BY LINDA BENTLEY | MARCH 14, 2012
Kenton County Attorney says Chavez’s petitions contained forgeries
COVINGTON, Ky. – Andrew Chavez (l), owner and CEO of AZ Petition Partners, LLC and Black Top Strategies, LLC, has claimed over and over again, and declares on Petition Partners’ website, “Our field staff members are predominately college students or highly experienced retirees that voters don’t try to avoid. Your petition will be represented professionally – like it should be.”
That’s what he told Sonoran News back in January. That’s what the people living in the Rio Verde Foothills Fire District boundaries were told. And, that’s what Kenton County, Kentucky Attorney Garry Edmondson was told.
Black Top’s website claims “Chavez has personally recruited and trained 32 Outreach Specialist who live in the City of Phoenix.”
According to Edmondson, in reality, despite Chavez’s claims, he hired convicted felons to collect signatures for which Petition Partners was paid $5 per signature.
While Edmondson has filed a civil RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization) action against Chavez and his company in federal court, he said there is also an ongoing criminal investigation aimed at prosecuting those who may have committed second-degree forgery or were complicit in forging petition signatures, Class D felonies in Kentucky, which, upon conviction, can carry a prison term of up to five years.
Edmondson noted three people have been identified as having their signatures forged, including two physicians, who have signed sworn affidavits attesting their signatures were forged on the petitions, and one administrative law judge, who testified in court.
On Feb. 21, Chavez told a roomful of Rio Verde citizens RICO charges should be pursued as criminal, not civil, if there’s something to it.
Edmondson agrees there should be criminal charges, and there very well may be.
Although Chavez has filed a motion to dismiss, claiming there is no reason why the RICO charges shouldn’t be dismissed, it is on procedural grounds that Edmondson doesn’t have standing to sue.
However, the record already contains sufficient proof signature fraud has been committed.
Meanwhile, the organizing board for the Rio Verde Foothills Fire District has defended Chavez, claiming anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone and shrugged it off because there is a pending motion for dismissal.
The judge has not granted Chavez’s motion to dismiss and, according to Edmondson, the standing issue in this particular case has not been previously addressed by the court.
According to Edmondson, the forged signatures were copied verbatim as they appear in the white pages of the phone book, with “the same spellings, the same abbreviations, the same everything.”
During a September 2011 hearing in response to an earlier lawsuit filed over the validity of signatures, Chavez testified several years earlier some of his signature gatherers in Arizona had been accused of misrepresenting what a petition was seeking to accomplish.
Residents in Rio Verde claim they too were told things that were not true by the solicitors in order to get them to sign the fire district petition, including telling them signing would simply place the issue on the ballot for a vote.
All other petition gatherers in Arizona other than ones collected to form special taxing districts, must sign the backs of their petitions before a notary swearing they witnessed each person’s signature.
So, while there may be forgeries on petitions, no one is personally held accountable for collecting any particular page or group of signatures.
Edmondson says they have the same problem in Kentucky where individual signature collectors are not required to be identified or attest to witnessing the signatures.
Meanwhile, Rural/Metro, which hired Chavez’s firm to help collect enough signatures to form the fire district in Rio Verde, upon learning of the Kentucky lawsuit, continues to employ Chavez.
It was only a few years ago that paid lobbyists were able to get laws changed in Arizona regarding the formation of special county island fire districts to allow for paid signature gatherers. All other fire districts and special taxing districts preclude utilizing paid signature gatherers and must be a grassroots effort.
Several Rio Verde Foothills Fire District opponents have stated very vocally that it should be more difficult to impose property taxes on others not easier and would like to see some changes in legislation.
Edmondson believes the Kentucky legislature may also want to consider changing the law so individuals collecting signatures are held accountable if they commit fraud and forgery, even though, in this case, he believes Chavez should be held accountable as well.
In January, Chavez told Sonoran News, out of the nearly 25,000 signatures collected in Kentucky, Edmondson was only able to identify three instances of forgery.
Edmondson believes there are most likely far more instances of forgery that have yet to be identified. However, a civil RICO complaint requires only two.
Chavez claimed in 2008, when rampant fraud kept several initiatives off the ballot in Arizona, it was the firm to which he subcontracted that was responsible. That firm pawned the blame off on the individual contractors it recruited.
While ultimately responsible, Chavez, who has never been prosecuted for fraud, has found a niche as the go-to guy who can get the job done.