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Arizona Senate aide’s attorney speaks out over texts to ex-lawmaker

FILE - In this March 4, 2015 file photo, Arizona House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, speaks about his vote during the legislative session on HB2611 regarding consumer loans from payday lenders at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. Thirteen Republicans, including former state Sen. Montenegro, and three Democrats filed enough signatures to make the ballot for a special primary election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, state elections officials said Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — The attorney of a former Arizona Senate staffer accused of having an affair with former state Sen. Steve Montenegro said she had been groomed by the congressional candidate.

Tom Ryan, a Chandler-based lawyer, held a press conference on Thursday to address claims that Stephanie Holford exchanged flirtatious text messages with Montenegro and sent him topless photos on at least one occasion.

Ryan said 31-year-old Holford, a former digital media coordinator for the state’s Republican Party, was “groomed” by Montenegro to have a flirtatious relationship, but stressed that the relationship was never sexual.

Holford was first hired onto her position in 2017 and said through a statement that she “engaged in sexual conversation” after several months. She said through the same statement that she never intended to go public.

Ryan said that Holford “apologizes profusely” about her actions and wants to move on from the incident. He added that she is also looking into possible legal action after her ex-boyfriend publicly revealed the relationship.

Ryan also said Montenegro should quit the race.

“Sen. Montenegro is a moral toad. The reason we no longer have Trent Franks in Congress is because he was a moral toad,” Ryan said. “And I’m asking the citizens in Congressional District 8 if he does not resign from this race to not elect another moral toad.”

The allegations first surfaced on Tuesday in a 12 News report that detailed the staffer sent Montenegro a topless photo over text messages and Snapchat, a mobile application that allows messages and photos to disappear after a set amount of time.

Holford’s identity was first revealed by the Phoenix New Times, which also reported that she was the victim of revenge porn after her ex-boyfriend took images and text messages from her computer and shopped them around to the media.

Ryan also said that Debbie Lesko, another congressional candidate who is vying for former Rep. Trent Franks’ seat in next week’s primary, was not part of the incident.

In a statement Thursday, Montenegro called the allegations “false and defamatory.”

“Tom Ryan, the Gloria Allred of Arizona, made a number of unfounded accusations, admitting that they were often things that he had no proof of, in an effort to sensationalize this story to do damage to me, my reputation, and my campaign,” part of the statement read. “This was political theater and a pack of lies to effect this race.”

Montenegro also claimed that he and Holford were “friends” and that she sent him an inappropriate photo without his solicitation.

“I am confident the voters will see through these deplorable pack of lies thrown out by a liberal attorney with a clear agenda of attacking conservatives.”

The allegations against Montenegro, a married Christian minister, come after Franks resigned in December as he acknowledged that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child and offered her $5 million to be a surrogate.

Montenegro first denounced the reports on the texts as “tabloid trash” in a Facebook post but didn’t deny receiving the messages.

“I am blessed with an amazing wife and marriage,” the post read. The media wants to drag us down with just a week to go, but we are not going to dignify this false tabloid trash with any further response.”

He told the Washington Examiner in an opinion piece published Wednesday that he didn’t solicit the topless photo and that political foes were trying to sabotage his congressional candidacy with revenge porn.

“I want you to know I did not have any inappropriate relationships with this woman,” Montenegro said. “At no time have I been inappropriately involved with any staffer — nor have I ever. I have not solicited inappropriate material via text message or any other message.

“If there is anything, I would say I’m guilty of it’s becoming too comfy or familiar as seen in some of those texts,” Montenegro said.

“As soon as that episode happened … we didn’t speak.”

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