Yet another nutty story landed in the laps of scandal lovers last week. State Sen. Toni Hellon, a Republican who is up for re-election, took out a restraining order against William "Bill" Arnold, then the treasurer of Steve Huffman's Congressional District 8 campaign. She accused him of skulking around her home in a ball cap and sunglasses in order to take photos.
Adding a touch of spice to this story is the fact that Huffman, who is also a Republican, happens to be Hellon's former rival for her seat in the state Senate--before he moved on to the congressional race. Oddly, he appeared to have moved on before the alleged snooping started, making a possible motive unclear (although one of Huffman's opponents is Mike Hellon, Toni's ex-husband).
"I am just not going to put up with it anymore, doggone it," Hellon said. "I don't know why he's doing this or anything like that. Makes no sense to me, for crying out loud."
Hellon also filed a civil claim for trespassing and invasion of privacy against Arnold and Todd Clodfelter, Arnold's chum from Boy Scouts. She said authorities fingered Clodfelter as the mystery operator of the HellOnToni.com Web site, which is where the snooper's photos were posted.
The site--run by a shadowy figure identifying himself as "Thomas Paine"--accuses Hellon of misappropriating campaign funds for personal uses, such as making improvements to her home. It includes photographs of a backyard door and windows--some of which allow a view inside--taken from what looks like a distance of mere feet, as well as interior shots of the home that appear to be ripped from a real estate listing.
Her suit seeks an injunction to stop the alleged snooping, as well as punitive damages of at least $100,000.
Arnold is a familiar face to local political scenesters. He's past president of the Tucson Association of Realtors and sits on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan steering committee and the county's Conservation Advisory Committee. In fact, Hellon said he was an acquaintance she had seen around on many occasions.
"I worked at the county for a while, and I know who he is. I recognize him, (and) I've talked to him," Hellon said.
Arnold quit as Huffman's treasurer shortly after Hellon filed suit. His resignation letter, which was released by Huffman's campaign, called the charges "politically motivated and baseless."
"There are many important issues in your race--this shouldn't be one of them," the letter continued. It was prefaced with a statement from Huffman for Congress that said "neither Steve Huffman nor his campaign had anything to do with this matter."
Arnold didn't respond to at least eight calls for further comment. David Stuempfle, campaign manager for Huffman for Congress, didn't return two calls seeking clarification on whether Huffman and Arnold had ever discussed HellOnToni.com in any capacity before Hellon's news broke.
For his part, Clodfelter denied maintaining the Web site, but declined further comment. "We're evaluating the situation," he said. "I haven't gotten any (legal) documentation. Until I read it, I've got nothing to say."
According to Hellon, Arnold and Clodfelter have yet to respond to the lawsuit. They had 10 days from the suit's filing date of Aug. 18 to request a hearing, she said.
Hellon recalled that this twisted tale began with a snarky letter that was sent to her campaign contributors in February. It insinuated that she had used their money to inappropriately remodel her home, pay utility bills and eat out.
Kevin Tyne, deputy secretary of state, said the letter was passed on to the Attorney General's Office for investigation. It was illegally signed by a nonexistent political action committee called "Friends of Toni" and gave a return address that's actually the address for the Secretary of State's Office in Phoenix.
Soon after the letter appeared, Hellon said, she became aware of the Web site, which took her to task for the same abuses. She said neighbors had told her they had seen a suspicious man on her property on numerous occasions, making her feel "unsafe" and "guilty" for attracting a stalker when she has many elderly neighbors.
"I feel bad that I brought this into my neighborhood," she said. "I don't know who's taking pictures over the wall or into the windows. You just don't know, and you never feel completely comfortable."
Hellon said the expenses she charged to her campaign were strictly related to her duties as state senator. She added that she had a large, fully equipped office in her previous house, which she sold. Hellon has lived in her current home since January 2005, she said.
In addition to buying furniture, Hellon said she also put in a secure window, added electrical outlets and lights, reconfigured a closet to provide more storage space and installed a window shade that would allow sunlight in even when it was drawn. Hellon decided not to charge the campaign for the office's flooring, as that was "something that would be there forever."
Financial records from the Secretary of State's Office show the home-office construction total was $3,000--not including the shade, which went for $855. Additional storage space in her garage for large-format campaign materials, such as signs, cost $425. She also reimbursed herself and paid campaign credit cards for thousands of dollars in costs associated with dining, office supplies, postage and travel.
When she leaves office, Hellon said she'll have to rip a lot of the storage areas out. "What's in there, it's specific to storing the kinds of things that I have," she said. "I would never have done that stuff if it weren't that I had so much campaign materials."
In the end, Hellon said her reputation hasn't been damaged by the claims made on the Web site or in the bogus mailings. In fact, some people--perhaps as a "sign of faith," according to Hellon--have asked if they could send more money in response to them.
"No one, nobody has complained about this," she said, "even when they were sent e-mails that told all this stuff. They know me; they know I don't do this stuff.
"My irritation mostly is that if you know about me--if people know me for a while--they know that there are three things that are ultimately important to me: Those are trust and loyalty and ethics. I am not unethical; I don't do anything like that ever."