Longform

Arizona AG Tom Horne's Sex Scandal Scuttles Gubernatorial Bid

Picture Elmer Fudd as the lead in Oliver Stone's Nixon, and you've got Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne in a nutshell.

Truly, the FBI's massive, 3,000-plus page investigative file detailing its year-long probe of Horne's office reads like a tragicomic novel wherein a powerful but goofy politician does a colossal belly-flop into a pool of sleaze and chicanery, ending any likelihood that he could become governor someday.


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Lately, Horne is in full-on denial mode, apparently having dodged federal obstruction-of-justice and witness-tampering charges from the FBI inquiry. He still suggests to gullible reporters that he could be a gubernatorial candidate in 2014, though he confesses that simply seeking re-election is more likely.

In October, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery punked out on pursuing state criminal charges against Horne regarding the shenanigans exposed in the FBI's investigation, part of which was conducted with the assistance of Montgomery's office.

Instead, the county attorney opted to pursue a civil penalty against Horne and his 2010 campaign operative, Kathleen Winn, now in charge of outreach for the AG's Office, for alleged coordination between Business Leaders for Arizona, the independent-expenditure committee she ran during the general election, and Horne's own campaign.

Such coordination is illegal under state law and is punishable by civil penalties of three times the amount in question.

The FBI amassed a mountain of circumstantial evidence to back the charge that Winn and Horne colluded in raising more than $500,000 to fund an attack ad against Horne's Democratic opponent, Felecia Rotellini, whom Horne bested statewide by a mere 63,298 votes.

Winn and Horne have a hearing before an administrative law judge in late January. Hypothetically, the judge could fine the pair $1 million each.

Still, Horne and Winn could appeal any such decision, handing the case to county Superior Court. There also are underlying issues concerning the constitutionality of the state statutes involved.

Horne also continues to battle, for the moment, a local criminal traffic charge of vehicular hit-and-run, which occurred March 27 during a rendezvous with his alleged mistress, Assistant Attorney General Carmen Chenal. The fender bender was witnessed by two FBI agents as they dogged Horne.

The State Bar of Arizona is investigating charges that Horne violated ethics rules in relation to the traffic accident and the alleged campaign finance improprieties.

Far worse for Horne than any fine or slap on the wrist by the Bar is the humiliation of the FBI's detailed account of Horne swapping cars, donning a baseball cap, stopping off for takeout from Pita Jungle, and rear-ending an SUV before he and Chenal ended up back at her Roosevelt Street apartment.

The hit-and-run alone might buy him a one-way ticket to the political graveyard. And the continued employment of his girlfriend as an assistant AG at a six-figure salary remains a colossal embarrassment, one that had the potential to land Horne in the federal pen for a variety of crimes he may have committed in an effort to keep clandestine his extramarital affair.


Horne's inner circle is a tightly knit, dysfunctional little bunch. Many served Horne during his eight years as state Superintendent of Public Instruction. They worked on his campaigns and followed him from the Department of Education to the AG's Office after his election in 2010.

Among these are longtime spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico, chief of staff Margaret Dugan, policy specialist Doug Nick, and Sharon Collins, head of constituent services at his Tucson office.

His second-in-command, Rick Bistrow, is Horne's former law partner. They go back to Horne's days as a Democrat, when they both sat on the governing board of the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

Then there's Chenal, whose ex-husband, Thomas Chenal, works for the AG as chief counsel for public advocacy. The Chenals divorced in 1999.

Most of Chenal's legal experience has been in construction and real estate law. She briefly was a partner in Horne's law firm before Horne became state school superintendent in 2003.

In January 2006, at Horne's prompting, the Department of Education hired Chenal as a program specialist in special education at a salary of nearly $63,000 a year, a pay rate that would increase to $80,000.

As was originally reported by New Times in 2006 ("Changing the Chenal," April 27), Chenal was hired to this position despite no experience working in special education.

Her law license recently had been suspended, and she was placed on two years' probation by the State Bar of Arizona for serious ethical and legal lapses, such as bouncing checks to the clerk of court, altering a letter from an expert witness in a medical-malpractice case, and taking a domestic-relations case in Illinois, where she was not authorized to practice.

Chenal declared bankruptcy in 2004. She had a DUI charge from 2001 on her record that she pleaded down to reckless driving.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons