An investigation into allegations against a state legislator for ethics violations resulted in a Friday report to the House Ethics Committee that cast doubt on statements made by the lawmaker and a Maricopa lobbyist.
Outside investigators from the legal firm of Ballard Spahr LLP believed they found evidence that substantiated formal complaints of conflict of interest and corruption. They accused David Cook, a District 8 Republican representative, of being uncooperative with the investigation about his relationship with AnnaMarie Knorr, a long-time friend who worked for Western Growers Association before the allegations became public.
Knorr is president of Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.
The report highlights alleged inconsistencies and conflicts between witnesses and statements made by Cook and Knorr in one complaint and between Cook and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb in another.
At the top of the accusations is the allegation that Cook and Knorr were carrying on an extramarital affair that affected how Cook behaved as a lawmaker. Both denied a romantic relationship. A further layer to the alleged relationship is the claim Cook used political power to convince Lamb not to allow seizure of Knorr Farms property for tax delinquency of over $100,000.
Despite the denial, the report claims letters from Cook to Knorr “refer to her by romantic terms of endearment and contain repeated romantic references and sexual allusions.”
In her written statement to House members, Knorr called the accusation completely false and based on rumors spread by her own father, Bas Aja, and letters written to her by Cook and his wife Diana while Knorr was in treatment for alcohol addiction. She said she did not lobby Cook on any legislation and called the innuendo of an affair a “disgusting lie.”
The investigators came down hard on Cook for allegedly not responding to a subpoena and not being forthcoming with requested documents, mainly correspondence with several others, including Knorr and Aja. It detailed Cook’s 2018 arrest for driving under the influence and included witness accounts describing alleged incidents of Cook being intoxicated on the job.
Cook sponsored House Bill 2097 prohibiting county assessors from requiring taxpayers who own property exempt from property taxes to file any type of report annually. That applied to agricultural personal property such as Knorr Farms in Maricopa.
The new law seemed to be a direct follow-up to communication Cook had with Lamb and Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf about the issue. Lamb told investigators Cook called him about his concern with property seizure procedures in Pinal County. Cook said he was only talking generally and did not know about the planned seizure of Knorr Farms at the time. Lamb, however, said he remembered Cook mentioning Knorr Farms.
According to the report, Cook told investigators he learned of the farm’s tax delinquency from Aja, while Aja said he learned of the delinquency from Cook.
Lamb said he called off the seizure of the property because of his own concerns about the process. He said he knew Bas Aja but not the Knorrs. He said he did not meet AnnaMarie and Robert Knorr until a few days later at a fundraiser. Only then did he realize AnnaMarie was Aja’s daughter. He said Aja offered a campaign contribution that he turned down because it would look bad after he had stopped the tax seizure of his in-laws’ property.
Investigators inferred that Cook’s relationship with Knorr prompted him also to sponsor HB 2095, which apparently allows taxpayers to submit an affidavit as evidence their property should be deemed agricultural and therefore exempt from valuation. That new law also allows county treasurers to set up payment plans with delinquent taxpayers.
In her letter to House members, AnnaMarie Knorr said the Cooks were the only people besides her children who stood by her through difficulties in her marriage that she said led to her alcohol problems. She said both David and Diana Cook wrote letters and cards to her during her time in treatment. The letters were either in her car or her home when her estranged husband found them.
Robert Knorr shared them, eventually reaching the media, laying the groundwork for the ethics complaint. AnnaMarie Knorr said her father emailed her the resulting story while she was caring for her child in the hospital recovering from heart surgery, and her husband propped up a physical copy of the story next to the child’s bed “to make sure I would see their handy work (sic).”
The report contains nine pages of multiple notes from David Cook to AnnaMarie Knorr. But the main focus of the investigation is what role the relationship played, if any, in Cook’s actions as a lawmaker. It is also very detailed in what investigators saw as stalling tactics and uncooperative behavior in Cook’s treatment of the Ethics Committee.
Cook was given until June 19 to respond to the report in writing.