A candidate vying to become the Valley's chief prosecutor has used the help of a convicted felon to qualify for a spot on the ballot this fall, public records show. Gerald Richard, a Democrat, recently turned in more than 5,000 signatures to run in the Maricopa County Attorney's race later this year.
Among them were at least 30 collected by former state lawmaker Sue Laybe, who was convicted in 1991 of taking bribes in the biggest political scandal in Arizona history, known as AzScam.
On Tuesday, one of Richard's political rivals said the relationship raises questions about the candidate's leadership and political sensibility.
"It is generally considered to be poor judgment for candidates for county attorney to associate with people convicted of serious crimes - especially when the crimes involve the betrayal of the public trust," Josh Kilroy, campaign manager for Richard's primary opponent, Tim Nelson, said in an e-mail.
Richard said he met Laybe at a gathering of Democrats in Phoenix earlier this year. He said he gave her sheets to fill with signatures.
"I gave her petitions, but I didn't know anything about her background," said Richard, who recently retired from a high-ranking post in the Phoenix Police Department after 18 years with the agency.
Laybe was one of seven state legislators snared in a sting operation by Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office that rocked the state political scene 17 years ago.
A Democrat representing Phoenix, Laybe was caught on video accepting bribes from an undercover police operative who claimed he was trying to open Las Vegas-style casinos in Arizona.
In all, she accepted more than $24,000 in the sting and even tried to wash some of it through the state Democratic Party's funds.
Laybe was charged with 17 felonies, but pleaded guilty to one count of bribery and one count of attempted bribery. She soon resigned from office in disgrace and served 103 days in a Maricopa County jail.
In an interview by phone on Tuesday, Laybe confirmed Richard's recollection of their meeting.
"I just happened upon Gerald at a regular District 15 Democratic meeting," Laybe said. "I was just very impressed."
Laybe offered to collect signatures. She did not tell him about her past, she said.
Just last year, Laybe's voting rights were restored by the Maricopa County Superior Court. Had they not, the signatures would have been considered invalid because felons are barred from taking part in the political process.
"I am not the story," Laybe said. "Can't we just focus on the issues? Can't we just focus on the candidates?"
She said she also gathered signatures for other local candidates but declined to name them.
Richard said he would stand by the signatures, especially since Laybe's voting rights were restored.
"We need to bring those people back into the system," he said.
Richard Romley, who led the county attorney's office when AzScam broke, said it was the top political corruption case of his career.
"I remember the video," Romley said. "She was counting out the money like a bank teller."
That video, which also showed other lawmakers taking bribes, was what helped make the case so damning, he said.
Romley declined, however, to say what he thought of Laybe's participation in the county attorney's race.
Former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, a Richard supporter, said the Laybe connection really has no influence on the campaign.
"It doesn't do anything to diminish Gerald's credentials and it in no way changes my opinion of him," Charlton said. "If it violates anything, it violates the headline test and Gerald's learning that now."