- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - The top Democrat in the Arizona House of Representatives on Thursday called on a fellow Democrat to step down after her indictment on food stamp fraud charges.

Minority Leader Rep. Eric Meyer said that he had spoken with Rep. Cecilia Velasquez and urged her to resign.

“This is just an accusation of wrongdoing and we need to let the process work itself out through the court,” Meyer said. “But this is a distraction for her and she needs to get it resolved, and I think that’s the best thing for her to do.”

The Arizona Department of Economic Security announced Wednesday that Velasquez had been indicted by a state grand jury on felony fraud and two other charges. Officials say she falsely claimed two dependents, listed the wrong address and let others use her benefit card.

Velasquez hasn’t returned repeated calls and text messages seeking comment, but said on her Twitter account that she had done nothing wrong.

“This is a political witch hunt,” she tweeted. “I’m confident that justice WILL prevail once all the facts are known!”

The DES inspector general launched an investigation in December 2014 after receiving a tip to a fraud hotline. The indictment alleges that Velasquez fraudulently obtained $1,726 in food stamp benefits between Nov. 1, 2013 and Jan. 31, 2015.

Velasquez is a serving her first term in the Arizona House of Representatives and took office in January 2015. Her biography says she is a mother of five and runs a group that helps the families of people in prison. She’s also worked as a paralegal and for the state for 12 years in social services. The Department of Economic Security oversees many state social services programs and was working Thursday to try to determine if she was a former employee.

If convicted of a felony, Velasquez would automatically be ineligible to hold office because she would lose her voting rights. She is running for re-election.

Meyer said that when he spoke to Velasquez Wednesday night she was still working to find a lawyer and said she could not discuss the charges.

“She has to be convicted, not just charged,” to lose her right to office, Meyer said. “I don’t how this will play out in the courts - I’m not a lawyer - but sometimes the charges are reduced to misdemeanors and if that’s the case she can continue to run and to serve. “

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