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Dems call for investigation of Republican Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita in sexual harassment allegation

Posted: 8:00 PM, Feb 05, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-11 20:44:25-05
Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Adam Kwasman

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — State Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R – Scottsdale) was once cast as a victim of the #metoo movement. In 2018, as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Ugenti-Rita took to social media to accuse former State Representative Don Shooter of sexual harassment. Allegations which eventually led to his formal expulsion from the body.

Now, new details are coming to light in a lawsuit brought by Shooter against Ugenti-Rita in which she is accused in a sworn deposition by an unnamed female lobbyist of sexual harassment and intimidation.

The lobbyist says she was made to endure unwanted sexual advances by Ugenti-Rita and her then-boyfriend, now-husband Brian Townsend. At the time, Townsend was a policy advisor to Governor Doug Ducey.

The lobbyist says she received a number of sexually explicit photographs from Townsend which included Ugenti-Rita . The woman said one of these photos included a text message she believed was a solicitation for a threesome, with Townsend “referring to a woman and all of us being together.”

The lobbyist said she attempted to maintain a professional relationship with the lawmaker and Townsend despite her extreme discomfort at the text messages and images.

She recounted one particular incident in which she received a text message from Townsend of him engaging in a sex act with a woman that she was unable to identify, but assumed to be Ugenti-Rita, along with a text message that she said read “along the lines of she wants you to be with us.”

The deposition goes on to detail the interactions between Ugenti-Rita and the woman at an Arizona League of Cities and Towns event in which the two met at a happy hour. She says that Ugenti-Rita asked to take a selfie with her and send it to Townsend, which made her uncomfortable.

Later that evening, she said Ugenti-Rita asked her to join her in her room, a request she initially rebuffed, only to later end up going after the lawmaker found the woman’s boss and asked if “she could steal me for a second.”

The woman said she was uncomfortable being alone in the room with Ugenti-Rita, a situation that was exacerbated further when she was informed that Townsend would be joining them. The woman said that she texted her boss and asked him to call her and say that she needed to come back down to the main area.

In December of 2018, during the Arizona House’s investigation into the conduct of Don Shooter, the woman recounted being stopped by Ugenti-Rita near a House bathroom, who “stopped me and got in my face, and said everyone was going to find out what a liar I was.”

In her own deposition, Ugenti-Rita did not deny the existence of the photos, but said that she only found out about the existence of the photos and text messages much later during the Don Shooter ethics investigation.

Late Wednesday, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader David Bradley (D-Tucson) released a statement saying, "The allegations contained in the deposition appear to be a clear violation of our sexual harassment policy that warrants further investigation by President Fann."