Arizona AG Kris Mayes says her office alone should investigate ‘pay-for-play’ allegations

Jun 10, 2024, 1:02 PM

Arizona Democrats Kris Mayes, left, and Katie Hobbs campaign together in October 2022 before Mayes ...

Arizona Democrats Kris Mayes, left, and Katie Hobbs campaign together in October 2022 before Mayes was elected as attorney general and Hobbs won her race for governor. (File Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(File Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said last week her office doesn’t need help investigating “pay-for-play” allegations that might involve Gov. Katie Hobbs, telling other agencies to stand down.

Mayes wrote letters Friday to the Arizona Auditor General’s Office and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office telling them it would be inappropriate “to conduct parallel investigations” into Sunshine Residential Homes, a Democratic donor that reportedly may have received preferential treatment from the state.

Both letters said it “could jeopardize the integrity of the criminal investigation that my office will now proceed with” if the other agencies moved forward with probes.

Why is Sunshine Residential Homes part of investigation?

On Wednesday, state Sen. T.J. Shope asked Mayes and Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell to look into “what can only be described as a pay-for-play scheme” in response to Arizona Republic reporting.

Mayes and Hobbs are Democrats, and Mitchell and Shope are Republicans.

Sunshine, a private company contracted by the state Department of Child Services (DCS) to shelter neglected and abused children, made donations totaling $400,000 to Hobbs’ inauguration committee and the Arizona Democratic Party in 2022 and 2023, both before and after Hobbs was elected, the Republic reported.

Although there is nothing inappropriate about the donations, DCS has approved significant rate hikes requested by the group home operator since Hobbs took office, according to the state’s largest newspaper, raising questions about preferential treatment.

A Hobbs spokesman said last week the “the administration will be cleared of wrongdoing.”

“Gov. Hobbs is a social worker who has been a champion for Arizona families and kids. It is outrageous to suggest her administration would not do what’s right for children in foster care,” Christian Slater, the governor’s communications director, said in a statement.

Shope suggested the situation might violate state laws involving bribery, fraud, conflict of interest, illegal expenditure of funds and procurement code.

The Attorney General’s Office told Shope on Thursday it will be opening an investigation.

Why did other investigative agencies get involved?

However, Shope wasn’t the only legislator to contact the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office about Sunshine. Republican Rep. Matt Gress, chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, told Mitchell on Thursday that the state Auditor General’s Office was prepared to partner with her on an investigation.

Mitchell responded with a letter addressed to Shope and Gress. She said the Auditor General’s Office had contacted her Wednesday about working together on the case.

Mayes then moved to preempt multiple investigations.

“While your office is statutorily authorized to examine records and conduct audits at the direction of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, at this time, the assistance of your office is not needed by the Attorney General’s Office for our investigation. Should that change, I will reach out,” she wrote in her letter to Auditor General Lindsey Perry.

Mayes sent a similar message in her letter to Mitchell.

“Should my office need the assistance of either your office or the Auditor General, we will reach out and let you know,” Mayes said to Maricopa County’s top prosecutor.

Mayes didn’t mention Hobbs in any of her correspondence on the matter. Both letters Friday referenced “the situation involving Sunshine Residential Homes.”

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Arizona AG Kris Mayes says her office alone should investigate ‘pay-for-play’ allegations