Tom Horne Settles Lawsuit by Former Investigator for Nearly $100K (w/Update)

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Former Arizona Attorney General investigator Meg Hinchey today settled her claim against the state, Attorney General Tom Horne, and Horne chief deputy Rick Bistrow for nearly $100,000.

Hinchey filed suit in January 2013, claiming Horne and Bistrow retaliated against her in response to her blowing the whistle to the FBI on alleged campaign finance shenanigans by Horne.

Those allegations, the FBI probe of Horne's office, and the subsequent fallout cost Horne a shot at the Ninth Floor.

See, a couple of years ago, Horne had been gearing up to run for governor in the 2014 Republican primary.

After the scandal broke in October 2012, Horne decided to run for re-election instead.

Currently, he's battling a primary challenge from former state gaming director Mark Brnovich.

As part of today's deal, Hinchey will be paid $99,999.

She also has agreed to dismiss her claims against Horne and Bistrow, which leaves the state of Arizona holding the bag for the $100K.

In her original 2012 notice of claim to the state, Hinchey had asked for $10 million not to sue.

AG spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham denied that the settlement indicated an admission of wrongdoing by Horne and Bistrow.

"Tom Horne and Rick Bistrow opposed settling this case because they expected to win at trial," Grisham said via e-mail.

"Decisions for the state are made by the Department of Administration," she added. "The rule is that to settle a case for $100,000 or more the state would need Horne's consent, which he would not give. The Department of Administration therefore agreed to settle the case for $99,999, because it did not need the consent of Horne."

Hinchey issued the following statement through her attorney Suzanne Dallimore:

"This has been a long and difficult process and I am glad that it is over. This was never about money, contrary to what some think. All I have asked for from the beginning is included in the settlement agreement and now I would just like to move past this."

Part of the agreement is that neither Horne nor Bistrow can speak any ill of Hinchey in the future. Ditto for Hinchey regarding Horne and Bistrow.

"There is a clause [in the agreement] that neither party can defame each other but they are allowed to explain their positions," wrote Grisham.

Hinchey, a veteran AG investigator, claimed in her January 2013 complaint that Horne and Bistrow began a campaign of intimidation and slander against her after she turned over evidence of possible campaign finance violations to the FBI.

In 2011, Horne had ordered Hinchey to investigate a possible leak to the Phoenix New Times concerning the employment of his reputed mistress Carmen Chenal as an Assistant Attorney General with a six-figure salary.

During the course of her investigation, Hinchey uncovered evidence that Horne allegedly had violated campaign finance laws in 2010 by coordinating illegally with Kathleen Winn (now Horne's outreach director), who during the campaign ran a pro-Horne independent expenditure committee.

With the knowledge of her supervisor and the AG's then-criminal division chief Jim Keppel, Hinchey turned over what she had to the FBI, which then investigated Horne for a number of crimes, including alleged wire fraud.

Horne also was suspected by the FBI of obstruction of justice and tampering with witnesses.

Ultimately, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to bring criminal charges against Horne, as did the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which participated in part of the investigation.

The MCAO sought civil penalties against Horne and Winn for their alleged coordination in the creation of an ad targeting Horne's Democratic rival Felecia Rotellini, whom he ultimately bested by a mere 60,000 votes in the 2010 general election..

That civil complaint has since been turned over to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office and was the subject of a recent four day hearing in Phoenix before an administrative law judge.

Both Horne and Winn deny they coordinated during the 2010 campaign. The matter is still pending before the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings.

During the FBI probe, agents tailed Horne, witnessing a midday rendezvous with Chenal, during which Horne hit a parked car at Chenal's apartment complex, without leaving a note.

Horne was later charged and pleaded no contest to vehicular hit and run, a criminal misdemeanor, and paid a fine.

Hinchey had a sterling reputation at the AG's Office, until Horne learned that she'd dropped dime to the FBI.

That's when, according to Hinchey's suit, Horne and Bistrow "used express and implied threats, slander, libel, spreading salacious rumors, concealment and possible destruction or obstruction of evidence implicating Horne."

Indeed, during Keppel's interview with the FBI, Keppel told investigators that Horne had tried to hide Hinchey's file on the case from public view.

"[Horne] said, 'What I want to do is . . . get [Hinchey's] notebook and have everything on the investigation taken off her computer,'" Keppel recalled at the time.

Hinchey did the right thing by giving evidence of Horne's misdeeds to the feds. She acted according to her oath of office as a law enforcement professional, and suffered as a result.

Though the outcome of the civil case against Horne is yet to be determined, and though no criminal charges were filed against Horne beyond the hit-and-run, the public owes Hinchey thanks.

By doing her job and not looking the other way at Horne's corruption, she exposed the most powerful law enforcement official in Arizona for what he is.

Now it's up to the voters to act accordingly.

UPDATE 3:22 p.m.: Republican candidate for Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued the following statement regarding Hinchey's settlement with Horne:

"Tom Horne continues a pattern of creating embarrassing headlines. From illegal campaign coordination to harassing a dedicated law enforcement officer, Tom Horne puts ego above Arizona.

"Arizona deserves an Attorney General committed to service, family, and fighting crime. The Attorney General is paid to uphold the state's laws but Tom Horne increasingly finds himself on the other side of the law. As your Attorney General, I will stand for honor and serve with integrity."​

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Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX. Follow Stephen Lemons on Twitter at @StephenLemons.

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