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Radtke pleads not guilty to misusing RICO funds

A former high-ranking member of the Pima County Sheriff's Department entered a "not guilty" plea in federal court Friday. Chris Radtke, the ex-chief deputy, is charged with seven counts related to alleged misuse of civil forfeiture funds, including purchases to benefit an employee cafe run by his niece.

Radkte is the only one charged thus far in the case, but a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday indicates that others may have been involved in what authorities charge was a conspiracy to evade spending restrictions. While the indictment charges Radtke with misusing $500,000 in government funds, only a tiny fraction of that was included in a list of instances of alleged improper spending.

Radtke — who is represented by attorney Sean Chapman, frequently a lawyer for law enforcement facing criminal charges — was released on his own recognizance by federal Magistrate Judge D. Thomas Ferraro.

Radtke also ended his employment at PCSD with a resignation on Friday. Late Monday, Sheriff Chris Nanos said that Radtke had resigned that day after informing him of the indictment.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 22.

Radtke is accused of one count of conspiring to launder money and six counts of theft of public funds, totaling more than a half-million dollars.

According to court documents, Radtke is charged with covering up expenses, including purchases made on behalf of his niece and other associates. The indictment alleges "approximate $500,000 of financial transactions ... designed in whole or in part to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the proceeds...."

RICO funds — the proceeds of money and property taken over by the government from alleged criminal groups — were routed through the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers group to allow Radtke and PCSD to "use the money free from regulations relating to forfeiture funds and procurement," the indictment claims.

Radtke, made the chief deputy of the department last year, was indicted by a grand jury on Sept. 28. The case was sealed until he was served. He stepped down from his post Monday, and the court papers were released on order of federal Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Rateau, sitting in Tucson, on Wednesday.

The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Utah, after the Justice Department's Arizona prosecutors recused themselves.

Radtke is charged with one count of conspiracy to launder money, and six counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Radtke is the only person named in the indictment, but it alleges he worked in concert with "others known and unknown to the grand jury" to "circumvent the restrictions on use of forfeiture funds by misrepresenting to the Pima County Attorney's Office ... that the Pima County Sheriff's Office (sic) was donating the forfeiture funds to the Pima County Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers...."

Instead, court documents allege, the funds were used to purchase items for the department and "individuals affiliated with the defendant."

Among incidents cited in the indictment:

  • A Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers check for $926.09 issued to a member of the Sheriff's Department in May 2011, in part to pay for a $250 restaurant bill and a $109.09 microwave for a department breakroom.
  • Another 2011 SAV check to a department employee, for $627.60, in part for an $80.79 restaurant bill.
  • $288.72 paid from SAV to a PCSD employee for materials to build a sleigh for an award banquet.
  • $501.29 to purchase and ship a chalkboard for use in a PCSD employee cafe that was operated by Radtke's niece, along with checks for $300 and $500 paid to an artist for chalkboard art for the cafe.
  • $599.90, plus $90 for shipping, and a later $50 rush shipping charge, to purchase two model airplanes for the department.

Sheriff Chris Nanos announced Radtke's departure from his department late Monday night, saying that he had been informed of the case by the chief deputy earlier in the day.

Radtke "has since submitted his resignation and I will not comment on another law enforcement agency's investigation," Nanos said then.

Nanos spoke to the press Wednesday about accusations made by former department surgeon and ex-U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, but brusquely refused to answer questions about Radtke, and only briefly addressed the case.

The department has been under investigation by the FBI for nearly a year regarding the potential misuse of RICO monies.

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Among the focuses of the federal probe were transfers of tens of thousands of dollars from the county's RICO account to the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers, which were apparently used to fund tuxedos, flowers and entertainment for awards banquets. Those would be improper expenses for RICO funds.

Also examined by the FBI has been the department's purchase of about $20,000 in commercial kitchen equipment for an employee cafe within PCSD operated by Radtke's niece, who did not have a contract despite procurement rules.

The Arizona Daily Star's Caitlin Schmidt first reported the possible misuse of funds, and earlier this year, Schmidt reported that the FBI was investigating the department.

FBI spokesmen, following their standard practice, would not confirm or deny that the bureau had been probing PCSD.

Nanos said that Radtke's indictment had "shaken the department to its core," but that he had taken "decisive action" and met with every member of the department who handles or oversees funding sources. Nanos said that he had direct these officials to complete an "an immediate and comprehensive review" to ensure that funds were handled correctly.

And, he will continue to monitor those processes personally, Nanos said.

Nanos, the former chief deputy, was appointed by the Pima County Board of Supervisors on the recommendation of former Sheriff Clarence Dupnik when he retired last July, but the Democrat now faces an election challenge from Republican Mark Napier.

After Nanos' appointment, the sheriff pulled Radtke back onto the force to be his chief deputy after his retirement about a year before.

Also under FBI investigation for misuse of Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations funds is Sheriff Paul Babeu's Pinal County Sheriff's Department. The Republican is leaving his county post after the November election, having thrown his hat into the CD1 congressional race.

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