Exclusive: State Senator Juan Mendez plagiarized committee speech from conspiracy website that called Sandy Hook massacre a “hoax”

PHOENIX — State Senator Juan Mendez, while serving as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, plagiarized a committee speech explaining his opposition to “right to try” legislation in 2014, according to new research being shared by Arizona Democrats Exposed.

On Tuesday, this website revealed that the Democratic lawmaker had plagiarized large portions of a candidate questionnaire as he campaigned for his position in the state senate. Several answers submitted by Mendez were copied-and-pasted paragraphs of text from already-published sources but were presented by the lawmaker as his own words.

Those published sources included media outlets, a state agency in Arizona, Planned Parenthood, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision written by an associate justice, among others.

Upon further review, Arizona Democrats Exposed can now report for the first time that Mendez’s plagiarism was not exclusive to the candidate questionnaire in 2016; he also plagiarized at a committee hearing two years earlier during his time in the Arizona House of Representatives.

In 2014, state lawmakers considered “right to try” legislation that, if approved by voters, would allow eligible, terminally ill patients access to certain investigational medications.

Before it reached the ballot, though, House Concurrent Resolution 2005 made its way through the standard legislative process at the state capitol, including being considered by the appropriate standing committee. So, on February 13, 2014, HCR2005 was reviewed by lawmakers at a hearing of the House Reform and Human Services Committee.

One of the members of that committee — and one of the most vocal opponents of the legislation — was Juan Mendez.

About 50 minutes into the hearing, Mendez requested a chance to explain his vote. The state representative said that he would be voting ‘no’ and told his colleagues — elected members of the legislature — that he had “consulted experts who have issues with legislation like this.” He provided the name of someone he claimed to have consulted: Dr. Dean Gesme of the Minnesota Oncology Hematology Professional Association.

Gesme, Mendez told his colleagues, “has charged efforts like this bill as attempts to generate false hope in patients when the reality is that less than 10 percent of drugs beginning Phase I safety trials are eventually adopted as viable treatments. Among these, most provide only incremental benefits; very few are life-savers.”

There was one problem. The first 60-or-so words of Mendez’s testimony weren’t his own. They were plagiarized almost verbatim from a conspiracy theory website.

Whereas Mendez’s candidate questionnaire was plagiarized from a gun violence speech delivered by President Barack Obama months after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, his committee speech at the “right to try” hearing was plagiarized from a website that has called the shooting a “hoax” and implied that no one at the school really died that day.

Gesme, the conspiracy website wrote in 2008, had “charged that the rules will engender false hope in patients, when less than 10 percent of drugs beginning phase I safety trials are eventually adopted as viable treatments. Among these, most provide only incremental benefits; few are life-savers.”

Much like the plagiarized candidate questionnaire, Mendez subtly altered words and phrases in his committee speech — such replacing “engender” with “generate” and adding redundant language to the middle of the paragraph — in what may have been an attempt to evade detection by plagiarism-checking services.

In addition, the next full minute of Mendez’s committee speech is plagiarized — this time from a Wikipedia post that was published in 2008. Mendez criticizes the “right to try” proposal for providing “almost unfettered legal access to experimental drugs by terminally ill patients,” claiming that doing so would be “radically altering the conduct of clinical cancer research, as patients would then have little incentive to enter Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.”

Archived records show that, six years earlier, a user named “WhatamIdoing” added almost identical text to a Wikipedia page about another court case related to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

That Wikipedia page also refers to a lawsuit that would have provided “almost unfettered legal access to experimental drugs by terminally ill patients” and would have “radically altered the conduct of clinical cancer research” and affected patients who “would then have little incentive to enter Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.”

One of the only differences, perhaps, was Mendez’s decision to transpose certain clauses and change the verb tense of “altered” to “altering.”

During his speech, Mendez appears uncomfortable reading the plagiarized text and possibly confused by the difference between the words “efficacy” (effective) and “efficiency” (efficient). While the Wikipedia page he plagiarized refers to “the efficacy of new drugs,” Mendez pronounces the term as “efficiency” during his speech.

After claiming several sentences from the Wikipedia page as his own, Mendez transitions into a new paragraph — back, again, to plagiarizing from the conspiracy theory website.

“False hope for unapproved drugs can also erode the clinical trial system by substituting clinical enthusiasm and wishful thinking for evidence-based medicine,” Mendez told his colleagues, claiming words that were attributed to Gesme in the aforementioned website as his own.

In closing, Mendez said that he refused to “exploit the sympathy of voters” and urged members of the state legislature to reconsider their votes. Proposition 303 appeared on the ballot that November and received approval from 78.5 percent of Arizona voters.

You can view the substantiating research at Arizona Democrats Exposed.


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