ABC15 sister station KGUN 9 has learned of serious questions about the possible misuse of money in the Pima County Sheriff's Department. That's hundreds of thousands of RICO funds that should only be used to fight crime, but instead might be illegally used for other things.
Sheriff Chris Nanos confirms the FBI is still continuing its investigation into possible misuse of RICO funds and told KGUN9 the FBI scheduled a second interview with one of his senior command staff this week.
The FBI began investigating claims that RICO money possibly bankrolled a remodeled café for staff operated by Chief Deputy Chris Radke's niece -- an allegation Nanos denies. "Nothing was done wrong with RICO money or appropriation of funds in terms of any criminal activity. Were there mistakes in the procurement process? Yes. There were, and I corrected those," said Nanos.
But Dr. Richard Carmona, former U-S Surgeon General and long-time Deputy Chief in the Sheriff's Department until he left voluntarily earlier this year, believes the possible misuse of RICO money extends beyond the café controversy.
Carmona says he's been interviewed by the FBI and over the past year he spoke with many officers and civilians who were also called in to talk to agents. "And I said what did they ask you. And it was interesting the pattern of questioning was the same with all of these people. It was all about three people: Brad Gagnepain (former Chief of Staff), Chris Radke (Chief Deputy), Chris Nanos (Sheriff)."
Carmona says last year while sitting in a meeting with senior command and staff, they began discussing the Annual Awards Banquet. "This is going to be very expensive, it'll cost 30-40 thousand dollars, and we don't have any money. And I said let's reach out to some of the businessmen in town, and Nanos said Brad's got this handled. You don't need to worry about it," said Dr. Carmona.
At the time, Carmona didn't know that RICO money played a part.
Nanos: "The awards banquet is held by us, and we would use RICO dollars, which is appropriate."
Cavazos: "Is it?"
Nanos: "By law."
Cavazos: "An awards banquet is appropriate?"
Nanos: "Let me explain to you, by law, Barbara LaWall. There isn't one penny of RICO dollars we've ever spent or will spend without going through the process of County Attorney review and saying whether or not it's lawful or not. I'll tell you right now. You can buy an award for your staff using RICO dollars."
That's true. RICO funds can cover the awards, but not food and entertainment. KGUN 9 obtained ledgers dating back to 2009 and 2010 showing tens of thousands of dollars in RICO funds moved from the General Fund to the Sheriff's Auxiliary Volunteers (SAV) Account. The entire SAV list of purchased items includes tuxedos, flowers, furniture and entertainment equipment.
Cavazos: "Basically what this is showing is that it was common practice for the Awards Dinners to be paid for through the SAV funds and with the help of the Rico funds?"
Nanos: "Rico funds and individual funds were put into the SAV accounts under an account that dealt with the awards banquet."
The ledger shows a RICO deposit of $35,000 in Sept. of 2010 labeled "Special Awards Fund." Several sources have told 9 On Your Side that this practice of allegedly using RICO funds in ways they shouldn't be, from at least 2009, have continued for several years after that including this year. Nanos told KGUN the FBI has interviewed a staff member from the finance department.
Carmona said, "We started hearing from the financial officers there was illegal activity with the Rico funds that you can't use them that way."
Remember, FBI agents were asking questions about Chief of Staff Brad Gagnepain. Three months ago, Gagnepain was found dead outside a neighbor's house. The County Medical Examiner's office ruled it to be a suicide.
The sheriff's report shows the neighbor called 911. Sheriff Nanos and Deputy Chief Chris Radtke showed up at the scene. Within hours, Dr. Carmona began receiving calls that "appropriate processes and procedures were not followed based on what the deputies and detectives at the scene said.
Sheriff Nanos said, "I can't believe one minute that anyone called Carmona. I can't believe that. But maybe I'm wrong."
According to the Sheriff's report, on the night of the suicide, the neighbor said Gagnepain had been arguing with and texting his wife on his cell phone, but detectives were not allowed to interview her. She was a key witness. Only Nanos and Radke spoke to her. One detective reported he was not allowed to look for a suicide note in Gagnepain's house. And a supervisor told a detective they would not be going to the autopsy, which sources say is normal procedure.
Cavazos: "Were the detectives allowed to go to the autopsy?"
Nanos: "I don't know why they wouldn't be. I don't know. Let me ask this. I don't know why they would go. It's a suicide."
Carmona said, "The public I think rightfully needed to know that his incident was coincident with him finding out he was part of the FBI investigation."
Nanos: "The shame is this was a guy who spent 30 plus years of his life serving this community."
Cavazos: "So the question is ..."
Nanos: "and they're going to trash him. Shame on them."
Cavazos: "Then why did he commit suicide?"
Nanos: "I don't know his demons."
Cavazos: "Was he questioned by the FBI? Was he a primary person in the FBI investigation?"
Nanos: "No, No, No. I don't believe that at all. I don't know it. But I don't believe it at all."
The possible obstruction of justice issue deals with whether normal law enforcement procedures were followed before the Medical Examiner made his determination of suicide involving the death of former Chief of Staff Brad Gagnepain.
KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos asked Sheriff Nanos if I could interview Deputy Chief Chris Radke and he said no. According to Nanos, the FBI investigation is nearing its end. KGUN9 might know more in the coming days.