Arizona ethics investigators say two Prescott women allege former Arizona Rep. David Stringer made disturbing comments relating to the trafficking and abuse of children.
Statements attributed to Stringer, who resigned last week over sex crimes allegations dating back to the 1980s, include reluctance to condemn child sex trafficking and the claim that sexual abuse of children is benign in its impact on victims.
The Arizona Republic reported that Stringer’s alleged statements have been recorded in notes taken by members of the House Ethics Committee during conversations with the two women.
The state House of Representatives released the notes on April 3.
‘Don’t Like to Demonize It’
One case relates to an alleged conversation between Stringer and Merissa Hamilton, a child sex trafficking victim and activist.
Hamilton told House Ethics Committee investigators that she and Stringer were sitting together at an event that she recorded on video, which has since been published on YouTube.
In the video, Hamilton and a person alleged to be Stringer can be heard discussing what issue he should ask the speaker about, and she suggests raising the issue of child sex trafficking.
The man responds by saying that he thinks concerns about child sex trafficking are “demagoguery” and “I don’t like to demonize it.”
The male voice attributed to Stringer is also heard saying that while he doesn’t think there is much child sex trafficking, there are “a lot of 15-year-old prostitutes.”
Stringer in a comment on Facebook on April 4 responded to Hamilton’s claims by saying, “It has come to my attention that one of my former campaign supporters has jumped on the bandwagon denouncing me for things I have never said and don’t believe.
“Merissa Hamilton, the former 2016 Libertarian candidate for the US Senate, claims to have left the Libertarian party because it was infiltrated by pedophiles.
“At an RWOP luncheon last May she brought up the subject of child sex trafficking, claiming it was a crisis. Apparently, I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic to suit Ms. Hamilton. She now claims to be alarmed at my skepticism about finding child rape harnesses in the desert and pedophile rings under every rock.”
Hamilton also told House Ethics Committee investigators that after the event at which Stringer seemed to play down the problem of child sex trafficking, he allegedly defended child sex abuse during an exchange the two had outside the venue.
The Arizona Republic reported Hamilton told investigators that Stringer said he didn’t think there was any “damage” from child sex trafficking. It is alleged Stringer said to Hamilton, “If an uncle takes his niece or nephew to a playground, and they go on the merry-go-round and have some ice cream, and then do their thing, that’s just part of the experience.”
Stringer responded to Hamilton’s allegations in a statement, “I can’t account for the statements she has attributed to me. But for the record I have never minimized the problem of sex trafficking or specifically child sex trafficking across our southern border. As an attorney, I’ve handled child sex cases, representing both victims and the accused. They are serious cases.”
‘I Like Being a Daddy Figure’
The second case of disturbing comments newly attributed to Stringer relates to comments he allegedly made to school administrators in Prescott, the Arizona Republic reported.
Rosemary Agneessens, a leader with the Prescott Education Advocacy Council, was cited in the ethics committee notes as saying that Stringer made disturbing comments in context of an alleged internship where he helped elementary school-aged children learn English.
Agneessens claims Stringer said, “I like being a daddy figure for the little girls when they sit on my lap.”
She said Stringer’s comments related to an internship he claimed to have had with the Arizona State University Preparatory Academy in Phoenix.
Arizona State University spokesman Bret Hovell told the Arizona Republic there’s “no record of him being at ASU Prep. We don’t have him as an intern, as a teacher, as a student teacher.”
Stringer, a Republican from Prescott, unexpectedly resigned from the Arizona Legislature on March 27, just an hour before a deadline for him to respond to a subpoena requesting records related to sex charges dating back about 35 years.
The House Ethics Committee had been investigating Stringer over charges that include child pornography and having sex with boys as young as 13.
The sex crimes revelations came to light only recently as records had been expunged due to an alleged plea deal that saw Stringer sentenced to five years of supervised probation, according to the Phoenix New Times.
Claims of Stringer’s culpability are disputed by his attorney, Carmen Chenal.
“The allegations are false and Mr. Stringer denies them all,” Chenal said, the Arizona Republic reported. “He never committed a crime. He was never convicted.”
In a Facebook post on March 27, Stringer criticized the chairman of the Ethics Committee, State Representative T.J. Shope, accusing him of “denying me due process, denying me access to speak to my accusers, and trying to force me to disclose court-sealed documents.”
Minority Co-Whip Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix) decried Stringer’s refusal to turn over records relating to his sex charges.
“The evidence that he was trying to withhold from the Ethics Committee must be damning since he chose to quit rather than comply with a subpoena,” Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix said in a press statement.
“It makes myself and my colleagues believe that the information was so damning,” Bolding said in a phone interview with the New York Times, “that he would prefer to resign.”
‘Salacious Allegations’ With ‘No Basis in Fact’
Stringer has responded to the sex crimes claims in a statement:
“Some 35 years ago when I lived in Maryland, I faced salacious allegations of sexual improprieties that had no basis in fact. 35 years ago those charges were false but they threatened me personally and put my professional life as an attorney at risk.
“My attorney did an excellent job breaking down the accusations piece by piece until the prosecution chose to offer a plea deal to two 4th degree petty offenses. Instead of having to go to trial and risk everything, I accepted a disposition that did not require me to plead guilty or result in a conviction. The charges were eventually dismissed and expunged from record.
“I took the deal, maintained my innocence and was never tried on any of the false charges.
“35 years later, political opponents have dug those charges back up to drive me from politics because they disagree with my views. The media, as you might expect, is treating accusations like they are convictions, and they are setting out to destroy my reputation. Of course they all want me to go on their TV channels and give them interviews to entice an audience with a salacious story. But I know there is zero chance of getting a fair shake from them. So I won’t try to use the fake media to tell you what happened.
“What I will say is that the charges I faced in 1983 are as false today as they were 35 years ago.
“I regret that sensationalized allegations from 35 years ago have forced me to resign my office.
“The actions of the leadership of our state legislature in forcing me from office are deeply and shamefully offensive to free elections and democratic governance.”
‘We Have a Job To Do’
On Wednesday, April 3, former state Senate President Steve Pierce, a Prescott Republican, was sworn in to replace Stringer in the House.
Taking the oath of office, Pierce was cited by Fox10 as saying, “We have a job to do for the people of Arizona, and for my constituents.”
Pierce will serve out Stringer’s remaining term.