PHOENIX — Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting won four awards in the Arizona Newspapers Association’s 2017 Better Newspapers Contest, including two prestigious Freedom of Information Awards that recognize exceptional watchdog reporting through the use of public records.

AZCIR Senior Reporter Evan Wyloge won an FOI Award for his reporting on the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office spending nearly $500,000 to design a campaign finance website that was never used. Acting on a tip, Wyloge sought records from the office of Secretary of State Michele Reagan. Although the office was initially unwilling to discuss the project or acknowledge how much had been spent, the records showed that the website was built and, inexplicably, never used.

AZCIR reporters Emily Mahoney and Agnel Philip also won an FOI Award for their extensive use of public records in a groundbreaking analysis of Arizona’s civil asset forfeiture program. After building a database of all law enforcement agency expenditures of seized assets, Mahoney and Philip discovered that roughly 10 percent of all such expenditures in a five-year period, or $20 million, was not properly reported. Policymakers concluded that more oversight was needed, and consequently HB 2477 passed the Legislature nearly unanimously and became law in August.

AZCIR also won two first-place awards for its work.

Crystal’s Cage, the harrowing tale of the life and death of a three-year-old girl and the twenty-year investigation that followed, by Justin Price, Brandon Quester and Evan Wyloge, won first place for investigative reporting among daily publications with a circulation under 25,000.

And AZCIR’s in-depth analysis of model bills pushed by Arizona lawmakers, by Evan Wyloge, Sarah Jarvis and Justin Price, won first place for enterprise reporting among daily publications with a circulation under 25,000.

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