Column | A Merry Christmas from jail

My golden age of television isn’t the same as the mid-1950s through early 1960s era. Mine is more 1970s through early 1980s. I call it my golden age of television because I can’t get the shows that dominated our living rooms back then out of my mind.

That includes one of the most ironic shows to come out of those days, “Baretta.” (Extra points if you can name his cockatoo off the top of your head) Tony Baretta was a tough-guy police detective, and each week for three years we were privileged to follow his exploits.

The irony of Baretta was the show starred Robert Blake, who also played Mickey Gubitosi (Blake’s real name) on “The Little Rascals.” Blake would have his own brush with the law when only six months after marrying Bonnie Lee Bakley, she was gunned down outside Vitello’s Restaurant in their car in 2001.

Blake claimed he was innocent because he had returned to the restaurant to retrieve his gun he had left behind. Blake was found not guilty in 2005, but his days in the courtroom were not over.

Bakley’s three children filed a civil suit against Blake and won a verdict of $30 million after his co-defendant’s girlfriend told the jury she believed they killed Bakley. Blake would get the amount awarded against him lowered to $15 million when the verdict was upheld on appeal.

What sticks in my head about Baretta was the theme song, and I still sing the chorus from “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” written by Dave Grusin and M. Ames. The chorus went like this:

“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time …”

It still gives me a wry smile, knowing Robert Blake’s story later in his life.

All of that came rushing back this week as I’ve considered the saga of Vic Riccardi, who sits on the board of Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District.

Riccardi, 81, has been sitting in Mohave County Jail since Dec. 20, and I’ve received calls, emails, and Letters to the Editor expressing concern this is happening to someone at that age.

A NACFD fire truck needed repairs done to it and it was taken to Riccardi’s Auto & Truck Repair in Valle Vista. A check was issued to Riccardi in the amount of $1,357 and he was indicted by a grand jury in July for misuse of public funds and conflict of interest for having NACFD work done at that shop.

Another count of conflict of interest was charged against Riccardi from a Sept. 27 NACFD board meeting. That charge says Riccardi had a “substantial interest in a decision of the fire district.”

The Mohave County Attorney’s Office presented five exhibits of evidence and two witnesses to Judge Rick Lambert in its quest to have Riccardi held without bond. Lambert granted the state’s motion and Riccardi waits for his next court date.

Like all reasonable people, I don’t wish Riccardi is in jail. The attorneys for Mohave County don’t wish he was in jail, offering him plea deals to make this an undesignated offense and the return of the check. Riccardi, well within his rights, declined the offer.

While I don’t wish Riccardi to be in jail, I especially wish he wasn’t there for the holiday season. But at what age do we allow people who are purported to have committed crimes go without consequence?

Riccardi was never facing jail time for the original counts. Approved minutes by the NACFD board show he voted on Sept. 27 to keep executive session minutes from a May 18 meeting from the Mohave County Attorney’s Office, which requested and issued a subpoena for the minutes. It’s easy to connect the dots and see that the attorney’s office believes there was discussion in the May meeting regarding the payment for fire truck repairs. If that is the case, then what we see here is a textbook case of a conflict of interest.

Riccardi’s jailing is most definitely not about physically protecting the public from Riccardi. It might turn out that it was about protecting the NACFD taxpayers from him. If it turns out he continued to vote on fire district decisions that he has a “substantial interest in,” then maybe his being in jail is protecting Riccardi from himself.