Officials: Sheriff Joe’s Office Charged Luxury Trips To County, Misused Up To $80 Million

September 23, 2010 7:03 a.m.

Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff infamous due to his attention-grabbing immigration enforcement related stunts and the accusations his office discriminates against Latinos, allegedly misused millions in funds intended for jail operations, Maricopa County officials said Wednesday.

Excerpts of the reports, obtained by TPMMuckraker, show officials from Arpaio’s office made trips to Orlando, D.C., Honduras, Tempe, Belize, Alaska and Puerto Rico on the county’s dime and racked up other questionable expenses, like $741 at Sardella’s Pizza and Wings. The county was also charged $350 for a hotel room upgrade for one official’s spouse. One employee went on multiple extradition trips without submitting receipts for the $62,750 he or she spent — including $1,341 on Disney World Yacht Club Resort food and entertainment.

Others expenses charged to the county, according to the report, include $1,684 for a portable generator for parade lights on an army tank; $635 at Buca di Beppo when members of the Honduran National Police were in town; and $500 on a carriage ride.The Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget unveiled the first evidence of misuse of public funds by Arpaio’s office to the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, which the Arizona Republic reported were the result of hundreds of hours of staff research.

In a press release, officials said that Arpaio’s office was evasive and that he has chosen to fight efforts at transparency in his use of public money. But, based on the limited amount of data provided by the sheriff’s office, Maricopa County officials said the office had misspent money since at least March by using jail funds on non-jail related operations.

Jail operations are funded by an exclusive tax levy — passed in a voter referendum in 1998 — and are supposed to be distinct from the sheriff’s office’s funds. County officials charge that Arpaio’s office allegedly used the jail operations funds for sheriff’s office expenses — such as salaries for deputies who worked on public-corruption investigations into county supervisors and judges.

A further review found that misspending dated back to at least 2006 at a rate of $16 million per year and that retroactively, Apraio’s office may have misspent up to $80 million.

County officials additionally allege that the sheriff’s office deliberately misused procurement codes and made capital purchases during spending freezes; used outside bank accounts; had problems handling inmate cash; demonstrated extradition travel irregularities; improperly used county credit cards; and spent public funds unusually.

A PowerPoint presentation issued yesterday also quoted Arpaio’s letter of support in favor of the 1998 jail tax that he’s now accused of misusing revenues from. “I pledge to you that the new jail will be the most efficient, cost-effective use of the sales tax revenue of any major jail built in the United States,” he wrote.

General funds from the county may have to be used to pay as much as $64 million back to the jail operations budget.

Additional reporting by Johanna Barr.

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