Making good on her June 7, notice of claim for $10 million against Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, veteran AG investigator Meg Hinchey filed suit Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging that Horne and his underlings are engaged in an ongoing campaign to ruin Hinchey's law enforcement career.
As you may recall, in 2011, Horne ordered Hinchey to plug a presumed leak in his office, one Horne suspected of feeding yours truly information on his apparent mistress Carmen Chenal, whom Horne has hired as an Assistant Attorney General at a six figure salary in the AG's criminal division, despite her having zero experience in criminal law.
During her inquiry, Hinchey uncovered evidence of possible criminal wrongdoing by Horne and his employees (surprise, surprise) and turned this information over to the FBI.
The resulting scandal exposed Horne's (alleged) affair with Chenal, his embarrassing hit-and-run during an afternoon trip to Chenal's apartment, allegations of serious campaign finance improprieties, and allegations of obstruction of justice by Horne.
Though the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Horne, he and his outreach director Kathleen Winn could be on the hook for $1 million in fines each for alleged coordination between Horne and an independent expenditure committee run by Winn.
Horne also faces a misdemeanor criminal charge of hit-and-run for the minor accident that occurred during the Horne-Chenal rendezvous.
But more importantly, Horne's plans of running for governor in 2014 are kaput, though he believes he can run for re-election as AG and win. A plan that's doubtful at best.
(Note: Horne continues to dodge responsibility for his fender-bender in Phoenix municipal court, recently putting off the day of reckoning yet again, by asking the court to delay the next hearing until February 1, a request that was granted.)
This near-fatal political wound is self-inflicted: If Horne had not been driven to cover-up his affair with Chenal, the FBI investigation would not have happened. Yet according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, Horne is seeking revenge against Hinchey for doing her job.
The complaint alleges Horne and his Chief Deputy Rick Bistrow defamed Hinchey, with Horne calling her a "liar" and "incompetent," and falsely implying a lesbian affair between Hinchey and Horne's general election rival from 2010, Felecia Rotellini.
Similarly, the complaint states that Bistrow has referred to Hinchey "in his personal verbal and written communications" as a "rogue investigator," a "perjurer," and a "grand jury fabricator."
But the retaliation alleged is more serious than name calling. Indeed, the complaint ascribes some very Andrew Thomas-like activities to Horne and his underlings, Bistrow and Criminal Division chief Andrew Pacheco.
These involve "conducting a sham `independent investigation'" into a notice of claim filed by former Phoenix Police Department officers. This probe concerned Hinchey's investigation into several PPD cops on (alleged) false overtime claims, and Hinchey's subsequent testimony to a grand jury on the same subject.
Horne has hired a lawyer from a firm he is associated with to investigate Hinchey. As a result, Hinchey has been, according to the claim, isolated, interrogated, and, weirdly, forced to work on the investigation of herself.
The claim states that Pacheco ordered Hinchey to sit in a room alone with the investigative files from the PPD inquiry and review them so the outside investigator could question her about the probe.
Allegedly, Pacheco refused Hinchey's request not to be left in a room alone with the documents.
"On information and belief," reads the complaint, "Horne and/or Bistrow through Pacheco are attempting to set up a scenario where Plaintiff must investigate herself and will be held responsible for any documents."
In other words, the claim suggests that Horne, et al. are looking for a way to terminate Hinchey's employment with the AG's office, by investigating allegations in this notice of claim, and by placing Hinchey in a position where she can be framed.
The claim also asserts that Hinchey has already received a de facto demotion, and that she is treated like a "pariah" at the AG's office.
Which is not difficult to believe. Nor would I put all of this backstabbing and skullduggery past Horne and Bistrow, considering everything that came to light as a result of the FBI investigation.
I spoke with Hinchey's attorney Susanne Dallimore. She contended that Hinchey's law enforcement career is essentially over.
I asked why.
"Because whatever happens for the rest of time, anyone who uses Meg's services as an investigator and a testifying officer, has to disclose that she was investigated for lying to a grand jury," she explained.
That would be a serious stain on her career, and one Horne no doubt would love to smear her with.
I asked Dallimore if she expected her client to be fired.
"We expect there to be another hit on her," she said. "It may be the outcome of the investigation, it may be something else, I don't know. They're not going to leave her alone."
In the meantime, Hinchey, who has been in law enforcement since 1999, has already suffered serious emotional, psychological and physical damage from the AG's harassment of her.
"People don't understand what this does to somebody," Dallimore told me. "I don't think she's more fragile than other people. In my career, I've talked to a lot men who have been fired, who have been relegated to the broom closet. It's really hard on people."
Reading this claim, I wonder if Horne will ever pay for his obvious corruption and misdeeds in office.
Hinchey's complaint asks for punitive damages of Horne, which would come out of his own pocket. Whether or not the court would allow such damages, in addition to compensatory damages, is another matter.
Either way, guess who'll be paying for Horne's shenanigans? Yep, you and me, the taxpayers of Arizona. We will have to pay to defend Horne, and will have to cover any settlement.
Recently, employees of the AG's office have contacted me, begging that I not tar everyone who works there with Horne's sleaze.
I've told them that if they remain as employees of this administration, then they must face the consequences.
Unless they stand up, as Meg Hinchey has, and expose the wrongdoing around them.
Only then will they redeem themselves and the institution they labor for.
They should also consider the example of Horne's spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico, who has recently announced that she's getting out while the getting is good. Her resignation is effective the end of February.
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