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Maricopa's Former Top Prosecutor Reflects On AzScam 25 Years Later

As members of the capitol press corps battle with the Arizona House over floor access restrictions, a former top prosecutor says he is reminded of scandal that engulfed Arizona lawmakers exactly a quarter-century ago, and he’s hoping that history won’t repeat itself.

AzScam resulted in the convictions of seven lawmakers and led to the resignations of a full one-tenth of the Arizona Legislature in 1991.

Former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley prosecuted the case. He says, “The scope of it was so large that people began to ask, ‘How did we get here?’ And shame on us quite frankly because it wasn’t just an Arizona story, this was actually a national story.”

AzScam was a sting operation that caught lawmakers taking cash bribes on camera from phony casino operators pitching to legalize gambling in the state.

Romley says the scandal scarred Arizona politics for years and fears it could happen again in light of recent legislation to loosen regulations on undisclosed contributions known as dark money.

"That creates a recipe that’s ripe for corruption, and I would not be surprised if another AzScam doesn’t come around in the very near future,” he says.

Romley adds that anything that leads to less transparency, including restricting media access, makes an AzScam-type event more likely.

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Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.