KINGMAN – Fire district director Vic Riccardi was offered a plea bargain prior to the Dec. 20 Superior Court hearing in which he was handcuffed and jailed without bond over the holidays, the lead prosecutor said Thursday.
Riccardi, 81, remains in county jail on two felony counts of misuse of official position and failure to refrain from participating in a vote at the Sept. 27 meeting of the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District.
He is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before Superior Court Judge Rick Lambert, but that may be postponed after Riccardi dumped Jacob Chavez as his public defender and hired JacksonWhite law firm from Mesa to represent him.
Arizona’s constitution states that anyone who commits a crime while they’re on release for another felony must be held without bond, said James Schoppmann, chief deputy for Mohave County Attorney’s office and lead prosecutor in the Riccardi case.
“Our office does that routinely on low-level felonies – drug offenses, trespassers, burglaries,” Schoppmann said. “Public officials shouldn’t be treated any differently than the average defendant. There’s no special treatment and no harsher treatment.”
Riccardi was indicted by a grand jury in June for conflict of interest in regard to a $1,357 payment for mechanical work performed on a NACFD fire truck at Riccardi’s auto shop in Valle Vista.
This case could have been resolved the day the complaint was filed, Schoppmann said.
There were plea offers made from the beginning, including one in August that required Riccardi to pay back the $1,357 and accept a misdemeanor “undesignated offense,” but he rejected it and requested a jury trial, the county attorney said.
Riccardi committed a Class 6 felony when he voted Sept. 27 on Mohave County Attorney’s request to waive attorney and client privilege for the May 18 executive session minutes in which the topic of the payment to Riccardi’s auto shop was discussed.
The grand jury indictment charges that Riccardi and board clerk Sue Wilkin had a “substantial interest in a decision of the fire district,” and violated conflict of interest by failing to refrain from voting on the motion. Wilkins issued and delivered the check to Riccardi’s shop.
“Essentially, they didn’t recuse themselves from voting on an item they had interest in,” Schoppmann said.
The vote was 3-2, with Riccardi, Wilkin and Board Chairwoman Patty Lewis in favor, and directors Mike Collins and Jim Bailey opposed.
“I personally don’t think the board should spend taxpayer money to keep these minutes back,” Collins said at the special meeting. “I think we need transparency.”
“Executive session is not to be transparent,” Wilkin responded.
Bailey said the fire district is wasting money because “we’re going to end up in court anyway.”
Schoppmann filed a motion in Superior Court on Wednesday to obtain executive session minutes from a Dec. 7 meeting as soon as possible, and in response to defendant Wilkin’s motion to quash a subpoena.
NACFD has already complied with the subpoena and the decision to allow the subpoena was made by the court.
Also, the defendant’s argument about “circular reasoning” ignores the evidence and law in these cases, Schoppman asserted.
“The disclosure clearly indicates that the issue of paying Riccardi was brought up at the May 18 meeting which led to an executive session in the issue,” the court filing states.
“When Wilkin and Riccardi voted against the release of the minutes in September, they were already under indictment for the use of public funds to benefit Riccardi.”
The directors knew they had an interest in the decision to use public funds to pay Riccardi to work on the fire struck, submit an invoice and deliver the check for $1,357.
“The state’s case does not hinge on whether the executive session contains a smoking gun,” Schoppmann stated in his motion. “Rather, it is based upon the defendants using their official position and failing to recuse themselves in a matter that directly impacted their personal position in more than a remote way.”
Also, the state learned that Lewis paid about $8,000 to hire a private attorney for Riccardi.