Steve Montenegro, Republican candidate for CD8, was rocked with allegations of receiving topless photo of stafferEXPAND
Steve Montenegro, Republican candidate for CD8, was rocked with allegations of receiving topless photo of staffer
Gage Skidmore

Revenge Porn? New Details About Topless Photo Sent to Steve Montenegro

The state Senate staffer at the heart of a steamy scandal involving a prominent Arizona GOP candidate for Congress believes she is a victim of revenge porn, her lawyer said on Wednesday.

The scandal involving Steve Montenegro, a former state Senate president who lives in Litchfield Park, threatens to alter the race for the congressional seat vacated by Trent Franks, who resigned in disgrace on December 8 in his own sexually charged scandal.

Montenegro's a lead contender among 16 Republicans in the upcoming February 27 special primary election for the Congressional District 8 job. But perhaps not anymore: News broke on Tuesday that the woman staffer had exchanged flirtatious texts with Montenegro late last year, and that she also sent him a topless photo of herself.

Today, Tom Ryan, a prominent Chandler attorney with a history of tackling government corruption, told New Times that the flirtatious texts and topless photo of his client were "shopped around all over the place. The fellow that did it may be facing criminal charges."

Even though the topless photo wasn't published, Arizona law still allows for a possible felony charge just for revealing such a photo to another person, he said.

Ryan said he was asked by someone to provide counsel to the woman after she found out the texts and photo had been compromised, he said. He said he is not charging her.

An ex-boyfriend obtained the messages and photo from her computer without her knowledge and gave them to a third party, Ryan said.

"This has been incredibly damaging to her," he said.

Ryan would not confirm the name of the third party who received the data originally from the ex-boyfriend. The man then "shopped" them around to the news media. (New Times was not solicited, by the way.) That man, rumored to be another local attorney, declined to talk about the situation with New Times.

Ryan also would not confirm the name his client. But through details he gave, New Times can confirm the woman is Stephanie Holford, the digital media coordinator for the Arizona State Senate Republican Caucus.

The woman didn't go into work today and isn't sure she'll ever return following the front-page scandal story in the Republic, Ryan said.

New Times could not reach Holford on her office phone at the state senate or the cell phone she uses for the job. She didn't return a message on her cell phone.

Mike Philipsen, the state senate Republican Caucus spokesman, apparently worked closely with Holford — his name appears with hers in state senate news releases as media contacts for the legislative body. Philipsen had no comment about the scandal.

Philipsen also said that neither Montenegro nor Holford had a state mobile phone, meaning the texts and photo may not be public record.

How the Montenegro flap will affect the CD8 race is uncertain. With the primary a week away, most voters have already submitted their ballots by mail.

As Channel 12 News and the Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday, "the texts suggest a close, consensual relationship, albeit between an ambitious elected official and someone in an entry-level legislative job."

The accusation must be particularly painful for Montenegro, who's married and touts himself as a family-values Christian. He put out a response to the article on Tuesday night, declaring it "false tabloid trash."

He didn't return a message from Phoenix New Times.

The scandal also comes a few weeks after the Legislature booted out Representative Don Shooter, a Yuma Republican, after sexual harassment allegations.

Torunn Sinclair, chair of the Arizona Republican Party, issued a somewhat circumspect comment to New Times about Montenegro's troubles: "We’re not in the business of telling Republicans who they should and shouldn’t vote for in primaries. The voters living in Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District are smart. They can decide, based upon the information they have, how to cast their ballot.”

The state Democratic Party, naturally, used the scandal to pump up the two Democrats running for CD8.

"In this Special Election, Arizonans in the 8th Congressional District have a clear choice – either choose the GOP chaos that resembles Rep. Trent Franks' failures, or choose Arizona Democrats who will fight to protect healthcare and fight for hardworking Arizonans," spokesman Enrique Gutierrez said in a written statement. "Come April 24th, Arizonans in the 8th Congressional District will have a Democratic Congresswoman representing their interests."

Holford, it turns out, is a convicted felon who — records show — was released from prison in 2015 after serving a seven-year sentence in Pima County for aggravated assault, criminal damage, and endangerment.

Court records show that Holford plowed into an airport shuttle van in December 2006 while drunk, injuring three people.

Philipsen, spokesman for the state senate, said the Legislature knew about her record when she was hired on January 3, 2017. In response to a question from New Times, he said that Montenegro had nothing to do with her being hired.

Ryan said his client did once make "a huge mistake."

"She's gone through the agonies of the damned," he said. But she paid the price and was "trying to get her life back in order" when she met "the shithead," Montenegro.

She's a victim twice over in this, Ryan explained — burned by her ex-boyfriend who obtained her topless photo and texts, and burned by a powerful ex-state senator who's a "moral toad."

"This is a guy who wanted sexual gratification by getting what he wanted, which is her picture," Ryan said of Montenegro.

His client was not necessarily a "willing player," in that she didn't understand Montenegro's power games, Ryan said. In any case, Montenegro simply had no business getting involved in a relationship with his client, he said.

Ryan said he'd like to file an official complaint with current state Senate President Steve Yarbrough. But he hinted that and other action could be on its way.

"While I agreed that the act of offering to show a photo that was intended to be private could be an act of revenge porn, I want to be clear that I have no authority to make that report or claim against anyone in this matter … yet," Ryan said.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >