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Millions Were Misspent by Arizona Sheriff’s Office Facing Federal Lawsuit, Officials Say

Officials in Maricopa County, Ariz., say its controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio, misspent between $60 million and $80 million in funds. Money meant for jails, for example, was spent on salaries for deputies, the officials say.

The office of the Arizona sheriff who was sued by the Justice Department earlier this month was this week accused by Maricopa County budget officials of misspending millions in taxpayer dollars over five years, according to The Arizona Republic.

The office of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is famous for his hard line on immigration as well as his controversial tactics, misspent between $60 million and $80 million in funds, according to county officials.

Money from a voter-approved tax restricted for use on jails, for instance, was spent on salaries for deputies and put to other unintended purposes.

Even the Sheriff’s Office isn’t sure how much money from this fund was improperly spent, the sheriff’s interim chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan, told the Republic, but he called the county’s $80 million figure “pure hyperbole” and “a vicious attempt to make Sheriff Arpaio look like he’s a poor manager.” More from the Republic:

As legal, political and administrative disputes have embroiled the nation's fourth-most-populous county in recent years, county officials said the Sheriff's Office refused to let auditors examine their books on a number of matters.

[Deputy County Manager Sandi] Wilson maintained her office's estimates of misspending are accurate, but said county officials need additional records from the Sheriff's Office to pin down an exact figure.

Over the years the sheriff’s officials also charged to county-issued credit cards thousands of dollars’ worth of expensive food, stays at luxury hotels and other amenities — though such charges have fallen since the county imposed stricter rules on use of the credit cards, officials noted.

Feuding between the Sheriff’s Office and the Maricopa County administrators and supervisors has gone on for years. Legal expenses and disputes over access to the office’s financial records have added up to millions in costs to taxpayers, the Republic reported.

Last week, an internal memo written by a 30-year department veteran accused top officials in the sheriff’s department of using an anti-corruption unit to conduct politically motivated investigations. Arpaio has said that his department’s anti-corruption investigations were legitimate, reported the Los Angeles Times, and has argued that investigations into his own office are politically motivated.

The Republic said the information on the misspent funds was being forwarded to the U.S. Attorney's Office for review.

The Justice Department, as we’ve noted, had filed a lawsuit against Arpaio, his office and the county earlier this month for refusing to fully cooperate with a civil rights investigation into allegations that the Sheriff’s Office had discriminated against Hispanics in its police practices and jail operations. Arpaio, in a statement at the time, said that the suit made it “abundantly clear that Arizona, including this sheriff, is Washington’s new whipping boy.”

This week, a federal audit by the U.S. Marshals Service found Maricopa County jails were “compliant” in cleanliness and other areas, including “prevention of discrimination against detainees,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Arpaio’s lawyer has said the rating bolsters his client’s argument that the Justice Department’s probe is politically motivated, but the Justice Department said in a statement that its areas of investigation were not covered by the Marshals Service audit.

Neither street-level police enforcement nor services for non-English speakers in jails — both issues central to the federal investigation — were central to the Marshals Service audit, according to the Republic.

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