PHOENIX - A former aide to Arizona Senate Republicans expressed regret Thursday that she sent pictures of herself in "various states of undress" to an ex-state senator now running for the U.S. House seat of a disgraced congressman.
Stephanie Holford issued a statement through her attorney, Tom Ryan, saying text messages between her and former state Sen. Steve Montenegro began as professional when she started working last year as a digital media coordinator for the Republican Caucus.
But she expressed regret that they became flirtatious to the point where she felt comfortable sending the married Christian minister pictures of herself in "various states of undress." She also said an ex-boyfriend took photos and messages off her computer in a case of "revenge porn."
Montenegro, who is married, resigned his senate seat to run in a special election for U.S. Rep. Trent Franks' seat. The primary featuring 12 GOP candidates is Tuesday. The winner is expected to be the odds-on favorite in the House election in April.
Franks resigned in December after acknowledging he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child and offered her $5 million to be a surrogate.
Montenegro issued a statement after Ryan's news conference calling him "the Gloria Allred of Arizona," and saying he made a number of unfounded accusations "in an effort to sensationalize this story to do damage to me, my reputation, and my campaign."
"I have already made clear that Ms. Holford and I were friends, that while I allowed our friendship to become too familiar, and that she did, without solicitation from me, send me an inappropriate picture, I never had inappropriate relationship with her or anyone else," the statement said.
Montenegro earlier told the Washington Examiner Thursday that he didn't solicit a topless photo from Holford and never had an inappropriate relationship with her. He said political foes were trying to sabotage his congressional candidacy with revenge porn.
Ryan released a series of text messages at a news conference that he said showed Montenegro was "grooming" Holford for months and they discussed various sexual matters.
He said his client and Montenegro never followed through.
"What he's doing is he's taking information and trying to find out how personal she's willing to be with him," Ryan said. "He's grooming her for what he wants to get out of her."
Ryan said Montenegro should quit the race.
"Sen. Montenegro is a moral toad. The reason we no longer have Trent Franks in Congress is because he was a moral toad," Ryan said. "And I'm asking the citizens in Congressional District 8 if he does not resign from this race to not elect another moral toad."
Montenegro is among 12 Republicans and two Democrats running in Tuesday's special primary election.
He denounced the initial reports on the texts as "tabloid trash" in a Facebook post but didn't deny receiving the messages.
Before news reports surfaced earlier this week about the texts, Ryan said he had emailed the woman's ex-boyfriend to tell him to destroy the materials he took and not show or discuss them with anyone.
"And then I find out that not only has he shown stuff to people, he's shopped it" all over town, the attorney said.