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Investigation of Arizona Attorney General includes tawdry elements

Arizona's Attorney General Tom Horne files lawsuit against drug wholesaler

Attorney General Tom Horne (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

An otherwise dry campaign finance case involving Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne also has its tabloid elements, documents released by prosecutors this week showed.

The documents, which include 3,200 pages of interview transcripts and other records, contain details on FBI surveillance on Horne, inquiries into whether Horne was having an affair with an associate and questions of whether female employees were competing for Horne’s affection.

The documents released by Maricopa County prosecutors in response to public records requests disclose that the FBI had Horne under surveillance on at least two occasions earlier this year, including one time that led to a police investigation of an alleged hit-and-run accident.

The incident involved a borrowed car allegedly driven by Horne while going with a female assistant attorney general to the female attorney’s apartment complex.

The March bumper-touch occurred at a time when a lawyer for a Horne political ally implicated in the campaign finance case was complaining to prosecutors that out-of-control FBI agents were asking attorney general employees about whether Horne was having an affair.

The investigation apparently resulted from Horne’s own launching of an internal investigation into whether somebody in the office leaked information that resulted in a 2011 Phoenix New Times story about Horne and Carmen Chenal, an assistant attorney general and longtime Horne associate.

Amid speculation by Horne and others in his office about the leaker’s identify and motives, the leak probe was conducted by an attorney general’s investigator who served on an FBI task force. In the course of the never-completed leak investigation, the investigator secretly reported to the FBI that she’d heard talk of possible campaign finance law violations by Horne.

The documents indicate that the FBI’s investigation focused on the campaign finance allegations — which Horne and the ally have denied. However, investigators also heard about rumors of Horne having an affair and complaints of Horne considering political ties but ignoring work qualifications in personnel matters.

Horne’s lawyer complained about the surveillance in a May 31 letter to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, whose office was partnering with the FBI on the investigation.

It “would appear to have little relevance to obtaining facts about alleged misconduct in an election campaign that allegedly occurred over a year ago,” attorney Michael Kimerer wrote.

Citing the ongoing police investigation of the alleged hit-and-run, FBI spokeswoman Brenda Nath declined to comment on surveillance of Horne, including its purpose and whether agents were authorized to conduct it.

A Republican political consultant who contributed $100 to Horne’s 2010 campaign said the timing of the FBI surveillance raises questions of whether authorities gave adequate consideration to the rights of those involved by apparently casting a broad net.

“Having observed these types of things over the years, it can be very chilling,” said Doug Cole, who with other aides to then-Gov. Fife Symington was questioned about a never-proved allegation of attempted jury tampering in Symington’s 1997 fraud trial.

A Democratic legislator who has called for Horne’s resignation said it’s troubling that the FBI had Arizona’s attorney general under surveillance more than a year after the alleged campaign finance violations occurred.

“You have the top law enforcement officer who is generally the one doing the surveillance (but who) is being watched by the FBI,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo. “I think that’s a big red flag.”

Phoenix police are investigating the alleged hit-and-run, which a police spokesman said was referred to the police on Oct. 1 by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

According to a memo written by a county attorney’s investigator and a transcript of an FBI interview with an attorney general’s employee, FBI agents observed a March 27 collision between a car driven by Horne and a Range Rover parked near Chenal’s residence in Phoenix.

According to the memo, FBI agents saw Horne and Chenal leave the Attorney General’s building and drive separately to a nearby parking garage, where they left together in a vehicle that Chenal had borrowed from a fellow employee.

Horne, a 67-year-old Republican, is a Harvard-educated lawyer who served in the Arizona House for two terms in the 1990s before being elected state superintendent of public instruction in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. After winning a hard-fought Republican primary, he narrowly defeated Democrat Felecia Rotellini in the 2010 general election for attorney general.

Horne is married, and he and his wife have four grown children.

Horne, interviewed Oct. 1 about the alleged hit-and-run, has said he didn’t leave a note on the other vehicle, which he hit while backing up, because he didn’t see any damage.

He didn’t return calls from The Associated Press about the surveillance and related circumstances, and Phoenix television station KSAZ reported that Horne refused to answer when he was asked whether he had an inappropriate relationship with Chenal.

Horne spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico declined to comment when asked by the AP whether Horne and Chenal had a romantic relationship, but the longtime Horne aide said Horne and Chenal had been “colleagues and friends for a long time,” including from their years in private law practice.

Rezzonico said Horne told her he remembered parking in an area used for restaurant parking. “I’m not aware of what he did beyond parking in the public parking area,” she said.

Chenal did not respond to inquiries from the AP.

As an assistant attorney general, Chenal works in the criminal division and handles extraditions. Her salary is $109,000.

She went to work for the Attorney General’s Office in 2011, the same year that the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated her law license.

The state high court suspended Chenal’s law license in 2005 because of numerous violations of legal ethics rules while a lawyer in private practice. Those included bouncing checks to a court, failing to file an appeal for a client and filing a notice to appear in a court where she was not admitted to practice.

In subsequent years before becoming an assistant attorney general, Chenal previously worked for the state Department of Education while Horne headed that agency as the elected state superintendent of public instruction. Initially hired as a program specialist in 2006, she was elevated, after several promotions, to executive director in mid-2010. By then, her salary was nearly $80,150.

Chenal so far has not publicly figured in the campaign finance matter that involves Horne and Kathleen Winn, director of community outreach and education for Horne’s office.

In the campaign finance case, Montgomery’s office contends that Horne discussed fundraising and advertising strategy with Winn, who operated a separate campaign group supporting Horne in the 2010 general election.

Winn and Horne have denied illegal coordination in the general election campaign, but Montgomery’s office concluded the FBI investigation turned up evidence of coordination.

Montgomery announced Oct. 1 he will begin civil proceedings — but not file criminal charges — against the Horne campaign and Winn’s group, which spent $500,000 for a TV ad attacking Horne’s opponent.

Horne’s lawyer has said his client had extensive discussions with Winn during that period about real estate transactions and other non-campaign matters. Winn said she severely limited her role in Horne’s campaign during the general election because she was leading the so-called independent expenditure committee.

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