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Former Arizona sheriff Paul Babeu defends ‘misuse’ of spending

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu speaks at a news conference in Apache Junction, Ariz., Thursday Nov 24, 2011.

FLORENCE, Ariz. — Former Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu said he had the authority to spend jail enhancement money for other purposes, despite an audit describing the spending as misuse.

The Pinal County Internal Audit Committee identified more than $2 million from the jail enhancement fund that was spent on other purposes since 2013 — spending that former Sheriff Paul Babeu defended in a letter sent to a local newspaper on Monday, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported.

The fund guidelines stated that at least 25 percent of the jail enhancement money should be used for training and that the remaining money should be used to enhance jail facilities and operations.

From three out of the four years audited, the sheriff’s spending incurred a deficit of $278,602 covered by the county’s general fund.

Babeu said Arizona Criminal Justice Commission guidelines give sheriffs full authority over the fund, so his use of the money did not qualify as misuse.

“I actually served on the small committee that crafted the guidelines that allow sheriffs full authority of these funds and the 25 percent for training is a recommendation, not a rule and certainly not a law,” Babeu said.

Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller said the funds should have been used only for jails, and the spending should have stayed within the budget.

He said the Legislature should have included a legal mechanism in the guidelines so action can be taken on the misuse of these funds.

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