By Paul Babeu
To the residents and business community of Pinal County:
Over the past few months, you may have seen news reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the State of Arizona, including the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, regarding the use of criminal monies that have been legally seized under the “Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations” act of 1970 (RICO funds).
Now this week, the Goldwater Institute submitted a public records request to our office and sent out their written opinion to local news organizations asking for information explaining how the seized funds are used, the groups these funds are given to, and what the County receives in return for the funds.
Much of the criticism over our use of the RICO funds have been leveled at our donations to Pinal County youth programs, organizations that help disabled veterans, shelters that assist domestic violence victims and organizations that help prevent teen suicides. The Goldwater people said in their “news release,” they want to know what we get back from these non-profit organizations.
To the people of Pinal County, the return is very clear. These programs make for healthier communities, yes, and safer communities for our residents to live and raise their families. Pinal County is rural and we don’t have the same funding sources as many urban population centers in our state. These programs would not thrive and grow in our communities if they didn’t receive financial assistance like that given by our office.
The Goldwater attorneys say they want to ensure “taxpayer money isn’t being misused for personal gain or in violation of the Arizona constitution.” The RICO funding is not taxpayer money, but it is public money that we have legally seized from organized crime syndicates like the Mexican Drug Cartels. Our choice to spend this public money to support our communities’ youth is well within the rules of the Department of Justice and the state laws governing the use of RICO funds. Our use of RICO funds is not in any way supplanting funds for normal government expenses, as has been alleged by the Goldwater attorneys. It is a legal and recognized proper use of these funds.
The Department of Justice has stated that up to $25,000 of Federal RICO funds can be used to “support of community-based programs.” The State RICO statutes say, “at least 10 percent of the monies in the fund shall be provided to private, non-profit community based organizations and gang prevention and intervention programs.” We are clearly following the directives of these regulatory agencies.
Over the past seven years, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has donated approximately $1.5 million of seized criminal money to support youth programs like the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, High School Graduation Night Lock-in events, youth sports programs, victim assistance programs and drug rehabilitation programs such as the “Home of Hope.
The primary job of law enforcement is to protect our citizens. We are doing just that by using money we have seized from drug dealers and other criminals and reinvesting the money into programs to improve the quality of life in Pinal County. As long as the bad guys keep trying to make a living through committing crimes, we will continue to fight them by seizing their illegal gains and use the money to support organizations that help victims and help keep our youth free from drugs, criminal activity and gangs.
Paul Babeu is the sheriff of Pinal County.