The woman who exchanged suggestive text messages with congressional candidate Steve Montenegro has contradicted the former state senator’s account of the part he played in their “intimate” conversations.
In a statement provided by her attorney, Tom Ryan, she also identified herself to the press February 22 during a press conference at the Senate. Stephanie Holford said she was the digital media coordinator at the state Senate beginning in January 2017, the position she held when she first came to know Montenegro, one of the GOP frontrunners in the Arizona 8th Congressional District primary election.
Ryan said she had sent Montenegro a topless photo among other messages that indicated a relationship between the two.
In her statement read by Ryan, Holford said she and Montenegro often communicated through text messages, which were professional at first but turned personal “in a very short period of time.”
Montenegro began sharing his likes and dislikes for music and food and she said she responded in kind. Many of their conversations took place outside of normal work hours.
“Well, if you are nice to me I’ll take you to my favorite place sometime,” Montenegro texted her in February 2017. “We can invite Mike if you like so it’s a ‘work’ field trip. :)”
In a later conversation, Holford asked whether she should refer to him as “senator” or “Steve,” and he instructed her to use his first name.
Eventually, they began to flirt, she said, and she became comfortable enough with their relationship that she began sending photos “in various states of undress.”
Ryan said Montenegro did not send nude texts of himself, and the relationship was not physical.
“Senator Montenegro asked me to send them on Snapchat instead,” she said. “We engaged in sexual conversation about these pictures. These were detailed and intimate.”
A photo shared with The Arizona Republic and others without her knowledge or consent was not provided to the press in general. Photos shared via Snapchat self-destruct.
Ryan said he has specifically declined to see any of the photos and does not want them to be further disseminated because they were intended to be private.
In addition to naming herself, Holford said her ex-boyfriend obtained the messages and photo to show to the press.
Kent Lyons, the ex-boyfriend, stole her private information off her home computer and social media accounts, and Holford is now considering legal action against him, according to her statement. She believes she has been the victim of revenge porn.
Lyons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ryan said Lyons brought Holford to his office for their initial meeting, where Lyons presented her as a “whistleblower.” But Ryan quickly realized that wasn’t the case – Holford told him she was not there willingly.
“She wanted it shut down,” Ryan said.
“It was never my intent to make this affair public,” he read from Holford’s statement. “But now that my name and image have been brought out in public, I am taking accountability for my part in all of this. I apologize profusely for my involvement in this matter. I want to move on in my efforts to rebuild my life.”
Ryan told the press Montenegro had been “inappropriate from the get-go” and was “grooming” Holford.
Montenegro’s campaign spokesman Constantin Querard did not immediately return a request for comment.
In a 20-minute interview on February 21 with the conservative Washington Examiner, Montenegro accused his opponents of trying to sabotage him, namely Debbie Lesko, his main competitor in the Republican race for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District.
“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.”
Ryan denied any involvement by the Lesko campaign. He said this was only an act of revenge by Lyons.
Whatever Lyons’ intention, Ryan said Holford never wanted to make the matter public. And as her attorney, Ryan said he did his best to keep it confidential.
But press reports soon followed. Then he saw Montenegro’s comments to the Examiner and characterization of news reports on their relationship as “tabloid trash.”
Ryan said, “Let’s be clear. Mr. Montenegro is lying about the whole matter. …He saw her, an attractive young blonde lady, and he went after it.”
Ryan advised Holford to file a formal complaint with the state Senate to seek censure of Montenegro.
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, who left office after asking staffers to be surrogates.
Editor’s note: This story has been revised to reflect that Stephanie Holford did not quit her job at the state Senate.