By Ray Stern
Chandler police say they've wrapped up their investigation into State Senator John Huppenthal's alleged removal of a campaign sign and will seek charges of theft and tampering with a political sign.
Detective Frank Mendoza of the Chandler Police Department tells New Times the investigating officer decided to simply forward the recommendation to the city prosecutor's office rather than serve Huppenthal (pictured) with a citation personally or arrest him for the misdemeanors.
"We know where we could find him," Mendoza says of Huppenthal, a Republican who has represented Chandler as a state senator since 1992.
Huppenthal maintains he had permission to remove the sign put up by Democratic Party volunteers. However, that crucial part of his story looks like it may fall short on supporting evidence.
Here's what the law says about removing campaign signs:
16-1019. Political signs; tampering; classification
A. It is a class 2 misdemeanor for any person to knowingly remove, alter, deface or cover any political sign of any candidate for public office for the period commencing forty-five days prior to a primary election and ending seven days after the general election.
B. The provisions of this section shall not apply to the removal, alteration, defacing or covering of a political sign by the candidate or the authorized agent of the candidate in support of whose election the sign was placed, or by the owner or authorized agent of the owner of private property on which such signs are placed with or without permission of the owner, or placed in violation of state law, or county, city or town ordinance or regulation.
A problem for Huppenthal is that the actual owner of Country Brook Apartments in Chandler wasn't on site the day Huppenthal and the Democratic Party volunteer got into it over the sign.
A woman named "Lynn" who answered the phone today at Country Brook says nobody in the office "knows anything going on" about the sign flap. As far as she knows, the apartment complex's office workers didn't have authorization to speak on behalf of the property owner, either to authorize signs getting put up or taken down. Lynn declined to ask around the office for New Times to see if anyone could remember Huppenthal coming in. Moreover, Lynn seemed annoyed her office has been put in the middle of this mini-scandal.
"I don't know anything," Lynn says. "I really personally don't care. It doesn't interest me at all."
Democratic Party volunteer Ruth Levin (pictured from the East Valley Tribune) says she got Huppenthal's business card from his vehicle after he pulled a campaign sign from her hand.
Told that an office worker at Country Brook wouldn't vouch for him, Huppenthal insists he spoke to someone in the office who gave him permission to take out the sign.
He didn't get her name, but he knows where she sat and believes she was the manager. Huppenthal admits it took him "two or three tries to get the specific phrase that I wanted" out of her.
The first time he asked her for the green light to remove the sign, he says, she was noncommittal. He says he asked again, and she finally gave him permission.
The Chandler police officer who interviewed Huppenthal agrees that the senator talked to a woman in the office, Huppenthal says. The bad news is that the office worker told the cop she never actually gave Huppenthal permission to do anything.
Instead, the apartment manager -- if that's who she was -- told the investigating officer she only instructed Huppenthal to "do what you gotta do," Huppenthal says.
Huppenthal believes that even if he's charged and ultimately convicted of the misdemeanors, his colleagues on the Legislature won't try to kick him out of the state Capitol.
"They know I'm a serious guy," he says.
Huppenthal says he hopes that, if convicted, he gets at least 10 days in jail "because I want to do a research project at Tent City."
With his political experience, no doubt Huppenthal could become leader of a jail gang in no time.