At first blush, the FBI’s recent investigations into Arizona politicians appeared to be limited to just a handful of low-level state lawmakers who have been charged with federal crimes.
But records uncovered this week by TPM show at least one of the probes has been linked to some of the most powerful politicians in the state government as well as a shadowy conservative group known as ALEC, which has drawn national scrutiny for its outsized influence in state capitols across the country.
The investigation centers on an Arizona super lobbyist who was hired in 2009 by undercover federal agents. The agents posed as high rollers from what they said was a New York City company called Longford Solutions LLC. They came to town looking to make hefty deals to buy land from local governments and allegedly offered gifts like sports tickets to help grease the wheels.
The probe has already led to the indictment of state Rep. Ben Arredondo (D) on charges of bribery and attempted extortion. He has pleaded not guilty. Federal authorities say the inquiry is still ongoing.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Richard Miranda (D), resigned from office earlier this year and pleaded guilty to swindling thousands of dollars from a charity he ran. The federal investigation that brought him down so far appears to be separate from the Arredondo probe, though Miranda’s lawyer has raised questions about whether the two are connected.
Now, records on file with the state show Arredondo wasn’t the only lawmaker that lobbyist Mike Williams met with while representing the FBI’s front company, Longford Solutions.
On Feb. 16, 2009, Williams spent money on the company’s behalf to entertain two of the most powerful Republicans in the House, Majority Leader John McComish and Majority Whip Andy Tobin. The amount he spent was low, just $65.96, and was designated for “food or beverages.”
A similar meeting took place about two weeks later on March 3, 2009 with Rep. Cloves Campbell, a low-ranking member of the Democratic minority. Williams spent $24.09, again on food or drink, to entertain the lawmaker on behalf of Longford Solutions.
Three days after that, on March 6, 2009, Williams met with Rep. Jim Weiers, an influential Republican who served three terms as speaker of the House, the most powerful position in the chamber. Records show the lobbyist spent $54.58 on food or drink for the GOP big.
The records don’t say what the meetings were about or where they took place.
None of the lawmakers at those meetings has been accused of wrongdoing. When asked on Friday, Manuel Johnson, a spokesman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, wouldn’t confirm or deny whether any of the men were under investigation.
Reached at his House office on Friday, Weiers told TPM he has had lunch with Williams numerous times over the years and knows him “better than some, not as good as others.” But he said he had no recollection of the March 6, 2009 meeting.
“Have I been out to lunch with Mike Williams? Absolutely,” Weiers said. “To remember back to ‘09, I have absolutely no recollection of any land anything. And when it comes to Ben Arredondo, he’s been down there for one term. He’s just finishing up his second year. I don’t think I’ve spoken 10 words to him.”
Weiers said he has not been contacted by the FBI or federal prosecutors, but a private detective working for Arredondo called him about four weeks ago with questions. He said he has not made any effort to retain a lawyer.
The lawmaker said he recently called Williams to find out what was going on after learning his name was connected to the probe. Weiers asked the lobbyist how Longford Solutions came into the picture. “He said, ‘They called and asked if I could have them meet people,’” Weiers recalled. He said Williams told him nothing resulted from their meeting.
“I don’t do deals,” Weiers said. “I’m a little unique. If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea. If it’s not, it’s not.”
Likewise, Campbell told TPM he could not recall whether Williams was accompanied by a Longford Solutions executive during their 2009 meeting and could not remember where the meeting took place.
“I don’t really recall anything. You know, we would probably meet with five or six different lobbyists over a week’s time,” Campbell told TPM on Friday. “I couldn’t even tell you what we talked about. I don’t even remember what it was.”
Campbell said he has never been contacted by the FBI and did not recall what Longford Solutions was interested in.
McComish and Tobin did not return messages left Friday at their offices. Contacted previously by TPM, Williams said he knew nothing about the FBI probe and then hung up.