GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The head of a special Arizona House ethics committee on Wednesday said he was dropping an investigation into the actions of a fellow Republican lawmaker who faced complaints that he engaged in an improper relationship with a lobbyist and helped her avoid a tax seizure.
Rep. John Allen said he made the decision to drop the investigation of Rep. David Cook on his own despite being “deeply troubled” by the findings of outside lawyers the panel hired to investigate the claims and Cook’s subsequent behavior. Allen said in a letter announcing his decision that he didn’t believe Cook’s conduct “unequivocally constitutes the sort of ‘disorderly behavior’ punishable under the House’s Rules” and the state constitution.
The unilateral decision brought howls of protests from Democrats on the panel. Rep. Domingo DeGrazia said in a statement that dropping the investigation “does a disservice to the people of Arizona who expect charges of this caliber levied against a member to be thoroughly investigated and resolved.”
Cook issued a statement on his Facebook page saying the process “was abused to do as much political damage and personal damage to me and my reputation as possible.”
His statement said the original allegations came from lobbyist AnnaMarie Knorr’s “embittered ex-husband and his father-in-law,” and that the probe was being dropped now “to ensure that I would never have the opportunity to call witnesses or to present any sort of defense.”
“So we don’t ever get to go find the truth and let the public know,” Cook’s statement said. “That lack of due process is both unjust and un-American.”
An investigative report released last month concluded that Cook appeared to have had an improper romantic relationship with the lobbyist and apparently used his power to help her personally avoid a tax seizure.
The report did not reach any conclusions as to whether Cook broke House ethics rules or the law. That determination would have been made by the panel, which could have recommended disciplinary action, including expulsion, to the entire House.
But the report backed up allegations in two ethics complaints filed earlier this year against the Republican from Globe.
It said evidence it collected showed Cook “had a close personal relationship of a romantic nature” with Knorr. She left her post after the complaint was filed. And it found evidence that Cook called the Pinal County Sheriff to try to stop a seizure of property owned by Knorr and her family for back taxes.
The original ethics complaints said Cook, who is married, had an improper relationship with Knorr that involved “unethical behavior, conflict of interest, and appearance of corruption.” A second complaint alleged he pressured the Pinal County sheriff to cancel a property seizure in exchange for a campaign contribution. Knorr, her husband or companies owned by the family owed about $140,000 in taxes on the property.
Cook also pushed though legislation that made it more difficult to seize agricultural property such as Knorr’s for back taxes, according to the Ballard Spahr law firm’s investigation. The report also documented apparent alcohol abuse that led to unusual behavior, and said he delayed, dodged, or withheld documents or otherwise worked to prevent investigators from conducting a thorough probe.
The House has seen a series of ethics-related issues in recent years, with one resulting in the expulsion of then-Rep. Don Shooter for sexual harassment in 2018.
Another investigation led to the resignation of Rep. David Stringer last year after it was revealed that he was arrested in 1983 and accused of paying teenage boys for sex. Stringer denied that allegation and said he struck a deferred prosecution agreement because of a chance that he could lose.
Shooter and Stringer are Republicans.