Saying she wants to clear up “loose talk,’’ Gov. Janet Napolitano called the news media together Monday to detail what she said is the success of a program targeted at taking the money of human smugglers.
Napolitano said a practice known as “damming warrants’’ has resulted in the state seizing $15 million in the last year from 12,400 wire transfers. The name comes from the procedure which allows state prosecutors to get a court order to “dam’’ up wire transfers unless and until the person to whom the money was being sent can show that the cash is for a legal purpose.
The governor also said 160 people have been arrested.
And although the program has been going on for more than a year — and the law dates back to even before Napolitano was elected in 2002 — the governor said Monday’s decision to call a news conference was not designed to bolster her chances of re-election.
“It’s important for the people of Arizona to know what’s been going on because there’s a lot of loose talk,’’ Napolitano said.
She said that until now there have been “matters that we’re not free to talk about because they were in the process of investigation.’’ Some of the larger “damming warrants’’ have become public over the last few weeks, she said.
“So it became appropriate to give you a sense of the whole project and the scope of the whole project,’’ said Napolitano, who has been under fire from many Republican legislators who say she had done little to cut the flow of people coming into this country illegally.
Assistant attorney general Cameron Holmes said prosecutors use a computer algorithm to review every money transfer sent into Arizona. He said these tend to be in amounts between $800 and $1,500, usually representing final payments to smugglers for ferrying people across the border.
Then, armed with a court warrant, the funds are put into a special fund. The intended recipient then can call a tollfree number to reclaim; if they do not make a claim, the cash is forfeited to the state.
Holmes said that the prosecutors listen to the claims of those who call and free up the cash if the person makes a convincing argument that the money is meant for legitimate purposes. He said that a dispute never has gone to court; there have been no situations where someone has sued after prosecutors do not accept the explanation.