- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A former high-level official with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department was sentenced Friday to one year of probation after pleading guilty to three misdemeanors in a case involving the illegal use of money seized from crime suspects.

Former Chief Deputy Christopher Radtke was initially charged with six felony counts of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments. Under a plea agreement, the charges were reduced to three misdemeanor counts of theft of public money.

Radtke resigned shortly after his indictment last fall. His sentence also calls for 100 hours of community service and a $3,000 fine.

The charges stem from allegations that Radtke illegally used money seized through a civil asset forfeiture program known as Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act fund, or RICO.

Court documents show Radtke admitted to using RICO funds for expenses like a nearly $1,000 awards ceremony, two model airplanes for $600 and a $500 payment to an artist to create a menu for a chalkboard at a cafe within the sheriff’s department. The cafe was owned and operated by Radtke’s niece.

According to his plea agreement, Radtke said the Pima County Sheriff’s Department spent about 18 years laundering RICO funds to circumvent restrictions on how they’re used. Radtke said he became involved about six years ago. Nobody else has been charged.

Radtke’s case comes amid growing scrutiny to how law enforcement agencies handle RICO funds. Critics say law enforcement officials too often use civil asset forfeiture to fund their departments rather than for its intended purpose, which is to cripple large criminal organizations such as drug cartels.

Gov. Doug Ducey in April signed legislation overhauling the state’s civil forfeiture laws. The measure tightens rules for how prosecutors and police can seize cash and property from crime suspects. For example, prosecutors have to prove property was involved in a crime by “clear and convincing” evidence.

The Arizona Daily Star says the federal investigation began after the paper reported on Radtke’s niece’s cafe at the department, which was operated rent-free and without a contract.

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