Fraud, perjury allegations probed against Pima Constable Deborah Martinez
Napier report says accusations of false signatures, residency misrepresentation 'have merit'
Claims of possible fraud and perjury are casting a shadow on recently appointed Pima County Constable Deborah Martinez as she attempts to run unopposed in the upcoming election to hang on to her position. Top county officials submitted a report to the Board of Supervisors, saying prosecutors could open a criminal investigation and that "there is a reason to believe felony offenses may have occurred."
The case should be referred to the Pima County Attorney's Office and the state Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board, and the members of the Board of Supervisors should get legal advice about what actions they "may be empowered" to take about the allegations, Assistant County Administrator Mark Napier said. Further, county officials should get advice about "potential remedies" for Martinez being the only candidate on a ballot when she "may in fact not be qualified to run for the office."
South Tucson Police Sgt. Chris Toth, who had pulled papers to run against Martinez for the seat, told county officials that he has evidence that she lied about her address, and that she intimidated him into dropping out of the election after he tried to challenge her petition signatures in court.
Sami Hamed, a former Tucson City Council candidate and longtime worker bee in local Democratic politics, said Martinez has filed restraining orders to "bully" anyone who tries to challenge her and made up a series of false claims about him following and harassing her. Another Pima County resident also tried to have Martinez removed from the ballot over the signature issue, but dropped her case after struggling with the court process.
Martinez denied all these accusations when speaking with TucsonSentinel.com on Tuesday and said Toth, Hamed and other constables were instead trying to intimidate her. The newest county constable serves Justice Precinct 8 in Midtown, the former jurisdiction of "rebel eviction enforcer" Kristen Randall, who resigned in January. The Board of Supervisors appointed Martinez in early March, and she has since filed nominating petitions to be elected to the seat for the remaining two years of the term.
"I've done nothing wrong," Martinez said. "All I can do is say that I'm going to let it all go through due process and that I'm sure at the end I'll be vindicated. I can show documentation, I can show that Chris (Toth) called me, I can show all kinds of stuff, but it doesn't matter."
Constables are elected law enforcement officials entrusted with serving court documents — often eviction notices and orders of protection. The Pima County Constables Office has been at the center of controversies in recent years, including ethics violations that led to the suspension of Constable Oscar Vasquez last year, allegations of harassment against Constable George Camacho, and a "great divide" that led Randall to resign from her office.
Accusations of forgery and fraud started to surface after Martinez filed her nominating petition in early April, and Napier's April 27 report to the Board of Supervisors details evidence that he believes could support allegations of felony fraud, forgery, perjury and tampering with public records. Napier — the former Pima County sheriff who now works as a high-level county administrator — wrote that there's "substantial evidence" that Martinez forged her signatures and lied about her address and that she broke the law by doing so.
"Throughout the nomination petition forms there are several instances in which signatures appear to possibly be fraudulent due to the obvious similarity of the handwriting and/or it appears that content was added to the form on several entries by the same person," Napier wrote in the report. "I believe that all nomination petition forms submitted should be very carefully reviewed."
Napier sent his review of the claims to County Administrator Jan Lesher on April 27. She sent a copy of the memo — which runs 99 pages with attachments — to the members of the Board of Supervisors on May 4. That report has not been included in the county's updated public list of memos sent to the supervisors.
Napier in particular pointed to signatures allegedly from people who live at 3727 E. 5th St., which is the Equinox Apartments complex, noting that they seem to have all been made in the same handwriting. Napier wrote that fraudulent entries could make Martinez ineligible to run for election and unsuitable to hold the position to which she was appointed.
Martinez told the Tucson Sentinel that if there are any issues with her petitions, it's because she was confused about how they were supposed to be filled out and when election officials explained it to her, it happened like "a car accident."
She also blamed voters, saying there's no way to verify who's signing her petitions and whether they are who they say they are on the petitions.
"You go and you have people sign your petitions, and you stand there. You can't force them to show you their ID," she said. "You ask them, do you live here? Yes. Are you registered? Yes. Ok, can you sign this? If they sign it, you can't force them to show you anything."
Napier and others, however, are claiming that the handwriting of several signers from the one Midtown apartment complex appear to be "unmistakably similar."
"I am not a forensic handwriting analyst," Napier wrote. "However, in the case of these entries, one does not necessarily have to be. The writing is so obviously similar as to leave nearly no reasonable doubt that the entries were made by the same person."
Nominating petitions by the numbers
Two of the people who've been most vocal in raising questions about Martinez's petitions have been Toth, who was running against her for the JP8 constable seat, and Hamed, who had an injunction against harassment, also known as a restraining order, filed against him by Martinez. Hamed's injunction was tossed out by a judge last Thursday after he challenged it during a court hearing.
Hamed said the order against him came after he asked for a copy of Martinez's petitions from the Pima County Elections Department, in order to review the signatures soon after the filing deadline of April 4.
He and Francisco Lopez, who is running for constable in Justice Precinct 2, wanted to scrutinize the petitions filed by the incumbent constable for JP2, Esther Gonzalez, who was seeking reelection. Hamed said that he and Lopez had understood Martinez and Gonzalez to be friends, so they pulled hers, too.
Hamed said that they found neither Gonzalez nor Martinez had enough signatures. Martinez, as a Democrat seeking to get on the ballot in JP8, had to submit at least 377 valid signatures from registered Democrats who live in that precinct. Under state law, she could have filed up to 10 times that number, to provide a margin for error in case certain signatures were not verified.
Hamed said that Martinez filed petitions with 544 signatures lines filled out, but claims that at least 349 were not valid signatures because those voters lived in another precinct. Another 22 signatures were "questionable," he said. That would've left Martinez well short of the requirement to have her name listed on the ballot.
Gonzalez had 351 signatures that were not valid out of the 577 she filed, Hamed said, leaving her short of the 396 needed to run. Gonzalez "threw in the towel" on her campaign about a week after Lopez filed a court case to question her petitions, leaving him to run unopposed for JP2.
Lopez had earlier sought the appointment for JP8 after Randall resigned, but after the Board of Supervisors selected Martinez, he decided to run for the position in another precinct.
Martinez, whose only opponent for JP8 was Toth, stayed in the race. Hamed and Lopez were ineligible to challenge her petitions in court, as neither is registered to vote in that precinct. Another person did file to remove her from the ballot, but did not successfully press the case.
Martinez is the only candidate in the race. No other Democrats are on the primary ballot, and no Republican candidate filed to run for the office.
Shortly after Hamed and Lopez challenged Gonzalez's petitions, Martinez filed an injunction against harassment against Hamed.
Their lawsuit against Gonzalez, Hamed said, is what he believes "what triggered (Martinez's filing of a restraining order), just because we went after her friend." Martinez filed her injunction against him on April 18.
"It's nothing personal (against Gonzalez)," Hamed said. "But if you don't have the signatures, you don't have the signatures. It's all about following the laws and the rules when you run for office."
As for Martinez, Hamed said, she should have been ready to come under public scrutiny when she filed her petitions.
"When somebody runs for public office, they submit themselves to the voters for scrutiny and accountability and for questioning," he said. "If they can't handle any of that then they shouldn't be running for office."
In her injunction, Martinez claimed that "Sami (Hamed) has been harassing and stalking me since I started my election campaign. The extent of the stalking has forced me to move from my Midtown residence to bouncing around from my DIY home to my parents and other friends."
Napier, in his report, wrote that Martinez sent him "an unsolicited email" on April 21, saying that she had been a victim of harassment and would no longer be living in her listed residence, 412 N. Belvedere Ave., but didn't request any help or say where her new address would be.
"So I will be essentially homeless as of May 1, 2022," she wrote. The email "seemed odd" to Napier, he wrote, especially because it came a day after Presiding Constable Michael Stevenson made an "urgent request" to meet with him about alleged ethical violations by Martinez. Stevenson would go on to provide documents that would prompt Napier's report.
Ferguson, who owns the home on Belvedere, is a former Arizona Daily Star reporter and now holds a seat on the board of directors that oversees the nonprofit Tucson Sentinel. He offered to let Martinez and her child stay in a spare bedroom, he told the Sentinel on Tuesday, when he learned earlier this year that she needed a place to live.
But although he provided her with a key to the home, he's uncertain if Martinez ever even spent a night there, he said. "If it happened, it was when I was out of town," he told the Sentinel. "I'm not aware she ever did."
Martinez, in her email to Napier, implied that she and Ferguson had a "relationship."
"The severity of this harassment has impacted my relationship with the person I have been living with for several months and he has been forced to ask me to vacate our residence because of his concerns for his safety and the safety of his child," she wrote.
Ferguson said he didn't want to be in the middle of the election drama.
"I wanted my privacy; I'm upset she was dragging my name into all of this," he told the Sentinel, calling it a "flat-out lie" that the pair had a romantic relationship. "We never dated," he emphasized.
Ferguson said he was "furious" that Martinez used his name in asking judges to issue orders of protection against others.
Injunctions a 'choice of weapon'
Martinez claimed in her request for an injunction that Hamed was "acting on behalf of George Camacho," one of the county's constables, and that Hamed relayed threats through Ferguson, who served as a constable before losing a 2020 primary race to Camacho.
Hamed was "recruited to threaten and harass me, this officer (Camacho) later regretted his part," Martinez alleged.
"Hamid (misspelled by Martinez) has made multiple threats towards me through Joe Ferguson. He has stated that he is having people follow me and that I better drop out of the election," Martinez wrote. "Sami Hamid has made multiple threats to people I am associated with as a means to intimidate me out of my current election campaign. Sami is not running in my election, I have never met Sami, he is absolutely and completely obsessed with me. He is welcome to help his friends run their campaigns but the threats and intimidation have become obsessive."
Camacho and Ferguson would seem to be unlikely allies, as they have their own history of conflicts beyond the political, with police reports and restraining orders filed over their confrontations with each other.
Asking the court for the orders, Martinez also listed her daughter as needing protection from Hamed and Toth. Hamed told the Sentinel there's no proof for any of those claims and that they're all false.
"She said that I was stalking her, intimidating her via her friends, none of this was true," Hamed said. "There's no proof, she's never met me, she says I stalk her. How can she prove those things?"
She claimed that Hamed drove by her home and followed her in his car.
Hamed, who is legally blind, cannot drive. Martinez didn't seem to know that he is blind until they were in court together, he said.
The first time Hamed met Martinez was at that hearing last Wednesday. The judge decided to lift the injunction after Hamed presented a letter from his eye doctor and a sworn affidavit from Camacho saying he had never asked Hamed to threaten her.
Martinez told the Sentinel on Tuesday, several days after the trial, that the injunctions were "a way to protect herself" and that it's "not OK for them (Hamed and Toth) to harrass me and stalk me and then get upset because I need to find a way to protect myself."
Hamed said the episode showed that "she lacks the character fitness and the temperament to do the job and it shows." He also said that injunctions are Martinez's "choice of weapon as a bully."
"She's a bully, and her choice of weapon is to weaponize the court system against people," he said. "It's unfortunate the supervisors appointed a bully with a badge and a gun. Had the Board of Supervisors done their due diligence and vetted a little more carefully, I don't think they would have appointed her to the job."
"She's full of shit," he told the Sentinel.
If legally possible, Hamed said, Martinez should be removed from her position. He also said she should be investigated criminally for fraud and forgery on her petitions.
Ex-sheriff tells county to investigate, Martinez denounces 'smear campaign'
Napier made a similar recommendation in his report to Lesher, which was sent of the supervisors.
He wrote that the Pima County Attorney's Office should be consulted about starting a criminal investigation into what would be a class 6 felony for tampering with public records.
Napier's report has also gone to the Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board, a state agency. Their review could last several months. Napier said the supervisors should consider suspending her until the review comes back because a felony may have been committed.
The board should also consult with PCAO about what other actions they could take against Martinez pending the CESTB review, he said.
Martinez said she's not worried about a criminal investigation because "there's no fraud."
"They're welcome to. I can't stop that. I haven't done anything wrong," she said. "I think it's just a smear campaign."
Martinez had agreed to allow a Sentinel reporter to ride along with her as she carried out her constable's duties on Tuesday, but she canceled with a phone call on Monday, saying she felt ill. When speaking with the Sentinel on Tuesday, Martinez was behind the wheel while working, she said.
Questions of residency
Martinez also filed an injunction against harassment against Toth, who filed petitions to run for JP8 constable. Martinez said that Toth hired private investigators to follow her and threatened to use his contacts with other police against her.
Toth, a veteran sergeant with the South Tucson Police Department, told the Sentinel that he had only met Martinez twice, and the last time was when she threatened to file an injunction against him if he didn't drop out of the race.
On April 4, the nomination petition filing deadline, Toth did hire Patriot Shield Investigations, an Oro Valley PI firm, to look into whether Martinez was living in the precinct. They concluded that she lived at 7464 E. Sycamore Park Blvd., an address several miles outside the precinct, southwest of South Kolb Road and Interstate 10, after surveilling the residence and checking vehicle and parcel records.
The address that they checked was one that Toth had found by searching Martinez's name on the Pima County Assessor's Office website.
Martinez had signed a sworn statement that said she lived in the JP8 at 412 N. Belvedere Ave., an address that belongs to Ferguson, who had let her stay there. The address is near the intersection of South Swan Road and East 5th Street, slightly up the road from Equinox Apartments, which is the listed residence of several signatures that Toth and Napier noted as suspicious.
Toth showed the Sentinel as well as the private investigators and Pima County officials screenshots from an March 10 interview by Martinez, conducted by the League of Women Voters before she was appointed, in which details of the house she's in can be made out in the background.
He later compared that background with photos of the Sycamore Park address posted online by Zillow. The private investigators also compared the screenshots with photos on Redfin.com, and along with Toth, concluded that she was staying at the Sycamore Park address because the background matched the photos for that address listed on those sites.
The private investigators also found that she was living at the Sycamore Park address in April after they used her photo and description to identify her regularly arriving and leaving the home. They said they observed both a car registered in her name parked there, as well as a government vehicle.
Constables are provided with work vehicles by the county.
Martinez told the Sentinel that she leases out the Sycamore Park home to others, and lives in Midtown Tucson near Speedway and Alvernon.
Napier recommended in his report that Martinez, as a county employee, be directed to disclose the address at which she's living. Residence, as the county sees it, has to be where she lives, gets mail, and uses for legal documents such as a driver's license.
The county may also ask her to provide rental payments, utility bills in her name and other government documents to prove her place of residence. Napier said he was anticipating that she may tell them that she rents out the Sycamore Park home, and the county would ask her to provide those leases as proof.
If Martinez can't prove she lived in the precinct, that would mean the Board of Supervisors appointed her under false pretenses and that she is not legally qualified for the position, Napier wrote, though there's no process by which her appointment can be rescinded. It would also mean she committed perjury, a felony, as she signed "under the penalty of perjury" that she lives in JP8 in her campaign's statement of organization and her nomination papers for constable, he wrote.
Toth claims intimidation, Martinez counters with her own assertions
The first time Toth met Martinez, she had come to his house and asked for his help in gathering signatures to get on the ballot. When she handed him the petition, Toth said he looked at the address and later checked it on the County Assessor's website.
When Toth saw Martinez the second time, he was at Pima County Superior Court to challenge her petitions, based on his claim that she doesn't live in the precinct and out of his suspicion about many of the signatures she turned in. Toth filed his challenge on April 18, the deadline to do so, and the same day Martinez filed to get restraining orders against Toth and Hamed.
She approached Toth as he was leaving the court and told him that she was going to file the injunction because she was scared and people were following her, Toth said, accusing him of putting private investigators and Hamed up to it.
Toth worried that his career of 30 years as a police officer would be put at risk by filing, so he dropped his challenge, he said.
"I just thought, you know what, OK, I'll leave. I won't file the challenge," he told the Sentinel. "It's not a game I want to play. I'm not a politician."
Martinez told Toth that he needed to go to the Elections Department and withdraw his candidacy as constable right away, he said. Toth said he was surprised by the request, but worried that the order would hurt his reputation, he went straight to Elections and dropped his candidacy. Still, Martinez filed to get the order of protection that day.
In asking the court to issue a restraining order against Toth, Martinez wrote he "abused his position as a law enforcement officer to try to intimidate me and has inappropriately shared my information."
"He is aware that I am being followed and has failed to act or intercede in the stalking," she wrote. "This is a law enforcement officer that has compromised his oath and broken laws and me not knowing that full extent of what he will do or turn a blind eye to. I am very worried and scared for me, my daughter, Joe (Ferguson), and my family."
She wrote that Toth called her a few days before on April 14 and told her that he was not going to challenge her petitions, which he denied to the Sentinel, and that he was expecting her to make the same agreement. According to her injunction, he then went on to say "everyone has secrets they don't want to come out" and then said "he knew where my second home was and that people knew my coming and goings."
Toth told the Sentinel that he denies having called her and that he has never "mixed his professional work with the campaign," denying that he would use law enforcement contacts to intimidate her.
"Give me witnesses that I have talked to and made those statements to, or information that she has" he said. "She doesn't, she can't prove that because it never happened."
She also claimed that Toth called her "just after midnight, to tell me that Francisco Lopez was having me followed." Her injunction also says Toth gave information to Hamed, Lopez and Comacho "that he regretted" and that he "used George (Camacho) to find canvassers that he could pay 'per signature' on his election petitions to run against me."
Though Toth did hire a private investigator to check where she was living, he told the Sentinel that she has no evidence that he hired a person to follow her or harass her.
"I'm not following her. I don't know who's following her. I've never paid anyone to follow her," he said. "She's making that statement to try and sound like a victim."
Toth said had initially been impressed with Martinez's resume, he said, which included charity work with veterans and service in the U.S. Army. Since his experience with her and hearing from others, however, Toth said he "felt her character was lacking."
Concerned citizen challenges Martinez
The only challenge to Martinez's petitions to have gone before a judge was filed by Pam Ocasek, a JP8 resident. Ocasek brought the challenge to court on April 21, but she later dropped the case because she felt like the judge was going to dismiss it on a technicality.
Ocasek signed the petition in support of Martinez's candidacy after a Democratic canvasser came to her house to gather signatures for a justice of the peace running in JP8 who was endorsed by Kristen Randall.
The canvasser then mentioned another petition that they had, but Ocasek said they had doubts about presenting it. The petition was for Martinez.
The petition circulator said Martinez had Randall's endorsement as well, Ocasek said, but Randall told the Sentinel that she never endorsed Martinez, has talked to her only a few times and only met her in-person once.
Ocasek would later find out from Randall and another constable that she did not endorse her JP8 successor. This raised red flags for Ocasek, she said, and she later found out from other county staffers that signatures on Martinez's petitions were suspected to be forged.
After getting a copy of the petition filings from a friend, Ocasek said she saw "a lot of discrepancies, a lot of places where things were marked out. Changes had been made to the petition after people had signed it."
Napier also noted that content seemed to have been added to the petitions, specifically addresses to names. He included in his report a signed statement from the manager of the Equinox Apartments saying that several people whose names are on the petitions, with the complex listed as their address, do not live there.
Like Napier, Ocasek also noticed that all the signatures on one page of Martinez's petitions appeared to be in the same handwriting.
"I'm no handwriting expert," Ocasek said, echoing Napier. "But it looks like the same person signed this over and over again, an entire page."
After seeing Martinez's petitions, Ocasek said she felt "like someone was trying to pull a fast one, and I didn't think that was right." She decided to challenge Martinez's signatures because she lived in the precinct.
But she didn't expect how "complicated" the lawsuit would be "or how difficult it would be, to tell the truth."
'A rubber stamp'
Ocasek didn't know that she would have to appear in court, and she wasn't aware the case had to be resolved in 10 calendar days to make sure lingering uncertainties didn't keep the ballot from being finalized and made ready to mail out overseas.
"I was informed that it would be easy, that I wouldn't need representation," she said. "That pretty much wasn't true. I wasn't prepared for how fast and furious it was going to go."
Ocasek, who has a full-time IT job, said it was hard to find the time for this case and take days off work to go to court twice. As a result of not knowing what to expect or being ready, she did things incorrectly, she said, and that made it hard to continue.
"I was ill-advised on all the things to do and all the things to do in the right order," she said. "And the judge was really fixated on that."
It looked like the judge was going to dismiss the case on a technicality after she didn't serve a summons on everyone involved, including each of the county supervisors.
"That was when I made my move to dismiss, because I couldn't get any help from the courtroom," she said. "To me, that's the real problem. Yeah, (Martinez) seemed shifty, but there's this whole thing of nobody checking this stuff under normal circumstances — it just goes through."
If improper signatures aren't challenged in court by an individual voter, then something like this "wouldn't have come to light. That's just not right," she said.
Although Martinez's petition was accepted by the county and she was put on the ballot, Ocasek said there is no real review and it seems people can get on the ballot with fraudulent signatures.
"Technically, they don't do any certification," she said. "The county does no vetting of signatures. None. So, unless someone like me or like Chris Toth challenges for whatever reason, it's a rubber stamp."
Under state election procedures, no official checks the signatures as a regular part of the process, and it puts the county at risk, she said.
The cost to the county, Napier wrote, could be in public trust.
"As a constable, (Martinez) holds a position of trust in the community. She is empowered to serve legal documents and affirm the service of them. She is entrusted with county equipment and indemnified by the county while serving in professional capacity," Napier wrote. "Given the serious nature of the allegations and some substantive evidence to support them, her continued performance of the duties of constable may pose a liability and potential embarrassment to the county."
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.