Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2005
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2005 Tucson Citizen


Top federal prosecutor in state doesn't know if government corruption 
is getting worse.The Arizona Republic

In southern Arizona, more than 40 soldiers, airmen, border guards and 
correctional officers took bribes from FBI agents posing as cocaine smugglers.

In Maricopa County, dozens of workers at the state Motor Vehicle 
Division conducted side businesses selling fraudulent drivers 
licenses on the black market.

In Marana, the mayor was indicted on a charge of attempted extortion.

Pat Schneider, the top federal criminal prosecutor in Arizona, said 
he doesn't know whether government corruption is getting worse or it 
just seems that way because more public servants are getting caught. 
Either way, he added, the U.S. Attorney's Office is determined to 
expose and convict officials who use their positions to break the law.

And one year after the creation of an Arizona Public Corruption Task 
Force, results are starting to show. While the federal record-keeping 
system has some flaws, Schneider said, available data suggest a 
dramatic rise in corruption arrests. In 2003, there were nine in the 
state; last year there were 66; this year there have been 76.

"Bad public officials give us all a bad name," Schneider said. "If 
we're going to have systems in which people have trust, then there's 
got to be integrity."

Jana D. Monroe, the FBI's special agent in charge for Arizona, noted 
last week that the agency reassigned most of its agents to the war on 
terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001. However, she added, "combating public 
corruption on all levels is one of the bureau's top priorities."

The most recent example: Last Wednesday, a federal grand jury in 
Phoenix indicted Sadie Thomas-Burnette, former director of child care 
programs for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, on a charge of 
embezzling nearly $142,000 in federal money meant for children.

The task force, which involves most of the law enforcement agencies 
in Arizona, provides training and a communications network to 
identify suspected lawbreakers within government. Schneider said that 
includes any form of corruption but that smuggling-related crime 
seems to be the biggest problem.

Schneider said corruption has not permeated Arizona but criminal 
syndicates are constantly looking to prey on vulnerable public servants.

Nationally, corruption or allegations of corruption among officials 
has made headlines this past year. Consider:

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was forced to resign as chief of staff to 
Vice President Dick Cheney after his indictment on perjury charges in 
an FBI probe of security leaks.

Indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, accused of bribery and 
influence-peddling, is expected to become a government witness 
against a circle of Washington, D.C., figures, including members of Congress.

Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was forced to step down as House majority 
leader after his indictment for allegedly laundering political 
campaign contributions.

U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif., resigned after admitting 
he accepted $2.4.million in payoffs from defense contractors.

In Arizona, Schneider said he is at a loss to explain the widespread 
corruption encountered by FBI agents in Operation Lively Green, a 
three-year narcotics sting. During that probe, soldiers and law 
officers accepted bribes from what they believed were representatives 
of Mexican cocaine cartels.

The defendants, most of whom have pleaded guilty, included Army 
National Guard soldiers, airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, 
Nogales police officers and federal port inspectors.

The military personnel wore uniforms and used National Guard vehicles 
to haul supposed loads of cocaine to Las Vegas. Investigators said 
participants collected about $800,000 in bribes, some for recruiting 
colleagues to join in the corruption.

Schneider said Arizona's status as a border state and a smuggling 
conduit presents extra temptation for government officials who work 
at demanding, low-paying jobs. Because of that, he added, it is vital 
to catch and punish those who abuse public positions so the thousands 
of honest government servants see justice at work.

"How do you continue to do your job and feel good about it? That's 
got to be demoralizing," Schneider said. "The problem is these cases 
affect the integrity of our whole justice system and our sense of justice."

Corruption Cases

A sampling of recent public corruption cases prosecuted in Arizona:

- -- MVD fraud: In November 2004, 26 workers at 10 state Motor Vehicle 
Division offices were charged with issuing fraudulent drivers 
licenses to human traffickers, illegal immigrants and drug dealers. 
Investigators said the defendants took bribes ranging from $600 to 
$3,500 for documents.

- -- Indicted mayor: In April, Marana Mayor Bobby Glenn Sutton Jr. was 
indicted on a charge of trying to extort a waste-management firm by 
demanding a $60,000 job for a crony and threatening to disrupt the 
company's business. Sutton has pleaded not guilty; the case is pending.

- -- Embezzled funds: This month, Arizona attorney general's 
investigator David Andrew Bauer, 53, was sentenced to prison for 
embezzling more than $80,000 that was supposed to pay for drug buys 
and undercover informers. Bauer is a former Phoenix police officer.

- -- Border bribery: In June, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Juan L. Sanchez, 
28, of Nogales was indicted on bribery, drug trafficking and weapons 
charges involving 3,500 pounds of marijuana.

- -- Inside job: In March, Tucson police Officer Febronio Steven Munoz, 
51, was sent to prison for stealing drugs and loot seized by law 
officers during raids. Munoz, who served on a narcotics task force in 
southern Arizona, embezzled $615,000 during a four-year period.

- -- Postal problem: Thirteen months ago, Juan A. Ferniza, 58, pleaded 
guilty to stealing and selling nearly $30,000 worth of stamps while 
working on a U.S. Postal Service team assigned to destroy outdated 
and unusable stamps.

Source: The Arizona Republic archives and U.S. Attorney's Office.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman