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State Constable Ethics Board investigating Pima County's Martinez over election violation claims

A state investigation has been launched into the case of Deborah Martinez, a Pima County constable accused of forging petition signatures for her election and lying about living in her precinct.

The Arizona Constable Ethics, Standards and Training Board voted unanimously Friday morning to probe complaints against the Justice Precinct 8 constable, county officials said.

The allegations against Martinez include potential felony fraud, forgery, perjury and tampering with public records. Several people have told TucsonSentinel.com that Martinez’s signatures on her nominating petition to run for office in November appear to be forged. Assistant County Administrator Mark Napier made the same conclusion in an April 27 report to County Administrator Jan Lesher.

Napier wrote that "substantive evidence" supports these claims and that "there is a reason to believe felony offenses may have occurred."

The Pima County Attorney's Office didn't respond to a request for comment on whether they plan to pursue a criminal investigation. Napier recommended in his report to the Lesher that they consult PCAO over whether to open an investigation of the issues.

Martinez learned of the CESTB vote when asked about it by a Sentinel reporter on Friday morning. She has repeatedly said that the allegations against her are a "smear."

Napier, a former Pima County sheriff, also said the Board of Supervisors should suspend Martinez during the CESTB investigation and ask PCAO what other actions they're "empowered" to take. The period for challenging nomination petitions in court is over, but, Napier wrote, PCAO could offer "potential remedies" if she's unqualified to run. The County Elections Department, specifically, "would have an interest in the potential that a candidate may in fact not be qualified," Napier wrote.

South Tucson Police Sgt. Chris Toth, who briefly ran against Martinez for the JP8 constable job, has also shown evidence to the Tucson Sentinel and Pima County officials that Martinez has been living in a home several miles outside her precinct. Toth dropped out of the JP8 race after Martinez told him to do so or be served with an injunction against harassment, also known as a restraining order.

Toth ended his campaign and dropped a legal challenge to her petitions after Martinez's threat, but she still filed a request for a restraining order. That order hasn’t been served to him yet, leaving him unable to challenge it.

Former Tucson City Council candidate and Democratic party worker bee Sami Hamed told the Sentinel that Martinez made false accusations of harassment and stalking against him and used an injunction to intimidate him.

Hamed said that “she’s full of shit” and used the injunctions as a “choice of weapon” to “bully” him and others. He told the Sentinel that he plans to take legal action against her after a judge dismissed the order of protection against him last week.

A JP8 resident who signed Martinez’s petition sued the constable to have her petitions reviewed. The resident, Pam Ocasek, dropped the case after struggling with the court procedure and suspecting the judge would dismiss the case on a technicality.

In her injunctions, Martinez claims that she was followed and threatened by Hamed and Toth, and that fellow Constable George Camacho threatened her through former Constable Joe Ferguson.

Martinez said she has no comment on the CESTB investigations and doesn’t know if she plans to give a written response to the investigation, which she has 45 days to do per CESTB rules. She did, however, continue to call the allegations against her part of a “smear campaign.”

“I’m sure when it all comes out I’ll be vindicated,” she said. “I’ll get through it and tell the truth.”

She said no one had yet informed her of the investigation when she spoke with a Sentinel reporter on Friday morning, shortly after the CESTB's vote at their monthly meeting. The new constable, only a few months into the job, said “I don’t know how any of this (the CESTB investigation) works” or how she’ll respond to the investigation.

“I know how to work in my community. I know how to serve the people of my community,” she said. “But I don’t know anything about politics or how any of this stuff works, so I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

A hearing will take place in July, as Ethics Board rules require that one be scheduled for the second meeting after the investigation begins. The board will consider prior offenses, whether there’s a dishonest or self-serving motive, a pattern of misconduct, obstruction to the preceding and submission of false evidence, among other factors.

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The penalties the board can take against constables include:

  • Mediation
  • Issue warnings, reprimands or admonishments
  • Instruct constables to take educational classes or other specific actions
  • Urge constables to resign
  • Place a constable on 30-day probation, which can be extended in 30 day increments up to 180 days
  • If the constable has previously been put on probation, recommend to the constable’s county board of supervisors that they suspend them without pay for any amount of time that doesn’t exceed the constable’s term

Martinez was appointed as the JP8 constable in early March after the Board of Supervisors voted for her 4-0, passing over several other candidates, including JP2 candidate Francisco Lopez. She is now running unopposed to keep the job for a two-year interim term if elected in the November general elections.

The newest constable is serving as constable for the Midtown precinct that “rebel eviction enforcer” Kristen Randall left when she resigned in late January, citing a “great divide” in the office.

The Pima County Constables Office has had several controversies in recent years. Constable Oscar Vasquez was suspended last year by the Board of Supervisors after the CESTB urged him to resign.

Napier wrote in his report that Martinez’s “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.

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