Rep. David Cook’s love letters, and texts from a former governor’s aide put a spotlight on misconduct at the Arizona State Capitol.
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, who is no stranger to controversy, came under fire for two complaints from the The Arizona House Ethics Committee this week.
One complaint alleges a conflict of interest surrounding the rumored relationship between Cook and agriculture lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr. The other accuses Cook of a quid pro quo with Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb in an effort to benefit Knorr and her family.
A Quid Pro Quo
The ethics committee complaint alleges that Rep. Cook arranged for a campaign contribution to Sheriff Lamb in exchange for the sheriff not seizing Knorr’s family farm over unpaid property taxes.
Kevin Cavanaugh, who worked for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office before running for Congress, alleges Cook told him in 2018 he had arranged for Lamb to hold off on seizing the property in exchange for a campaign contribution.
According to the Arizona Republic, the Pinal County Assessor’s Office confirmed that Knorr and properties tied to her family owe $141,000 in unpaid property taxes. While Lamb did confirm speaking to Cook about the Knorr farm, he denied any arrangement for a campaign contribution.
“At no time did Rep. Cook ask me to do any favors nor was I offered any campaign contributions in return for not seizing a business and property,” Lamb said, as reported by the Arizona Republic.
Lamb also told the news agency there was nothing wrong with Cook’s request. He said the incident inspired him to change department protocols around when they seize property. Additionally, Lamb claimed he refused a campaign contribution from Knorr’s father, Bas Aja, in 2018 because of Aja’s tax issues.
A Romantic Relationship
The conflict of interest surrounding the rumored relationship between Cook and Knorr arose after the Republic and Arizona Capitol Times published love letters between the two. In light of the published letters, Knorr was suspended from her job last month at the Western Growers Association.
The investigation into Cook is ongoing. Ethics committee chairman Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Globe, recused himself from the investigation because he and Cook represent the same district. House Speaker Rusty Bowers announced Tuesday that Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, would temporarily replace Shope as chair.
Allen said he will meet with House lawyers Friday to discuss whether to hire outside investigators, stated the Arizona Republic. So far the ethics committee hasn’t scheduled any meetings.
Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, also recused himself telling the Republic he recently went on a trip to Mexico with Cook, and the two discussed the love letters.
Ugenti-Rita Gets #MeToo’d
A former female lobbyist accused Arizona State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, of harassment. The Arizona Capitol Times reported the accusations in court documents uncovered Tuesday.
Ugenti-Rita was the first lawmaker to accuse disgraced former State Rep. Don Shooter of sexual harassment in 2017. The legislature voted to remove Shooter in February 2018.
The former lobbyist, who is not named in the documents but did testify as a part of the investigation into Shooter in 2018, is accusing Ugenti-Rita of sexual harassment.
The documents stated that Ugenti-Rita’s then fiancé, Brian Townsend, sent her explicit text messages and photographs trying to elicit a threesome with the couple. The woman also said Ugenti-Rita coaxed her into a hotel room at a trade association conference. She said the lawmaker was laying “very provocatively” on a couch and asked her to stay the night.
Ugenti-Rita testified that both she and Townsend took the photographs. She also said she didn’t know they were being sent to the former lobbyist. Investigators found the lawmaker’s account to be credible.
On Wednesday, State Senate Democrats called for further investigation into the allegations.
Senate Minority Leader David Bradley, D-Tucson, said Wednesday, “The allegation contained in the deposition appear to be a clear violation of our sexual harassment policy.”
He called on Senate President Karen Fann to investigate; however, she has not responded to Bradley’s request.