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Senate staffer may be victim of ‘revenge porn’ shared in connection with Montenegro

Attorney Tom Ryan (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

Attorney Tom Ryan is representing a woman who left her job at the Senate on Feb. 21, 2018, following news reports regarding suggestive text messages she exchanged with former state Sen. Steve Montenegro. (Photo by Gary Grado, Arizona Capitol Times)

A woman whose text messages with former state Sen. Steve Montenegro were shared with news outlets believes she is a victim of revenge porn, her attorney said Feb. 21.

Attorney Tom Ryan also told the Arizona Capitol Times may leave town in the wake of reports regarding suggestive text conversations she had with Montenegro, who is a leading candidate in the Feb. 27 Arizona 8th Congressional District GOP primary.

Ryan said the woman’s ex-boyfriend obtained the text messages, which included a topless photo she sent to Montenegro, without her knowledge or consent. He declined to confirm the identity of either his client or her ex.

The photo has not been published but was shared with multiple reporters.

Ryan said the ex stole material from his client’s computer at her home on multiple occasions.

“There’s nothing trustworthy about that person,” Ryan said.

Before news reports were released this week, Ryan said he emailed his client’s ex to make his position “abundantly clear” – that the man should destroy the materials he took and not show or discuss them with anyone.

“And then I find out that not only has he shown stuff to people, he’s shopped it all over the (expletive) town,” Ryan said.

According to Arizona law, it is a crime to share photos depicting an identifiable person nude or engaged in specific sexual activities without his or her consent if the intent is to harm, harass or intimidate that person.

Ryan said his client is “devastated” and “destroyed,” and he has advised her of her options regarding any allegation of violating the law. However, he was unsure if she would ever take a complaint to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Ryan further advised her to file a formal complaint with the state Senate to seek censure, though he doubted that would ever materialize either because of the impact the press attention has had on his client.

“If the stories in the media are accurate, this is a state senator that took advantage of a vulnerable person,” Ryan said. “If those stories are true, then he is a loathsome, disgusting creature, and he should not be in public office at all.”

However, Montenegro granted a 20-minute interview to the conservative Washington Examiner Feb. 21 during which he accused his opponents of sabotaging his career.  

“I want you to know I did not have any inappropriate relationships with this woman,” Montenegro told the Examiner. “At no time have I been inappropriately involved with any staffer – nor have I ever. I have not solicited inappropriate material via text message or any other message.”

Texts as reported on by 12 News and The Arizona Republic indicate he did not tell her to stop.

He did confirm the messages to the woman were his, and claimed that he told his wife about the nude photo shortly after receiving it. After that, he said he broke off all communication with the woman.

“If there is anything I would say I’m guilty of, it’s becoming too comfy or familiar as seen in some of those texts,” he said, according to the Examiner.

Montenegro resigned his Senate seat in December to run in the special election for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District following the resignation of former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks.

But Ryan said he can still be censured for the record.

“It’s not necessarily about that person,” he said. “It’s about protecting your staff and protecting your members from someone in a position of authority from taking advantage of that, from taking advantage of people in a vulnerable position.”

Ryan said Montenegro encouraged the woman’s flirtations rather than telling her to stop when their conversations were “inappropriate” and reflected a non-professional relationship.

He said a sitting senator, as Montenegro was when he exchanged messages with the woman, should never have any such relationship with a staffer.

However, the Senate has no written policy barring senators from engaging in relationships with staff.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect that Stephanie Holford did not quit her job at the state Senate.

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