The bill for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Honduran scam: $157K and rising.

Yesterday, Sheriff's office flack Paul Chagolla coughed up the hourly rates on the ten MCSO employees who were part of the Honduran enterprise, and after crunching the numbers, and adding equipment purchases and RICO-funded reimbursements for travel expenses, the bill for this Central American hayride comes to approximately $157,000. That's far more than the $100,000 I estimated in a recent Bird column. And it does not include the cost in untold man-hours spent planning this boondoggle or those spent chaperoning around the Hondurans who visited Maricopa County back in June of last year.

Furthermore, we don't really know if the Honduran project has come to an end, as Arpaio first stated that he was suspending the program, then he backtracked, stating he was reviewing the program. Personally, I don't think we can believe much of what Arpaio asserts. This was Chief Deputy David Hendershott's baby, and he's as mum as Heath Ledger's corpse. Well, to the Arizona press, that is. While visiting with Honduran talk show personality "Roatan Bruce" Starr last year, Jabba the Hendershott was practically chatty. And what he had to say contradicted what Joe's said since about the origin of the program to train Honduran cops and reorganize the entire Honduran police force. Arpaio's led us to believe that the whole thing was instigated by a request from Honduran officials. But Hendershott told Starr that the program's origins had more to do with the efforts of ex-MCSO deputy Roger Marshall.

"We have a wonderful, wonderful retired employee in the name of Roger Marshall," Hendershott rambled on to Starr during a radio interview. "Roger...several years ago decided to further his missionary work and his wonderful wife Pam and their two children are in the process [sic] -- and Roger's been down here for about a year now and furthering work with his church and ministering to the folks on Roatan. Roger has a lot of background in the area of investigations. He was one of our top homicide investigators in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. And Roger reached out to [the] Commissario here, and Julio Benitez [the Honduran Bay Island's top cop] with the tremendous support of Vice Secretary Rodas to improve the professionalism of the officers. And so there were letters written to our Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County..."

The question, of course, remains, what was the MCSO getting out of all this? Or, more specifically, what were Hendershott and the other MCSO brass getting out of this? Maybe just working vacays in a tropical paradise. But the possibility that something more motivated the MCSO's involvement remains.

I've made calls to Roatan Bruce Starr to discuss the matter with him, but he's declined to comment. However, his Web site presents the Honduran Bay Islands as an amazing investment opportunity for those interested in purchasing real estate. He cites several concrete reasons that an investment in property on these Honduran islands should increase in value, such as the news that the islands are to be named a tax and duty-free Free Zone, thus attracting even more tourists.

Starr also reports that, "The most successful cruise line, Royal Caribbean, has just signed a 30 year deal with Roatan to take over the leasing of the dock. That means that beginning in the Fall of 2007, we will go from having 10 cruise ships a month to 30 or more."

And it's not the only cruise line tied to the islands: "Carnival Cruise Lines and their sister companies Costa and Princess will be building a second dock and tourist community in two years. Ground breaking ceremonies with President Mel Zelaya will be November 15th, 2007."

Starr states, "More and more international airlines are now making non-stop trips to Roatan," and he adds that financing for buying real estate on the tropical paradise is now available. Reading his comments and those in other English-language publications, it's apparent there are a number of expatriates on the islands, many drawn by the lush environs and the prospect of a real estate and tourist boom.

The fly in the ointment is crime, which is prevalent there. And the local police are hampered by chronic underfunding. Starr's Web site even mentions a charity auction with the beneficiary being the local coppers. Certainly the MCSO's long-term involvement with the Honduran police force would've been of tremendous benefit to the local economy, and to the price of land in Roatan.

Though Starr blew me off, I did chat with Thomas Tomczyk, Managing Editor of the English language Bay Islands Voice. Tomczyk discussed crime and corruption, telling me about an incident where local cops were identified as having ties to the drug trade, but were just rotated to another part of the country rather than being fired or indicted. He also sent me a link to a 2005 article in his publication titled "How Safe Is Roatan?" The piece relates how crime stats are hard to come by, but there's anecdotal evidence that home invasions and robberies are common. Check out this passage from the article:

"I have learned that, after 14 years of living here, if I don't want to live in a gated community, then I need to have a watchman," said Phil Weir, a Roatan real estate agent, "You have to realize that this island's police works are hampered by budgets."

The police have two vehicles and almost no presence east of the airport in tourist places such as Parrot Tree, Fantasy Island, or Coco View. "People here seem to think that the police have a lot and they do not," said Jaime Barahona, Chief of Roatan Tourist Police, about the island's 85 police officers.

Tomczyk told me that it would incredibly easy for a foreigner to hide an investment in land or a business in Honduras. Though foreigners have to form a corporation if the investment is over a certain amount, local lawyers know how to keep the names of outside investors hidden or even anonymous. Asked about money laundering, Tomczyk indicated it would be a piece of cake in his adopted country (he retains dual Polish-American citizenship).

"Sure, this is Honduras," he told me. "It's the original banana republic."

I think you can connect the dots on your own, folks. I suspect there are those either in the MCSO or close to Hendershott who know more and may be willing to talk. I urge such persons to call me at the number below. I will not betray a confidence and can promise to keep your identity concealed.

602-229-8426

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