No doubt Attorney General Tom Horne and anyone who wants to see him re-elected in 2014 (read: his staff) is elated by the news that Horne's alleged squeeze, Assistant Attorney General Carmen Chenal, has put in her notice and will be leaving her position come July 5.
Where to? Apparently, she has been hired by the firm of Wilenchik and Bartness, headed up by none other than Dennis Wilenchik, onetime attack schnauzer and special prosecutor for disbarred, disgraced County Attorney Andy Thomas.
I've put in a call for confirmation and comment to Wilenchik's office. Heaven't heard back yet. However, the AG public information officer Stephanie Grisham has informed me that Chenal will be going to Wilenchik's firm.
See Also: Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba Arizona AG Tom Horne's Sex Scandal Scuttles Gubernatorial Bid Bill Montgomery Screwed Up Tom Horne Complaint, Second Judge Rules Dennis Wilenchik of Andy Thomas Fame Taken to the Woodshed by Judge Roslyn Silver
Do I smell a political favor? (See note below.) Well, contacts are everything. And Wilenchik has a record of helping pals, like when he employed Andy Thomas at his firm while Thomas ran for Maricopa County Attorney.
Ah, the memories.
As you can see from my correspondence below with Grisham, the AG's Office contends that Chenal's done stellar work on behalf of the public.
Sadly, that does not matter much, though if she did her job well, bully for her. Still, it's how and why she got the position with the AG that's a problem.
Horne hired her (at a salary that grew to $108,000), even though, it was widely assumed by campaign staff and employees at the Arizona Department of Education -- where Horne was Superintendent before he became AG -- that Horne and Chenal were an item.
See, Chenal got a job at DOE, also with Horne's assistance. and Horne helped her get reinstated to the State Bar of Arizona.
Ultimately, Chenal was at the center of a scandal that led to an FBI investigation of Horne's office, an investigation brought on by Horne himself. After I wrote about Chenal in 2011, Horne ordered an internal probe into any dime-droppers that might be feeding me info on Chenal.
The AG investigator Meg Hinchey came across evidence of alleged campaign finance violations by her boss, as well as other allegations.
When a cover-up began and suggestions were made that Hinchey's file be destroyed or deep-sixed, she turned over what she had to the FBI. (Hinchey is currently suing for retaliation against her because she blew the whistle on her boss.)
Despite a lot of shoe leather spent on the part of the FBI agents looking into the mess, the U.S. Attorney's Office passed on indicting Horne. So did Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, though the MCAO pursued civil campaign finance violations, a case that fizzled due to Monty's incompetence.
The football is now with the Arizona Secretary of State, who may be farming the case out to another county attorney in the near future, in accordance with a law just passed by the Arizona Legislature.
During its investigation, the FBI caught Horne making a lunchtime run to Pita Jungle for takeout with Chenal, and then on to Chenal's apartment. During this excursion, Horne had a minor fender-bender with a parked car but didn't leave a note.
The supposed affair, the rendezvous, and the fender-bender were all made public when the County Attorney's Office released the FBI's case file on Horne.
The AG eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor vehicular hit-and-run and paid a $300 fine.
It's safe to say Chenal-gate was the result of Horne's trying to keep his relationship with his employee hush-hush. (Horne's married, natch.) Horne was so paranoid that he had Hinchey interview scores of employees as well as rifle through state phone records on the hunt for my cell phone number.
So stupid, and such a waste of time and money. But that's what you get when you hire your alleged mistress to a state job paying $108K. No doubt, Horne's hoping that Chenal's departure will make this less of an issue during his re-election campaign.
It may, but only slightly. People might forget about it in the interim, but his opponents certainly will remind folks when the time is ripe. And all they need do is use what's in the public record.
(Note: It's worth mentioning that both Wilenchik and his wife Becky Bartness each gave $840 in 2010 to Horne's campaign for AG, a total of $1,680 for the pair. Additionally, Wilenchik has had Horne on his talk radio program "Legal-ease" at least six times over the years. Will be interesting to see if Wilenchik's firm scores work as outside counsel for the AG's office. According to the AG's PIO, Wilenchik has not done work for the AG under Horne, yet.)
Below is my recent e-mail correspondence with AG public information officer Stephanie Grisham regarding Chenal's achievements as Assistant Attorney General under Tom Horne:
On Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 10:32 AM, Grisham, Stephanie wrote:
Carmen is still working at the AG's Office, but has put her notice in, as she plans to resume the private practice of law. Her last day is Friday, July 5th. It is anticipated that her financial compensation will be substantially higher in the long run then would have been possible as a public lawyer.
Speaking personally, this is a big loss to the Office. Ms. Chenal did a lot more than the typical workload of a single employee. Her skill, hard work, and positive attitude in the toughest of situations will be sorely missed. I'm not sure I've seen you cover the actual work she does here, and though you didn't ask, I feel it is important that you know:
In the Attorney General's Office she has four areas of responsibility: First, she carried a full load of approximately 40 criminal prosecution cases, and most weeks was in court almost every day.
Second, she was responsible for foreign extraditions, and recently successfully extradited a high ranking drug cartel member.
Third, she was responsible for Strategic Planning for the entire agency, which required over 50 meetings with each section of the office, to develop and revise the Strategic Plan.
Fourth, because she is fluent in Spanish, she was active in teaching Mexican prosecutors how to conduct oral trials. Mexico is in the process of changing from a written process of trying cases, to oral trials which require similar skills as criminal trials in the United States. Mexican prosecutors have no experience trying cases. Ms. Chenal created and participated in Seminars to teach prosecutors from Mexican states, including teaching opening statements, direct and cross examination, closing arguments, and trial practice in general.
If you choose to write about the departure of one employee at the AG's Office, I will be very interested to see what you use from this e-mail.
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Thank much, Stephen, holler with further questions.
From: Stephen Lemons Sent: Friday, June 28, 2013 10:40 AM To: Grisham, Stephanie
I appreciate the info. Sadly, whatever good Ms. Chenal may or may not have done is canceled out by the fact she is or was Horne's alleged mistress. If Horne was a private attorney, that would be fine, I guess. But as he is (supposedly) a public servant, this is a big no-no.