A week before the primary in the Arizona House special election, a leading Republican candidate's campaign is being roiled by an alleged cyber-affair with a former state Senate staffer.
Former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, who is running to fill former US Rep. Trent Franks' vacant seat, and the Senate GOP's former digital media coordinator, Stephanie Holford, exchanged flirtatious text messages last year, the Arizona Republic reported.
Holford also sent Montenegro -- a married minister who bills himself as a "leader of virtue" -- a topless photo. Both Holford, through her attorney, and Montenegro in an interview confirmed that the photo was sent.
In a statement read by her attorney, Tom Ryan, Thursday at a news conference, Holford said her ex-boyfriend "snuck onto my computer and stole my private information and began to shop it around to the media."
Ryan said Holford is the victim of revenge porn.
"I'm considering what legal actions I may have for his involvement in this matter," Holford said, adding that it was never her intent to make the texts with Montenegro public.
Arizona has a revenge porn law that makes it a felony for anyone to disclose photos or information of another individual engaging in sex or in a state of nudity with intent to hurt, harass or intimidate that person.
Holford was hired as a digital media coordinator in 2017 and the texting communication with Montenegro began in February of last year, according to her statement read by Ryan.
She said at first the text messages between them were professional, but soon -- "in a very short amount of time" -- Montenegro started sharing personal information during off-work hours, and soon turned to flirting.
"I felt comfortable enough with the relationship that I began to send pictures of myself in various states of undress. Sen. Montenegro asked me to sent them on Snapchat instead. We engaged in sexual conversation about these pictures. These conversations were detailed and intimate," Holford said in the statement that Ryan read.
Snapchat allows users to send photos and video messages which disappear after being opened and viewed for a few seconds by recipients. Because the photos were sent via Snapchat, Holford has no record of them. According to Ryan, Holford said Montenegro never sent similar photos to her.
Holford said that eventually the messaging stopped.
In December, Montenegro resigned his Senate seat to run in the special election for Arizona's 8th Congressional District after Franks resigned over a sexual harassment allegation. The Republican primary is next Tuesday.
Holford said Montenegro contacted her shortly after Franks' resignation last December to "make sure I was 'cool' and not going to be talking about our texting, Snapping relationship."
When the content of the text messages were first reported on Tuesday, Montenegro dismissed it as "false tabloid trash" in a statement.
But in an interview with The Washington Examiner published two days later, Montenegro confirmed he exchanged text messages and received a nude photo from Holford.
He said after receiving the photo, he told his wife and broke off communication with Holford.
"If there is anything I would say I'm guilty of, it's becoming too comfy or familiar as seen in some of those texts," Montenegro told The Washington Examiner.
He also denied soliciting the inappropriate photos or text messages and said he "did not have any inappropriate relationships" with Holford. Holford, through her attorney, said the two never had a physical relationship.
During Thursday's news conference, Ryan accused Montenegro of "lying in the press about the affair and saying he never solicited anything."
"He was grooming her for a sexual relationship," Ryan told reporters Thursday after reading from Holford's statement. "You will find out these are, in its politest terms, not very senatorial at all."
Montenegro hit back at Ryan later, calling Ryan's allegations "not just false and defamatory, but dangerously so."
"This was political theater and a pack of lies to effect this race," Montenegro wrote on Facebook Thursday.
"I have already made clear that Ms. Holford and I were friends, that while I allowed our friendship to become too familiar, and that she did, without solicitation from me, send me an inappropriate picture, I never had an inappropriate relationship with her or anyone else," the GOP candidate wrote. "I am confident the voters will see through these deplorable pack of lies thrown out by a liberal attorney with a clear agenda of attacking conservatives."
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