Pima Co. Sheriff: New RICO laws unnecessary

Updated: Apr. 13, 2017 at 7:46 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier understood that his department's previous administration may have forced the hand of lawmakers. Those lawmakers responded by making it tougher for prosecutors and law enforcement to seize cash and property from people suspected of a crime.

It's a response Sheriff Napier said was unnecessary.

"The rules were crystal clear," he said, talking about the previous civil forfeiture laws. Governor Ducey signed new legislation Wednesday, effectively overhauling those laws despite opposition from state prosecutors.

The lines had been blurred, and legislators responded.

"This bill will allow law enforcement to take appropriate action against drug cartels and other criminal enterprises, while ensuring citizens do not have their property seized without proper due process," Ducey said in the statement.

House Bill 2477 by Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth is meant to reform rules dictating when prosecutors can seize someone's assets, according to an Associated Press report.

Officers can currently seize property based on suspicion alone without the need of a conviction or a charge. Police and prosecutors acquire Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization or RICO funds after seized property is forfeited, the report said. The measure will change Arizona's civil asset forfeiture laws to require prosecutors to prove property was involved in a crime by "clear and convincing" evidence, a step above the current standard.

The new law also puts in checks and balances to make sure those assets are used the right way.

"For a very long time, RICO funds have been appropriately administered by law enforcement agencies all across the country," Napier said. "Unfortunately, the rules have been deviated by some law enforcement agencies."

It was Sheriff Mark Napier's agency, under a different administration, who "deviated" from those old laws.

Former Pima County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Chris Radtke pleaded guilty February 10, in Federal Court, in a money laundering and theft case. Radtke admitted that certain sheriff's department administrative staff circumvented asset forfeiture funds for 18 years. He also admitted that he participated in the scheme for more than five years.

That scheme included reimbursing the sheriff's department special awards fund for a $250 restaurant bill and $109.09 for a microwave oven for the department in May 2011.

Radtke also admitted to using the fund's credit card to purchase model airplanes for $599.90 in July 2014, and paying an artist $500 to create a menu for the department cafe in April 2015. The cafe was owned and operated by Radtke's niece.

Napier knows he has to change the public's image of his department, but said more rules are not the way to accomplish that goal.

"What I feel is necessary is to follow the rules that were in place. That's what we intended to do from the time I assumed office January 1. We were going to follow the rules."

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will have a say in how the money is used, according to Napier. The AP report said opponents argue the changes would cause logistical issues for county boards of supervisors and county attorneys. They also criticize the bill's further standard of proof and the claim that excessive seizures take place.

Napier said he will be working to see what the new law means for his staff's day-to-day procedures, before it goes into effect.

"The governor just signed it. We've got some time to think about it, and to determine what it means at a local level."

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