I'll say one thing for living in Sand Land, it's never boring. This Friday at 9:30 a.m., in Phoenix Municipal Court, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne could be arraigned on the charge of hit-and-run on an unattended vehicle, a class 3 misdemeanor.
I say "could be" because Don Taylor a spokesman for Phoenix's Municipal Court tells me that Horne may not have to be present.
"The rules permit the defendant to appear by his or her attorney at arraignment if he or she is entering a not guilty plea and asking for the case to be reset for a pre-trial disposition conference," he explained.
See also: -Tom Horne's Snakepit, Bill Montgomery's Dirty Money, and the Problem with Carmen Chenal -Tom Horne's Alleged Hit-and-Run at an Address Listed for Carmen Chenal (w/UPDATE) -Attorney General Horne Hired Carmen Chenal to a Highly Paid Top Post -- 'Cause She's His Goomba -Tom Horne's Pal Carmen Chenal's Bar File Partially Sealed by Judge -Tom Horne's Female Trouble: Kathleen Winn Not "the Mole"
Horne was cited by the Phoenix Police Department last week for the accident, which occurred in March outside the residence of his presumed mistress Carmen Chenal.
The maximum fine Horne hypothetically could receive is $500. The maximum time, 30 days. But in a case like this one, time is almost never meted out, I'm told.
Smartest thing for Horne to do would be to show up and plead guilty. At least that way he'd look like a mensch. Might even help his image a little.
In March, Horne was being tailed by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, when they witnessed the fender-bender.
The FBI was investigating alleged coordination between the independent expenditure committee Business Leaders for Arizona and Horne's campaign for Attorney General in 2010.
Such coordination is illegal under state law.
Additionally, the FBI was looking into a possible cover-up of that coordination, which may have been why they were tailing Horne, when the accident occurred.
According to the massive 3,000-plus page investigative file recently released by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, Chenal had borrowed a car belonging Linnea Heap, a close friend of Chenal 's and an employee in the AG's finance division.
In the transcript of an April interview of Heap, FBI special agent Brian Grehoski explained how he and FBI special agent Merv Mason witnessed the accident.
"[Horne] parked his car in another parking garage," Greholski told her. "Carmen took your car. Went and picked him up. And then went and had a rendezvous at her apartment. And in trying to get into the...gate where the tenants live, the gate was malfunctioning.
"So [Horne] backed up to try and turn around, crashed into another car. And then they parked in the visitor parking and went up to her apartment."
At one point, when the agents think Heap might be covering for Chenal, they issue a very scary warning to be on the other end of, one they issued more than once during the course of the investigation.
"You don't want to get yourself behind something," agent Mason tells Heap. "You're familiar with why Martha Stewart went to jail. It wasn't securities fraud. It was an interview just like this. Where she lied to FBI agents. Was later found to be lying. And she went to jail for it."
In other words, the FBI doesn't like it when you lie to them.
Or try to coach witnesses in what to say to them, an activity agents allude to in the FBI file.
In speaking with one former employee of the AG's office, Mason illustrated the stakes involved.
"You need to be careful and not get yourself wrapped up in something" Mason says. "`Cause there's bigger things going on. There's a potential for an obstruction [of justice] case."
During Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's October 1, press conference on Horne's alleged coordination with BLA chair Kathleen Winn, now Horne's outreach director, Montgomery drew skepticism from reporters when he announced he would be pursuing civil charges against Winn and Horne, not criminal.
In fact, Montgomery signaled during that appearance with FBI Special Agent in Charge James Turgal that he would only be concerning himself with events that transpired before Horne took office.
"The conduct in question arises out of the election pre-dating Mr. Horne taking office as Attorney General or Ms. Winn being employed by the Attorney General's Office," Montogomery read from a prepared statement during the press event.
That "conduct" is the alleged coordination over raising $500,000 for BLA and the production of campaign commercials targeting Horne's Democratic rival Felicia Rotellini.
The possible fine is daunting, if applied in full: Triple damages, or $1.5 million.
Asked about the possibility of federal criminal charges or evidence uncovered of possible federal crimes committed, Turgal was noncommittal.
"The information in our investigation was presented to the United States Attorney's Office," he told the media. "You need to contact them and ask them their opinion on this matter."
For its part, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona has been tight-lipped.
"The U.S. Attorney's Office has no ongoing investigation regarding Tom Horne," the USAO stated in a one-sentence press release issued the day of Montgomery's press conference.
I've had sources suggest to me that there still might be a possibility of federal criminal charges being brought against Horne.
But the high-ranking federal law enforcement officers I know, former and current, have told me, off the record, that the U.S. Attorney's statement indicates there will be no federal criminal charges against Horne.
The county attorney's data dump itself seems to be evidence that the USAO will do bupkis. The FBI's investigation likely would not have been released to the public, if criminal charges were still brewing against Horne.
Horne mostly is facing further embarrassment for this tawdry series of events, and maybe a fine somewhere down the road for the campaign finance stuff.
Still, if that's all, that would mean he's dodged the guillotine. As the Attorney General of a state, his head would have made a prize trophy for the USAO and the FBI.
Earlier this year, with the FBI investigation in full swing, a subordinate told agents that Horne was losing weight and bemoaning his fate to others.
"I'm dying a thousand deaths every day," Horne is quoted as saying at the time. "I don't know what they have."
The implication being that there was something to "have."
The irony, as I and now others have noted, is that Horne's troubles are entirely of his own making.
Horne's 2010 campaign manager Michael Vargas told the FBI that during Horne's primary with now-disbarred, disgraced former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Horne's campaign was concerned that Horne's relationship with Chenal would turn into "fodder" for the Thomas camp.
"It was like one of the biggest fears when we were doing the primary that it was going to come out," Vargas said of Horne's "baggage" with Chenal.
No doubt that fear was reawakened last year when I began inquiring about Chenal's employment in the criminal division of the AG's office, a position for which she was not qualified.
Because of my public records requests and because of my July article questioning why Horne hired Chenal despite her record of being suspended by the State Bar of Arizona, Horne took the fateful step of ordering an internal investigation, hoping to ferret out a source at the AG's office for the story.
AG investigator Meg Hinchey interviewed numerous AG employees, but that investigation came to a screeching halt when she wanted to interview Kathleen Winn, whom Hinchey suspected, wrongly, of being the source for my column.
At one point, Horne reputedly inquired if Hinchey's computer files on the investigation could be destroyed.
During her investigation, Hinchey uncovered what she believed to be other evidence of wrongdoing, evidence she turned over to the FBI.
Which brings us full circle to where we are now.
Horne's political career is shot. With this scandal in his backpack, the governorship is out of the question. A 2014 re-election bid? Only if Horne likes punch lines. Or being one.
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