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Arizona senator resigns amid accusations of sexual conduct with minors

Democrat Tony Navarrete was under increasing pressure to step down after arrest last week.

PHOENIX — Democratic State Sen. Otoniel "Tony" Navarrete resigned from office on Tuesday, five days after his arrest on charges of sexual conduct with two minors, according to an email from Navarrete to Senate leadership that was obtained by 12 News. 

The resignation is effective immediately.  

"This was the right thing to do considering the serious allegations," Republican Senate President Karen Fann and Democratic Senate leader Rebecca Rios said in a joint statement. 

"We know that the Arizona Judicial Branch will deliver justice, and (we) pray for healing and support for all victims. We stand firmly with survivors of sexual assault and encourage anyone who needs it to call the Arizona Sexual and Domestic Violence Helpline at 602-279-2980,” the statement reads.

Navarrete faced rare bipartisan calls to step down from Senate leadership and from Gov. Doug Ducey, as well as by every Democratic lawmaker in the Legislature.

RELATED: Arizona lawmaker accused of sexual conduct with children faces mounting pressure to resign

The chair of the Senate Ethics Committee said Monday she was starting an investigation that might have led to his expulsion from the Senate. 

Navarrete's employer, Neighborhood Ministries, said he would be fired after being placed on leave.

The 35-year-old lawmaker's arrest stunned the political world. Navarrete was widely expected to run for state treasurer in 2022.

Navarrete served two terms in the Senate and one in the House, representing west Phoenix's District 30.

Navarrete was released from jail Saturday on $50,000 bond. He was booked on seven felony counts, including sexual conduct with a minor and molestation of a minor. 

RELATED: Arizona state senator faces 7 felony charges tied to alleged sexual conduct with child

A prosecutor said that if convicted on all charges, Navarrete would face a minimum 49 years in prison.

After he submitted his resignation, Navarrette proclaimed his innocence in an email to supporters:

"It has been my absolute honor and privilege to represent the communities of Arizona’s 30th District. Recently, serious allegations have been made against me. I adamantly deny all allegations that have been made and will pursue all avenues in an effort to prove my innocence. In doing so, I will be focusing the vast majority of my time and energy on my defense.

"While I would love nothing more than to continue to serve the families of Arizona’s 30th District, I worry it will be impossible to give my constituents the full attention they deserve. Therefore, I must resign my post as Arizona State Senator today."
 

Navarrete was arrested at his home Thursday night after police recorded a phone call between the senator and his accuser, a now 16-year-old boy. 

In the call, Navarrete acknowledged having sexual contact with the boy, the police report says.

“I’m sorry, mijo,” Navarrete is quoted as saying.

Navarrete went on: "I regret any bad actions that I did, absolutely wishing everything could be different."

The boy told police the day before that Navarrete had performed oral sex on him several times, beginning at the age of 12 or 13.

Navarrete is also accused of attempting to have sex with the victim's younger brother.

Navarrete's next appearance in Maricopa County Superior Court is scheduled for Thursday. 

Fann and Rios said they would notify the governor and secretary of state of start the process of naming Navarrete's successor. 

The Maricopa County Board will select Navarrete's successor from nominations submitted by District 30 representatives. All the nominees must be Democrats. 

The person selected will fill out the remainder of Navarrete's term, until January 2023.