Phoenix resident Judi Villa got a surprise in the mail last month.
The 64-year-old grandmother opened a large envelope containing a “Thank You” note from Rep. Catherine Miranda for her $5 contribution to the Legislative District 27 candidate’s Clean Elections campaign.
There was also a copy of a qualifying contribution form with her misspelled name signed in a flourish on the signature line.
“I go, ‘That’s not my signature,’” said Villa, whose daughter, Alisha Villa, also got a similar note from Miranda and a Clean Elections form she says has a forgery of her signature. Both women say they didn’t contribute a dime or sign anything for Miranda, who finished second in a three-way Democratic primary. They filed complaints with the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
“If this form was made out for me, how many others were made out?” Villa said.
Miranda’s attorney, Tom Ryan, said Miranda enlisted the help of family and volunteers to collect signatures. He pointed out that the form is missing the signature of the circulator, but it wasn’t Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, who was the circulator.
“Whoever it was that actually prepared this form, whoever that person is, that’s the one who committed a forgery, if a forgery, in fact, occurred here,” Ryan said.
And while the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office acknowledge Miranda is under criminal investigation, the significance of the Villas’ claims is unknown. Most details of two separate probes are being kept secret.
Ryan said he is also in the dark, even though he has reached out to election officials.
But Ryan said Miranda has fully explained herself to Clean Elections officials in the forgery matter.
He said as the deadline neared to submit her $5 qualifying contributions and accompanying signatures, Miranda realized there were several without circulator signatures.
Ryan said she checked with Clean Elections and was told she had to submit the forms anyway, which she did.
As Miranda waited to learn if she qualified for public campaign funds, she decided to go with a traditionally funded campaign instead, and sent each Clean Elections contributor a letter thanking them for their support, informing them of her change of plans and soliciting them for a traditional contribution, Ryan said.
She also included a copy of the Clean Elections qualifying contribution form for each individual.
“If there was an intent to defraud or cover up or anything like that, why would she send the actual form back to the people themselves,”
Ryan said. “Every one of the contributors got that letter.”
The Secretary of State’s Office has made two referrals to the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s Office. While the Secretary of State’s Office has confirmed one has to do with questions surrounding the high number of invalid signatures on Miranda’s qualifying forms, both agencies refuse to say what the second probe is about.
State Election Director Amy Chan stated in a Sept. 7 letter to the attorney general that the invalid signatures merited “a review by your office for determination of whether wrongdoing may have been a factor in these irregularities, whether on the part of the candidate or a person or persons unknown.” Chan also makes reference to the Villa complaints in her letter.
Miranda failed to qualify for Clean Elections funding this year after an examination of her signatures by county election officials found that 19 percent, or 48 of 251 signatures submitted, were invalid.
Miranda said at the time that her invalid signatures were the result of a large senior citizen base of support and their handwriting had changed over the years, which caused them not to match with signatures on file with the Maricopa County Elections Department.
An analysis of the voters’ birthdates for each of the 37 signatures that didn’t match revealed that only eight came from voters older than 65.
“The Clean Elections issue raised our eyebrows in the office and caused us to look into the rest of her paperwork she filed with our office during this election cycle,” said Matt Roberts, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.
Roberts and Attorney General Spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico have declined to comment further.
The Secretary of State’s Office disclosed to the Arizona Capitol Times a Sept. 13 referral letter to the Attorney General’s Office about a second probe, but portions that discuss the secretary of state’s preliminary investigation are redacted.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Drake explained in a letter to the Capitol Times that the redactions were in the best interest of the state while the investigation is underway and that they refer to “thought processes” of the secretary of state investigators.