Chandler state Sen. John Huppenthal has been charged with theft and tampering with a political sign in connection with a Nov. 4 incident at a polling place. The theft charge, which is the most serious of the two, carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a $2,500 fine.
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Huppenthal was not immediately available for comment.
Scottsdale city prosecutor Caron Close filed the charges Dec. 11 in Chandler Municipal Court, but the court declared a conflict of interest and sent the case to the San Tan Justice Court, a lower level county court.
Close got involved when the Chandler city attorney also declared a conflict of interest because Huppenthal was a city councilman from 1984 to 1992 and part of his district falls in the city.
The charges stem from an Election Day incident in which Huppenthal, a Republican, removed a sign from in front of a polling place.
Huppenthal has contended the he had permission from the manager of Country Brook Apartments, 4909 W. Joshua Blvd., to remove the sign, which he said contained lies about his participation in solving air quality problems at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
Police wrote in a report that Huppenthal removed a sign that didn't belong to him, and it was questionable whether he actually got permission.
State law allows the owner of a political sign to remove it, or the property owner can remove the sign if it is on private property.
Huppenthal said that after he removed the sign he left it next to a trash bin for the owner, the state Democratic Party, to find it. Ruth Levin, a 78-year-old Democratic volunteer, said she tried to stop Huppenthal from taking the sign, but he yanked it from her hands.
He denies she ever touched the sign.
Huppenthal, who has served in the Legislature for 16 years, easily defeated Ted Maish for the Senate seat, which represents west Chandler and parts of Ahwatukee Foothills and Tempe.