Councilman Sal DiCiccio Makes Call for Lobbying, Ethical Reforms Despite His Lobbyist Ties and Campaign Irregularities

Can someone get Councilman Sal DiCiccio a towel?

The District 6 representative is dripping in irony after his latest call for "significant reforms" at Phoenix City Hall, including "ending lobbyist nepotism and implementing policies to end personal ties between elected officials and their staffs."

Perhaps DiCiccio forgot about his own very close "personal ties" with union-boss-turned-lobbyist Billy Shields, with Shields' wife, Lora Villasenor, and with Shields' brother-in-law, Joe Villasenor?

Aside from his ironic bluster, there appear to be irregularities in DiCiccio's campaign, including that one of his city council aides is coordinating with a Phoenix-area Tea Party to pepper District 6 neighborhoods with pro-DiCiccio literature.

DiCiccio hasn't yet returned calls for comment.

DiCiccio, who is a vocal critic of unions these days, doesn't mention that former firefighter union boss Billy Shields worked hard behind the scenes to get him appointed to the Phoenix City Council when then-District 6 Councilman Greg Stanton left office to take a job with the Attorney General's Office.

And DiCiccio hired Lora Villasenor as his top aide during his first stint on the council back in the mid-1990s. She also worked on his 2009 election campaign when ran to hang on to the District 6 seat he'd been appointed to.

Joe Villasenor, Billy Shields' brother-in-law, is a director of Citizens Protecting Tax Payers, an Arizona corporation that DiCiccio formed in 2011. And Villasenor was still onboard when the paperwork was last updated in January.

And though DiCiccio is blustering about ethical reforms, the corporation he created has come under fire because he transferred to it all the campaign contributions -- more than $120,000 -- he'd raise to fend off a recall election against him.

That recall election never went anywhere, but it didn't stop DiCiccio from reaching out to corporate giants in Phoenix and pocketing pretty significant donations.

American Outdoor Advertising handed him $8,000, Summit Builders forked over $5,000, and $3,000 came from Grossman Properties. All told, according to complaints filed against DiCiccio with the Phoenix City Clerk's Office, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and the Arizona Secretary of State, the councilman receive more than $40,000 in corporate contributions.

All those political contributions were funneled into Committee Citizens Protecting Taxpayers in Opposition to RC-2-11, the anti-recall group that DiCiccio launched in April 2011. When that committee was terminated in October 2011, all the leftover money was transferred to DiCiccio's the two-month-old corporation Citizens Protecting Tax Payers.

State law doesn't allow money to be transferred to a corporation, and it specifically states that it "shall not be used for or converted to the personal use of the . . . candidate, in the case of a candidate's campaign committee, or any person related to the candidate by blood or marriage."

"This 'corporation' is simply a bank account and vehicle for self-promotion, controlled by Mr. DiCiccio, personally," states a June 19 complaint authored by Coppersmith Schermer & Brockelman, the firm representing the Phoenix residents who believe that DiCiccio is violating state campaign-finance laws.

We checked the Citizens Protecting Taxpayers website and it is no longer active, but a cached version shows that it was active as late as June 11.

Phoenix residents Jane McNamara, Kim Rosenthal, and Madeleine Kesselman also filed a complaint on June 19 with the Maricopa County Superior Court and a motion for a temporary restraining order against DiCiccio to stop spending the money -- which has largely been used to issue self-promoting e-mails.

About those other campaign irregularities littering DiCiccio's campaign trail . . .

With just weeks before the August 27 election, pro-DiCiccio literature has been showing up at the homes of voters in his city council district. But, there is no "paid-for-by" disclaimer on the literature as required by state law.

The literature notes DiCiccio and his work with fellow elected officials -- Thelda Williams and Michael Nowakowski -- on domestic violence. It's a similar one of the e-mail message posted at the now shut-down Citizens Protecting Tax Payers website: "I made [domestic violence] a top priority in the '90s, and we can do it again."

And those literature-distributing "neighborhood walks" are being coordinated in part by Lisa Gray, a council aide and scheduler for DiCiccio. Part of the planning involved at least one e-mail exchange with Wes Harris, founder of the Original North Phoenix Tea Party.

Gray, who made an unsuccessful bid for Maricopa County Republican Party Chair, is described by conservative blog Sonoran Alliance as "a grassroots, conservative leader" who works with "Republicans and Tea Party activist."

City rules and state laws prohibit employees from getting involved in city political activity -- and city employees were just reminded of that in a March newsletter.

City employees cannot participate in or donate money to Phoenix mayoral or council member campaigns, according to city rules. State guidelines do not allow the use of city employees or resources to influence elections.

Gray sent Harris an e-mail from a personal account on Wednesday, May 29, about 2:45 p.m. She tells him that DiCiccio's opponent, Karlene Keogh Parks, is a registered Independent and thanks him for "mentioning Sal's walk" and shares with him the details about the June 8 event in Ahwatukee to distribute the information guides without the "paid for" disclaimers.

"This is a literature drop . . . no door-knocking and we'll be hitting every house," she tells Harris in the e-mail sent from her personal account. "Very easy."

Gray tells Harris that he can direct questions to her or Nancy Zimmerman, an executive assistant for Colliers International, a global commercial and residential real estate corporation.

About 15 minutes after receiving Gray's e-mail, Harris sends out his own e-mail to others in his political circle. It stated, in part:

Here is the information of the Walk to support Sal DiCiccio's run for re election to the City of Phoenix City Council.  Lisa [Gray] pointed out a fact that I simply did not know and that is 'officially' Karlene is a registered Independent.

So, if you can help the Saturday after next, please show up and let Lisa know you are coming. Her contact info is attached. Again . . . we simply must win this race . . . losing is not an option.

DiCiccio also appears in this digital billboard with Williams and Nowakowski touting his work on domestic violence. It's unclear who paid for that massive campaign advertisement.

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