ARIZONA NEWS

Mitchell to Mayes: Arizona AG should back off from pay-for-play investigation, not MCAO

Jun 12, 2024, 2:00 PM | Updated: 3:40 pm

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, left, and Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes disagree ab...

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, left, and Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes disagree about which of them should handle an investigation into pay-for-pay allegations swirling around a state-contracted group home operator. (Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Attorney's Office and Getty Images Photo)

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County Attorney's Office and Getty Images Photo)

PHOENIX – The fight over who will investigate pay-for-play allegations swirling around a state-contracted group home operator rages on, with Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell taking the latest swing.

“I will not stand aside,” Mitchell said Tuesday in a letter to Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes.

Mitchell told Mayes that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) and Arizona Auditor General’s Office will continue working together on a probe into whether Democratic donor Sunshine Residential Homes received preferential treatment from the state.

Last week, Mayes said her office will look into the allegations and told MCAO and the Auditor General’s Office they should call off their investigation.

What does Mitchell’s letter about pay-for-pay allegations say?

In her response letter, Mitchell suggested Mayes is the one who should stand back.

“I agree with you that two simultaneous investigations could have a negative impact,” Mitchell wrote. “Therefore, I am asking that you not complicate an already complex investigation by duplicating efforts.”

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

DCS has approved significant rate hikes requested by the group home operator since Hobbs took office, according to the Republic, raising questions about preferential treatment.

The newspaper report prompted Republican lawmakers to ask both Mayes and Mitchell to investigate the situation.

The involved parties have presented conflicting interpretations of state law regarding who should have jurisdiction over the case.

It now appears there will be more than one investigation, regardless of what Mayes or Mitchell want.

A spokesperson for Mayes confirmed to KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday that the Attorney General’s Office will continue with its investigation, declining to comment further on the matter.

Maricopa County attorney cites ‘specter of a conflict of interest’

Mitchell said a Mayes investigation could be problematic because the attorney general is charged with representing DCS. Mitchell, a Republican who is seeking reelection this year, didn’t mention the fact that Mayes, like Hobbs, is a Democrat.

Mitchell also noted concerns voiced by state Treasurer Kimberly Yee and state Rep. David Livingston about a Mayes investigation raising “the specter of a conflict of interest.”

“This is not an accusation against you or the many fine employees in your office,” Mitchell said in Tuesday’s letter to Mayes. “We, however, are in a time when people are increasingly distrustful of government. Your insistence on being the sole investigator in this matter will greatly contribute to people’s distrust but also to their belief that nothing can change.”

Hobbs has denied any wrongdoing in how DCS handles contracts.

“I’m a social worker, and it is outrageous that I would not act in the best interest of Arizona’s children in foster care. I have always and will always do what is best for Arizonans,” Hobbs told reporters on Tuesday.

“There is an AG investigation. I’m not going to comment further except to say that I look forward to the conclusion of the investigation and finding that we acted in the best interest of Arizona.”

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Mitchell to Mayes: Arizona AG should back off from pay-for-play investigation, not MCAO