Former Arizona Sen. Tony Navarrete's trial nears in child sexual conduct case

In this Jan. 9, 2018, file photo, then-Rep. Tony Navarrete, D-Phoenix, waits with Arizona House members receiving mandatory sexual harassment and other ethics issues training on the House floor at the state Capitol in Phoenix. Currently a state senator, Navarrete has been arrested on suspicion of charges accusing him of sexual conduct with a minor, police said Aug. 6, 2021.

Former Arizona Sen. Otoniel "Tony" Navarrete sat impassively in a Phoenix courtroom as a judge told him he faced a minimum of 49 years in prison if a jury finds him guilty of sexual conduct with two children.

The trial for the case is set for Sept. 19 after numerous delays. Friday's settlement conference gave the ex-lawmaker a chance to learn his "punishment exposure" and what prosecutors believed they could prove at trial.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Cohen told him the maximum punishment if he's convicted would be "well over 100 years." Early release would not be available to Navarrete, who could still take a plea deal if one is offered.

"I'm not going to suggest you have great options available to you," Cohen told him, adding that dismissal of the case was out of the question.

A rising a star in the Democratic Party before his Aug. 5, 2021, arrest, Navarrete is accused of touching two boys sexually over a period of several years. He was indicted on seven counts and all but two are Class 2 felonies: one count of child molestation, three counts of sexual conduct with a minor, two counts of sexual conduct with a minor as Class 6 felonies, and one count of attempting to commit molestation.

He resigned his seat in the Legislature days after his arrest and pleaded not guilty in the case, and "adamantly" denied the allegations. He said he would prove his innocence.

Michael Minicozzi, a deputy county attorney, told Navarrete that the case relies on a recorded call between Navarrete and one of the victims in which Phoenix police officers listened in.

"That's the crux of the case," Minicozzi said, noting that Navarrete expressed remorse in the call.

Court records reveal that one of the boys alleges that Navarrete fondled his genitals and attempted oral sex. The other boy alleges Navarrete put his hand under the boy's shorts and attempted to fondle him. Navarrete, who blames alcohol for his actions, apparently thought the boys were sleeping at the time, records state.

"Of course, I regret any bad actions that I did, absolutely wishing everything could be different. I'm sorry, mijo," Navarrete was quoted as saying in the phone call. He was arrested at his west Phoenix home four hours after the call.

Navarrete's apparent tone in the call reflected "someone who truly felt sorry for what had happened and was trying to help the other start the healing process," Minicozzi said Friday.

The jury could be swayed by the call or the evidentiary statements from the victims, he said.

Cohen then advised Navarrete that jurors were likely to find him guilty on all seven counts if they believed he was guilty.

Navarrete and his attorney, Adam Feldman, declined to comment after the hearing, as did Minicozzi.

A pretrial conference is set for Sept. 12.

Reach the reporter at or 480-276-3237. Follow him on X @raystern.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Former AZ Senator Tony Navarrete's sexual molestation trial nears