First off, I wish to commend Shane Wikfors of the Sonoran Alliance blog for removing an article by the Sonoran News' Linda Bentley claiming "massive voter registration fraud" in the petitions recalling state Senate President Russell Pearce.
I raised the issue with Wikfors during a back and forth in the comments section to a blog item he posted recently, and though Wikfors was skeptical, he removed the item, in which Bentley smears American citizen and Mesa resident Benita Lantigua, reveals her address, and suggests her as the main example of the "fraud" Bentley claims in her story.
Bentley also suggested that Lantigua may have committed bigamy. Her boss, Sonoran News editor/publisher Don Sorchych later editorialized that Lantigua was "likely an illegal."
These allegations are untrue, and are bolstered by no more than Bentley's misreporting and misinterpretation of the facts.
And yet, the Sonoran News refuses to print a retraction, a correction or an apology. Instead, the paper hired Craig Morgan, a high-priced lawyer with the firm Stinson Morrison Hecker to write a letter to Lantigua's attorney, offering Lantigua the chance to pen a 550 word letter to the editor, but no more.
In response, Lantigua's lawyer Sean Larkin fired off a stern letter to Morgan, advising him that this was not good enough.
"Aside from any other resolution or settlement in this matter," Larkin writes, "we expect the Sonoran News to prominently, and contemporaneously, print a full retraction and correction of all the misstatements and wrongful implications concerning Ms. Lantigua's alienage, voter record, voting qualifications, and past and present marital status."
Larkin also noted that attorney Chad Snow, chairman of the recall-Pearce group Citizens for a Better Arizona, had already requested a retraction on Lantigua's behalf in a letter to Sorchych.
And he pointed out that Bentley had repeated her smear of Lantigua in a follow-up article.
"Although I certainly appreciate the hard work you put into preparing your July 22nd letter," stated Larkin. "I must also point out that Ms. Bentley's `reporting' in these articles certainly falls far below any reasonable journalistic ethical or professional standards. At the very least, she was grossly negligent.
"It remains to be seen whether she knew the truth with the first article, or intentionally remained ignorant in light of the numerous disclaimers at the clerk's office regarding the electronic records. And as stated above, with the publication of her second article, she repeated a position she knew to be false."
He continued, observing the obvious:
"Neither Ms. Bentley nor Mr. Sorchych could legally know Ms. Lantigua's immigration status absent her consent. By making unfounded, and unknowable statements concerning her immigration status they are consciously disregarding the truth. Quite frankly, your clients are making accusations against Ms. Lantigua because of race and national origin."
You can read the entire Larkin letter for yourself,here.
Many on the right were quick to take Bentley's article at face value, and it has been republished across the blogosphere, from Web sites for the Maricopa County GOP and the Arizona GOP to the blog sites for Intellectual Conservative Arizona and Examiner.com.
The Sonoran News is small paper, published in hardcopy form biweekly, and distributed mostly in the Cave Creek/Carefree area.
Interestingly, the only other example of "massive voter registration fraud" Bentley offered in her original article concerned a petition signer supposedly named Pederson.
"One man signed and printed his last name `Peterson' quite legibly," Bentley stated. "Due to Peterson being somewhat of a common name, it made more sense to look him up by address. However, the address revealed the registration of a man whose last name was spelled `Pederson.'"
But in e-mail correspondence with concerned reader Mike Wells, Bentley admitted that she had not taken any photographic evidence of the offending Peterson/Pederson entry.
Bentley wrote to Wells that, "I didn't take a screen shot of that one since it was early on in the verification and it wasn't suggested until numerous anomalies came up."
I remain curious about this Bentley claim, and want to review the signature in question and investigate the alleged "anomaly" as Bentley refers to it.
So I contacted Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne. She sent me the following e-mail:
"Do not have enough info to answer the question. Do not have a Peterson/Pederson combination that I could locate. I looked at the article and found no first name. At any rate, we would match the signature and the printing style on his current and past registrations before making the determination."
What I can't figure out, still, is why Bentley would not check with county elections regarding such claims. I don't know if she's stumbled on to something with Pederson/Peterson, or if there is some other explanation. But Bentley remains defiantly incurious about the allegations she's making.
Like the implication that Lantigua had committed bigamy. As I detailed in comments to the Wikfors blog item, this false allegation stems from what were two entries on the Maricopa County Clerk of Court's docket under the name "Benita Dorador."
I pulled both of those public records at the clerk's office, discovering that these were two entirely different women, with similar names and the same birth date.
Lantigua's maiden name is Dorador. The other woman's last name is Valenzuela, though through some glitch the clerk's office had assigned the last name "Dorador" to both women.
Confusing matters is the fact that Lantigua once had the married name "Valenzuela." That is, it's confusing if you don't actually bother to pull the files.
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I raised this issue with the clerk's office. The folks there researched the matter, found that I was right, and corrected the entry.
If Bentley had eyeballed the files, she would have realized the same thing. But then, she could have called elections about the Lantigua entries. She would have been told, as was I, that the county simply had not consolidated the files, and that Lantigua had done nothing wrong, much less illegal.
The trouble this time is that Lantigua's claim is solid and there are lawyers willing to pursue it on Lantigua's behalf. If Bentley and Sorchych think this issue will fade away, it will not. And I will do everything in my power to make sure the story stays alive.