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Maricopa County Throws Sheriff Arpaio Under Improperly Purchased Bus

by Matt Clarke

On October 30, 2009, the Maricopa County Internal Audit Department released a report critical of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s purchase of a $456,221.57 bus specially equipped to transport prisoners. Among other criticisms, the report noted that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) failed to obtain the approval of the Board of Supervisors prior to the bus purchase, failed to obtain board approval for a contract to purchase an item in excess of $250,000, failed to get board approval for a sole source purchase exceeding $50,000, and failed to obtain Office of Management and Budget approval for an exemption to the county’s capital purchasing freeze in effect at the time.

Sheriff Arpaio also failed to deposit Jail Enhancement Fund (JEF) monies with the County Treasurer, as required by Arizona state statutes and JEF guidelines, and failed to follow procurement policies required by state law, county policies and JEF guidelines. Essentially, the Audit Department report accused Arpaio of failing to seek the best price for the bus by using competitive bidding, failing to have adequate controls in place to protect public funds from misuse, and violating county purchasing policies.

JEF funds are a revenue stream from fines, penalties and forfeitures. Instead of depositing JEF income with the County Treasurer, Arpaio set up a separate account with Bank of America. It was that account he used to purchase the custom bus from Motor Coach Industries, Inc. (MCI) on October 8, 2008. MCI delivered the bus in May 2009, but the Board of Supervisors refused to authorize tags and title for the vehicle, so it has sat unused since that time.

Arpaio’s imperious response to the Audit Department’s report was that he had decided he was the only one authorized to spend JEF funds, and therefore they were not subject to the capital purchasing freeze or prior board approval requirements. He said the bus purchase “was not made maliciously or as an attempt to usurp the policies of the Board of Supervisors,” and claimed the Board’s criticism and refusal to authorize title and tags were “bureaucratic policies and power plays.”

While Arpaio knows a thing or two about bureaucratic policies and power plays himself, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors wasn’t willing to back down. On March 29, 2010, the Board authorized the county to sue MCI unless the company took the bus back and refunded the purchase price.

MCI apparently wasn’t willing to do so, prompting Maricopa County to file suit in federal court on March 30, claiming that “MCI’s sale and MCSO’s purchase of the bus violated State law, County procurement policies and JEF guidelines.” The Sheriff’s Office was not named in the lawsuit, but has moved to intervene. See: Maricopa County v. MCI, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:10-cv-00713-ROS.

Sources: Maricopa County Internal Audit Department Report on MCSO Bus Procurement Contract, Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times, Associated Press

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Related legal case

Maricopa County v. MCI