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Arizona Sheriff used hidden database to misspend up to $80 million, officials claim

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ArpaioA hidden computer database recently discovered in the course of a racial profiling investigation shows Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio misspent up to $80 million in funds intended for jail operations, according to Maricopa County supervisors and budget officials.

The hidden database contained payroll logs that detailed staff assignments and payments which were different than the staff assignments and payments reported in the official county-run database, they said.

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“They’ve developed a system that basically tracks where they are working versus where they are being paid, and they did not update the official database, which led to the potential problems,” Deputy County Manager Sandi Wilson told The Arizona Republic. “I think they deliberately hid this info from us.”

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office denied any intention of hiding information from the county and blamed the duplicate payrolls on a lack of compatible technology between the Sheriff’s Office and county agencies.

In September, Maricopa County officials reported that Arpaio’s office misspent up to $80 million in funds over five years to pay his employees working in patrol, human-smuggling operations and investigative units. The voter-approved money was restricted by law to detention operations such as food, detention officers’ salaries, and equipment.

“It appears that [the Maricopa County Sheriffs Office] violated the intent and explicit language of the voter approved jail tax when they used that money to fund activities not related to jail operations,” a press release said. “Maricopa County will have to pay back the restricted funds to the detention fund. This is a misuse of public funds.”

The latest report by the Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget has “identified at least $34 million in misspending” but has not yet been able to “address some of the more complicated staffing issues.”

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The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has served subpoenas to thirteen of Arpaio’s employees and has asked Arpaio to turn over financial documents, software, and 12 years worth of timesheets.

Arpaio has been sheriff of Arizona’s largest county since 1992 and proclaims himself as the “toughest sheriff in the nation.”

The United States Department of Justice has been investigating Arpaio since 2009 for accusations of discrimination, unconstitutional searches and seizures, and having English-only policies in his jails.

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Arpaio has refused to cooperate with the investigation and in September the Justice Department sued him for refusing to hand over documents related to the investigation.

“The actions of the sheriff’s office are unprecedented,” said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the department’s civil rights division. “It is unfortunate that the department was forced to resort to litigation to gain access to public documents and facilities.”

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In October, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s appeal of District Court Judge Neil Wake’s 2008 ruling that mandated Maricopa County fix the unconstitutional conditions of its jails.

In the 2008 trial, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleged that the Sheriff’s Office fed pre-trial detainees moldy bread, rotten fruit, and other contaminated food and held them in prison cells hot enough to endanger their health.

As a press release by the ACLU explains, Judge Wake’s ruling required Sheriff Arpaio to “end severe overcrowding and ensure all detainees receive necessary medical and mental health care, be given uninterrupted access to all medications prescribed by correctional medical staff, be given access to exercise and to sinks, toilets, toilet paper and soap and be served food that meets or exceeds the US Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines.”

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