The RICO Act was passed in 1970 designed to combat organized crime in the United States. Suspects are prosecuted and receive civil penalties for racketeering as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise.
The RICO Act of 1970 gave prosecutors the ability to hit suspects where it hurts, in their wallets. By confiscating their money, cars, jewelry and finances, the penalty for organized crime was more than just a prison sentence.
Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
The RICO Act was instrumental in the arrest and prosecution of many in the American mafia. Not only did members of the mafia receive prison terms, they were forced to forfeit all property they obtained while violating the law.
Police Guard Cartel Leader Eduardo Arellano Felix
Because of the effectiveness with the Mafia, law enforcement soon began to use the RICO Act to prosecute members of the drug cartel. The fact that law enforcement was able to confiscate millions of dollars in property created a new revenue source for their own departments.
Patrol Car from Pinal County Sheriff, Pinal County, Arizona
Because Section 1961(10) of Title 18 allows the Attorney General to give RICO authority to any law enforcement department, local sheriff departments have began prosecuting individuals under the RICO act. One of the departments who gained authorization was the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona.
Former Sheriff Paul Babeu
Paul Babeu was elected Sheriff of Pinal County in 2008 and served until 2016. While Sheriff, he was involved in several scandals, including threatening an ex-gay, undocumented lover who he threatened to deport. Sheriff Babeu has been outspoken on illegal immigration and has appeared on the Fox New channel multiple times.
Arizona State Capital Building
In Arizona, for a suspect to be charged under the RICO Act, the state currently has to prove by a “preponderance of evidence” before an item can be seized. This method allows law enforcement to use the RICO Act on virtually any defendant.
Just as the law provides a guideline on how the RICO Act can be applied, it also provides guidelines on how the money seized from suspects can be spent. But the former Sheriff found a loophole in that law.
Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Administration Building
Instead of putting the RICO funds into the county RICO account, Sheriff Babeu placed the funds in the account of the Arizona Public Safety Foundation. The APSF was a foundation that was operated out of the Sheriff’s Office and ran by employees of the Sheriff’s office.
By funneling the RICO money through the foundation, this allowed Sheriff Babeu to allocate funds as he saw fit. In July of 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union and international law firm Perkins Coie filed a joint lawsuit claiming the Sheriff’s Office was misusing the RICO funds.
Phoenix, Arizona Division of the FBI
It is alleged that some of the funds were used to help finance Sheriff Babeu’s failed campaigns for Congress. Others have also alleged that Babeu would give funds to organizations that were friendly towards his campaign. We may know the truth as the FBI has issued a subpoena asking for documentations to the thousands of dollars the foundation has received.