Clifford Curry seems really good at his job.
He collected hundreds of signatures for candidates running for governor, Congress and the Legislature.
On just one day alone, Curry collected 200 signatures for Mark Syms, the independent candidate running for the Senate in Legislative District 28. That’s more than 16 times the average 12 signatures collected on a daily basis by other petition gatherers.
And that’s just one of the issues with the signatures Curry collected that stood out to attorneys who challenged Syms’ nominating petitions for alleged forgery.
In addition to Syms, Curry collected signatures for three other candidates whose nominating petitions have also been challenged, and two of the campaigns were abolished.
But no one knows who Curry is.
Curry listed his address at a downtown Phoenix homeless shelter on the nominating petitions. Court and property records searches did not turn up any records related to someone with that name.
Lisa Glow, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, where Curry listed his address, said she could not confirm if he was currently staying or had previously stayed at the shelter. She said there are other services offered at the South 12th Avenue address and sometimes people who have used services there will list the address as their residence even if they haven’t stayed at the shelter.
And Curry isn’t the only common thread between the four candidates.
The Arizona Capitol Times reviewed each of the candidates’ nominating petitions that were turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office and found that several other circulators worked for more than one of the candidates. At least two other circulators the candidates had in common, Alicia Joann Smith and Eric Dwayne Pearson, also listed their address at the homeless shelter.
Three of the candidates also hired the same signature-collecting firm.
In a complaint filed June 13 against Republican Sandra Dowling, who is running for the 8th Congressional District, attorney Kory Langhofer questioned the legitimacy of at least 222 signatures that were collected by Curry. Langhofer alleged that Curry forged or falsified the signatures, arguing that the signatures on the sheets Curry circulated appeared in consecutive, or nearly consecutive order, based on numbered addresses, were written in the same handwriting, and he had an unusually high collection rate.
Curry faces similar fraud allegations in a complaint Langhofer filed against Syms on June 11, and in a complaint filed against Rep. Ray Martinez, D-Phoenix, who was seeking to fill the vacant Senate seat in Legislative District 30.
Langhofer also questioned several petition sheets submitted by someone purporting to be Anthony Garcia, a veteran petition circulator. The attorney alleged that the petitions were circulated by someone falsely claiming to be Garcia and using a fake address. The petition challenge against Syms also claims that someone falsely claiming to be Garcia collected signatures for him. The person purporting to be Garcia listed two different addresses on Dowling’s and Syms’ nominating petitions.
On most of the petition sheets circulated by the other circulators the candidates have in common, the signers’ addresses are also listed in numerical order, the voter information is written in similar handwriting and they are signed by every registered voter who resides at the address.
Langhofer argued in the complaints that it was “highly unlikely” that this could occur given that during the course of signature gathering, circulators will often encounter people who will refuse to answer the door or decline to sign the petition.
He alleged that the circulators likely filled out the nominating petitions using voter registration rolls and then forged the signatures themselves, adding that many of the signatures were similar in size, spacing and had the same slant.
The circulators also all had high collection rates and high validity rates, meaning that most of the signatures collected are associated with voters in that district, which the attorney also said is unusual.
The circulators’ signatures themselves also varied from sheet to sheet. For example, a woman named Renae Young who collected signatures for several candidates sometimes signed her name “RY,” “Renae Y,” or her full name.
Langhofer alleged that some of the circulators were recruited by a man named Larry Herrera, according to the Dowling complaint.
Dowling told the Arizona Capitol Times that she hired Herrera to help her gather signatures after he was “highly recommended” to her by several people.
Gubernatorial candidate Ken Bennett, whose petitions were also challenged for alleged forgery, said Herrera reached out to his campaign while both parties were collecting signatures during the “Red for Ed” rally at the Capitol and offered to collect signatures on his behalf. Bennett said he had never heard of Herrera before.
Among the more than 1,300 signatures attorneys challenged in the Bennett complaint are several collected by Curry. A review of Bennett’s nominating petitions found that another resident of the downtown Phoenix homeless shelter, Joe Lozano, also collected signatures for him.
Dowling and Bennett said they have never met Curry and have never heard of him before.
The Arizona Republic reported that Syms’ campaign also hired Herrera.
Syms did not immediately return a request for comment.
Herrera, a Clean Elections candidate who was running as a Democrat for the Senate in Legislative District 20, is also facing fraud allegations.
Herrera withdrew from the race after the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office invalidated 101 of the 200 $5 Clean Elections qualifying contributions he filed because, among other reasons, the signatures on the sheets did not match those on voter registration records, including four that were signed in the name of dead people.
While he eventually qualified for $16,995 in Clean Elections funding after turning in a supplemental batch of signatures, the Citizens Clean Elections Commission withheld funding from Herrera until the problems with his signatures could be further investigated.
During a meeting on April 3, Herrera told the commission that he collected 30 to 35 of the initial 200 signatures, mostly from friends and family, none of whom were flagged as deceased. The rest of the signatures were collected by volunteers, he said. Herrera said he collected 115 of the second batch of signatures.
However, a review of his qualifying contributions by the Arizona Capitol Times found that Herrera was listed as the solicitor on almost all of the sheets. His signature though, appeared to vary from sheet to sheet.
The commission has since asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the matter.
AG spokesman Ryan Anderson confirmed that the agency received the complaint on June 11 and is reviewing the matter. He could not provide details about the case.
Anderson said the Herrera complaint is the only current complaint the office is reviewing related to petition signatures or petition gathering.
A review of Herrera’s nominating petitions also found that at least five people who circulated petitions for him all listed their address at a home or complex on East Kathleen Road, the same address that the fake Anthony Garcia listed on Dowling’s petition.
But while Garcia and the other circulators all listed the same street address, they listed varying zip codes – 85302, 85304 and 85053. Such an address doesn’t exist at any of those zip codes. The zip code for an apartment complex on East Kathleen Road is 85032.
Herrera did not respond to several requests for comment and no one answered the door at his north Phoenix home.
The allegations and subsequent investigations have derailed two of the candidates’ campaigns.
Martinez was kicked off the August 28 primary ballot after the court found that he didn’t have enough signatures to qualify. The County Recorder’s Office invalidated 420 of the 429 signatures that were challenged, including 105 in which the signature on the sheet didn’t match those on record.
The county invalidated 1,675 signatures Syms turned in, leaving him 767 signatures shy of the 1,250 he needed to qualify for the November general election ballot.
The lawsuits against Dowling and Bennett were dismissed after the Recorder’s Office found that they had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, despite dozens of signatures that were invalidated because they didn’t match those on record.