A U.S. senator has asked federal authorities to consider seeking repayment of federal aid to Maricopa County if they determine that Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s office used tax dollars from Washington to detain people whose civil rights the sheriff’s office is accused of violating.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont asked Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter Tuesday to examine whether Arpaio’s office used federal dollars given to the county for jailing illegal immigrants on detaining people whose civil rights were allegedly violated.
“Like all federal grantees, however, Maricopa County officials must be held to a high standard of ethical and lawful conduct when applying for and using such public money,” Leahy wrote.
Leahy, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s judiciary committee, wrote that the federal government has given Maricopa County more than $25 million in reimbursements since 2000 for the costs of jailing illegal immigrants who are convicted of state crimes.
It wasn’t clear whether Leahy was suggesting that the Justice Department seek repayment of the full $25 million or a portion of that amount.
Arpaio’s office said Leahy was seeking a review by the Justice Department because he doesn’t want the sheriff to enforce immigration laws. “It looks like they are all ganging up on the sheriff,” Arpaio said.
The Justice Department said it’s reviewing Leahy’s request and declined to comment further.
A message left at Leahy’s office wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
The Justice Department sued Arpaio’s office last week, alleging that his deputies racially profile Latinos in the sheriff’s trademark immigration patrols and that the sheriff’s office retaliated against critics of the patrols.
Arpaio also is accused by federal authorities of launching some immigration patrols based on letters from people who complained about people with dark skin congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish but never reported an actual crime.
The sheriff has long denied the racial profiling allegations, saying people are stopped if deputies have probable cause to believe they have committed crimes and that deputies later find many of them are illegal immigrants.
Arpaio has said the Justice Department’s lawsuit is a politically motivated attack by the Obama administration as a way to court Latino voters in a presidential election year. In the past, the Republican sheriff has been critical of Democratic members of Congress who sought the civil rights investigation of his office.
“Maricopa County is very concerned about the potential loss of federal dollars due to the DOJ lawsuit,” said Cari Gerchick, a spokeswoman for the county. “We hope that no federal funding will be jeopardized.”