The FBI began investigating Attorney General Tom in January, a revelation that undermines his assertion that the investigation is based solely on the claims of a disgruntled employee who was trying to avoid being fired.
Records from the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, first reported Friday by the Arizona Republic, show that the federal investigation began before Don Dybus, an attorney with Horne’s Tucson office, filed a complaint with Secretary of State Ken Bennett on Feb. 11.
Assistant Secretary of State Jim Drake said a law enforcement agency made a verbal request on Jan. 11 for campaign finance records from Horne’s campaign and the independent expenditure group Business Leaders for Arizona, as well as Horne’s financial disclosure statements from 2009, 2010 and 2011.
A source familiar with the investigation confirmed that the request was made by the FBI.
Dybus’ complaint alleges that Horne illegally collaborated with BLA Chairwoman Kathleen Winn, who worked on Horne’s campaign during the GOP primary, and that he promised her a job with the Attorney General’s Office in exchange for her work on the independent expenditure. Winn serves as Horne’s community outreach director.
BLA spent more than a half million dollars in October 2010 on attack ads against Felecia Rotellini, Horne’s Democratic opponent.
Horne denied the allegations in the complaint and said Dybus only filed it because he knew he was about to be fired and he wanted to give himself whistleblower protection. Dybus told the Arizona Capitol Times that Rick Bistrow, Horne’s chief deputy, and James Keppel, the former head of the office’s criminal division, had been trying to fire him for nearly a year.
But emails between the Secretary of State’s Office and the unnamed law enforcement agency – the office redacted names and email addresses from the emails – show that the investigation began before Dybus filed his complaint.
In a Feb. 21 email, Drake told the investigators, “I’ve received a complaint in regard to the Tom Horne matter.”
Drake received a response about an hour later thanking him for his help. “Our office will take appropriate action,” the email read.
In a separate email that day, Elections Director Amy Chan informs investigators that Winn came to the Secretary of State’s Office to amend one of BLA’s campaign finance reports. The amendment removed $160,000 in debt BLA reported owing to Lincoln Strategy Group, a political consulting firm hired by the independent group. Dybus’ complaint also alleges collaboration between Lincoln and Horne’s campaign.
The FBI would neither confirm nor deny that it is investigation Horne, which is standard protocol for the agency.
Horne spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said the attorney general never said the FBI investigation began with Dybus’ complaint, only that the complaint was motivated by Dybus’ desire to not be fired. She said the FBI has not contacted Horne, but that he and others had heard rumors of a federal investigation.
“We by no means asserted that Don Dybus’ complaint initiated the FBI investigation. We don’t know who initiated it,” Rezzonico said.