With the election just weeks away, a local attorney has unveiled salacious, unverified claims from an anonymous woman about Phoenix mayoral candidate Daniel Valenzuela.
Tempe-based criminal defense attorney David Kephart invited members of the media to an 11 a.m. press event on Thursday near the Phoenix City Council chambers, where he provided them with a statement containing the woman's allegations and a video file that featured the woman delivering an on-camera testimonial to an unnamed interviewer.
No news stories were produced as a result – highly unusual for a press event.
Thursday's news conference was the culmination of an unsuccessful months-long effort by Kephart and his anonymous client to feed the story to local media. According to Kephart, news station ABC-15 (KNXV-TV) and the Arizona Republic were contacted with the claims, but neither outlet published a story.
Kephart reached out to Phoenix New Times after the event, which New Times did not attend.
New Times was unable to confirm the veracity of the woman's claims and is not publishing the allegations, nor the video.
Valenzuela's campaign vehemently denies the woman's claims. In a statement, Valenzuela's mayoral campaign manager Ben Scheel called Kephart's statements a "political smear of the highest proportions."
"These charges are unequivocally FALSE, untrue, and a complete fabrication," Scheel said in a written statement. "We are exploring all legal options. It is not coincidental this hit job comes out just as early voting ballots are arriving in mailboxes."
The timing of the release of the allegations, one month before the mayoral election, leaves the impression of a coordinated attempt to damage Valenzuela politically. However, Kephart claimed that he has no stake whatsoever in the race.
"I have no desire to take down Danny Valenzuela," Kephart emphasized in an interview with New Times on Thursday.
Kephart's explanation for how and why the woman's allegations came to light is riddled with unnamed sources and unanswered questions.
He would not name the woman, nor would he name his client (or clients) in the matter, citing attorney-client confidentiality. Kephart stated that the woman in the video is not his client.
He also claims to know who created the video testimonial, but would not name the individual or individuals behind it. He would not say whether initially someone approached the woman to ask her to tell her story on camera, or whether she proactively reached out to his client.
According to Kephart, he has met the woman in person approximately six times. She was aware that her allegations would be released to the media for the purposes of a news story, he said.
His compensation for representing his client in this matter has been "very minimal," Kephart said, likening it to pro bono legal work.
The video, he said, was recorded on January 29, 2018. Kephart explained that his client approached him in May after they obtained the video testimonial.
When asked why the allegations are only being released now, nearly nine months later after the video was created, Kephart said, “I wish they would’ve come to me sooner."
Kephart and his mysterious client attempted to shop the story around to the media in Phoenix, hoping that a reporter could tape a sit-down interview with the woman or uncover corroborating evidence that would back up her claims, Kephart said.
The approach didn't succeed.
Local news station ABC-15 (KNXV-TV) was shown the video in mid-May while Kephart was present, he said.
"I wanted to see if their reaction to the video was consistent with mine, and after viewing the video they said they would start putting together a story," Kephart wrote in a follow-up email. "They were not given a copy of the video because presumably they would be doing their own, more comprehensive interview."
Kephart said that he and his client contacted the Arizona Republic in early September, but the newspaper never published a story. He and his client's strategy was complicated by the fact that the woman had moved out of the state, Kephart said.
So, Kephart said they released the video at the news conference this week in a final attempt to make the story go public. Additionally, Kephart said that he taped an on-camera interview with 12 News (KPNX-TV) political reporter Brahm Resnik on Thursday.
Kephart has not independently investigated the allegations and couldn't even say with certainty that the events described in the testimonial actually happened.
In the statement from the Valenzuela campaign, Scheel blasted Kephart for his inability to state definitively whether the allegations are true.
“In his press release, and again during his press conference, attorney David Kephart cast doubts on his own charges. '… if these allegations are true' according to the release. '… if true' as stated during the press conference," Scheel said in his statement.
"We can be more affirmative than Kephart and those behind this political smear of the highest proportions," Scheel added.
Valenzuela was elected to represent District 5 on the Phoenix City Council in 2011. He was re-elected in 2015 and served until July, when he stepped down to run for mayor to replace former mayor Greg Stanton. Valenzuela works as a firefighter in Glendale.
His opponents in next month's special election include Kate Gallego, who also stepped down from the City Council to run for mayor.
Gallego declined to comment on the allegations from Kephart.
"My private life was a subject of rumors and speculations; it is not an experience I would wish on anyone," Gallego said in an emailed statement to New Times. "I will respect the privacy of my opponent as I hope others will too."
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In an interview, Gallego's campaign manager, Luis Heredia, denied that their campaign had any involvement with the release of the video or the woman's claims.
Heredia said that the first time he heard about the video and Kephart's statements was Thursday. He declined to comment on the credibility of the allegations.
Below is the statement from Daniel Valenzuela's campaign manager Ben Scheel.