Lobbyist says she felt harassed by Arizona lawmaker
PHOENIX (AP) — A lobbyist says she felt sexually harassed and her career has suffered since she received unwanted explicit photos of an Arizona lawmaker and the legislator’s future husband, according to court depositions.
The lobbyist also says a sweeping report on sexual harassment at the state Capitol did not accurately portray her allegations against Republican Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, according to newspaper reports.
Ugenti-Rita became a face of the #MetToo movement in Arizona when she publicly accused a fellow lawmaker, Republican Rep. Don Shooter, of repeated sexual harassment. Her claims eventually contributed to Shooter’s expulsion from the Legislature.
The lobbyist reluctantly tells her story at length in a deposition in connection with lawsuits that Shooter and Ugenti-Rita have filed against each other since Shooter was booted from the House.
The woman describes a pattern of harassment by Ugenti-Rita and her now-husband, Brian Townsend, a former adviser to the governor. She said she believed the political power couple was trying to recruit her for a threesome in 2016, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.
Ugenti-Rita declined to comment to the Capitol Times and The Arizona Republic. She did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Repercussions from those unwanted advances led the woman to seek therapy, turn down job offers and miss work days, she said.
The lobbyist, who is not identified in court documents, is a former Capitol staffer who worked for committees chaired by Ugenti-Rita. She said she didn’t feel uncomfortable around the Scottsdale lawmaker until she left the Legislature to take a lobbying job.
She said she invited Ugenti-Rita and Townsend to drinks to improve her relationship with the lawmaker so she could better lobby for her employer.
The next morning, the woman woke up to a text message from Townsend, her former boss at the House of Representatives, with a photo of a naked woman, with no message and the head cropped out of the frame. The lobbyist said there was no question in her mind that the woman in the photograph was Ugenti-Rita.
“I was really distraught and freaked out,” she said in the deposition. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Over the next several weeks, Townsend sent two more explicit photos, the lobbyist said.
Ugenti-Rita confirmed in her own sworn deposition that she was the woman in the photos, and that either she or Townsend took them. But she said she didn’t know Townsend planned to send them, and she didn’t find out the woman had received those photos until after the House’s independent investigator showed them to her.
A few weeks later, at a conference for a trade association, the woman says she again felt she was propositioned by Ugenti-Rita.
Ugenti-Rita said in her own sworn deposition that she and the lobbyist were friends.
The lobbyist described her experiences to an investigator hired in late 2017 to investigate allegations of impropriety in the House, but her allegations were downplayed in the final report.
Investigators determined that Townsend acted alone in sending sexually explicit images and messages to the lobbyist.