/Travel Request Forms, "RICO" is circled as the source of funding. Certain memos, initialed by Barkell and others, usually have comments such as "Approved RICO-State" scribbled across the bottom of the forms.

Indeed, one memo from Hendershott to Barkell is typical of the requests for reimbursement. Dated July 10, 2007, it reads,

"In the spring, as the official representative from the Sheriff's Office, I traveled to Roadan [sic], Honduras to establish and develop a sister city relationship focusing on drug law enforcement and human smuggling. I personally paid $812 toward the airline ticket. As this was official business, I am requesting reimbursement of this $812. The travel was funded from RICO."

The dates of the travel range from January to October of last year, and are incredible considering the budgetary constraints the MCSO has been under recently. In one case, Special Investigations Division Commander Captain Edward "Pat" Lopez asks for the reimbursement of several items he claims were needed to instruct Honduran cops, and includes bills for his dry-cleaning while in Honduras.

There are per diem expenses as high as $51 a day listed in some of the paperwork, and requests for reimbursements of large meals at restaurants feeding several persons.

The MCSO even foots the bill for four members of the executive staff of the Honduran National Police to fly to Phoenix and meet with Sheriff Joe during "a week long tour of our operations from between June 4, 2007 and June 8, 2007," notes a memo from Internal Affairs Commander Capt. James Miller to Hendershott. The memo continues, stating that the Honduran police force lacks the budget "for the expenses associated with travel and accommodations for this meeting." So the MCSO will have to "obtain financing for round trip travel hotel accommodations, and food expenses for their entire stay." Both Hendershott and Barkell initial the request with the note, "approved, RICO fund."

News of the RICO funding for this Honduran escapade angered Buckeye Police Chief Dan Saban, who is challenging Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the general election this year. Saban contended that Sheriff's Office RICO funds should be spent in-county, not for training another nation's cops, especially in light of the MCSO's budget shortfall.

"This isn't right," asserted Saban. "Not when the people in Aguila are arming themselves because they have no protection. They have people dying in the jails because they're under-staffed. We have a law-enforcement need right here under Sheriff Arpaio's nose: The need to supply us with satellite facilities. Our citizens are paying for us to spend extra hours transporting and booking prisoners. And we're providing resources to another country? That's aggravating."

The aggravation's just beginning. As MCSO Captain Brian Beamish told Honduran radio jock Roatan Bruce last year, "there is more training scheduled for the beginning of the year (2008) and it is going to continue for the next several years." That means more RICO money that should ideally be going for programs in Maricopa County will continue to be funneled down to Central America indefinitely. Unless, of course, the voters remove Arpaio's administration from power this election year.

I'll work to get some of these docs up by Monday so you can view them for yourselves. I can't help but wonder if this "project" is being used by the MCSO to award perks. After all, who wouldn't want a free trip to the tropics on the county dime? You know, a little working vacay expensed from the MCSO's RICO account? Like the song goes, nice work if you can get it...

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