Attorney General Tom Horne caused more than $1,000 worth of damage to a car he backed into before leaving the scene -- ostensibly, according to FBI agents, to hide an extramarital affair.
FBI agents were tailing Horne in March as part of a probe into campaign finance law violations. They followed his gold Jaguar into a parking garage where he met up with Carmen Chenal, a subordinate, and they both left in a car she had borrowed, with Horne at the wheel wearing a baseball cap. What happened next, according to the agents, is Horne pulled into another garage adjacent to where Chenal lives. But when one gate wouldn't open, he backed up -- into a white Range Rover -- and drove off. In audio tapes and records obtained by Arizona Public Radio, agent Brian Grehoski, interviewing Horne spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico two months later, laid out what he thought had occurred -- and why.
"They said they got out and looked at the car and there was no damage and they drove away," Grehoski said. "And that wasn't truthful either. They just drove away. And so you've got, and this goes to the point of how all this is fitting together, it's an ethical thing. You've got a guy having an affair. You've got a guy hit and run. It's an ethical problem."
Grehoski repeated that theme in a separate interview with Linnea Heap, the owner of the car that Chenal had borrowed. He told Heap that Horne was -- quote -- having some rendezvous with Carmen in her apartment. The FBI turned over their notes and what they had seen to Phoenix police. Chenal, interviewed by police, described the incident from her perspective in the passenger seat.
"He was backing up. And he hit something," Chenal said. "And he said look and see if I hit a car, or something like that. I don't remember exactly what he said. But he said for me to look. So he's backing up. So I'm on the right side. So I look back. And I didn't see anything."
Chenal told police she did not remember why she and Horne had gone to that location. Horne, for his part, said that parking garage is available not just for tenants like Chenal but also for people eating at nearby restaurants, though he, too, said he didn't remember where they were going. Horne also said he did not think he had done any damage to the white Range Rover he hit. And he dismissed claims that he purposely did not leave any identifying information so as to conceal what Grehoski said was an affair.
"If I thought there was damage, Howie, why wouldn't I have left a note?" Horne asked. He went on to say, "It's no big deal for me to pay somebody $1,000. The fact that's a parking area where everyone parks for the restaurant means there's nothing wrong with my having been there. If a guy calls me up and says I got your note about the damage, that wouldn't tell you anything about whether I had a passenger. Those speculations by the FBI guy are completely baseless."
Phoenix police, after reviewing the evidence, cited Horne for violating a section of state law that makes it a crime to damage another vehicle without trying to either locate the owner or at least leave information about how to contact the person who drove the other vehicle. While defending his actions, Horne also lashed out at the FBI for following him. Horne said this was supposed to be an investigation into campaign finance violations during his successful bid for attorney general two years ago. That ultimately ended up in civil charges against Horne accusing him of coordinating his own campaign with what was billed as an independent expenditure committee run by Kathleen Winn, who now works for him. She raised a half million dollars for a last-minute TV ad to help him defeat Democrat Felecia Rotellini. The accident, witnessed by his FBI tails, was a year and a half later.
"What were they doing surveilling me?" Horne asked. "I think that should be an issue. Even if they stonewall it, it seems to me that's something that people should raise. What the hell were they doing?"
The FBI, for its part, isn't talking, decline a request for comment. Horne has not said how he will plead when his case goes to court.