FBI agents in the state have crafted a new way to scare people into telling them what they want to know: Mention Martha Stewart.
Working with Maricopa County prosecutors, the agents conducted more than three dozen interviews over six months.
The aim was to make a case that Tom Horne illegally coordinated his 2010 election effort with what was supposed to be an independent campaign.
One of the agents, Merv Mason, had a particular technique when he thought witnesses were not being forthright: He told them that TV host and design maven Martha Stewart was sentenced to five months in federal prison not for the securities fraud the FBI was investigating but for lying to agents in -- quote -- an interview just like this.
Mike Kimerer, Horne's defense attorney, said he does believe some witnesses were coerced. But he said the agents did nothing illegal.
"You know, it's nothing really new. But that's what they do," Kimerer said. "They do threaten. This is going to be hard on you. If you lie to us, there's a charge against you. If you're covering up for them, you're obstructing justice. And I think they use that a lot in this case and maybe went over the line to some degree because they were so frustrated they did not get the answers they wanted to get."
The probe produced no criminal charges, only civil claims against Horne and staffer Kathleen Winn that they violated state election laws. The FBI would not comment on the techniques because the case against the pair remains open.