Meet Vernon Walker, GOP City Council candidate

He stiffs his creditors! He ignores his tax bills! He's voted once in the last quarter century! Whats next? A career in politics!

Melissa Allen won't be voting for Republican City Council candidate Vernon Walker this November.

As she puts it: "If Bigfoot were running against Vernon Walker, I'd rather vote for Bigfoot."

But the 24-year-old administrative assistant would like to catch up with the candidate--because he's failed to pay Allen and her former roommate, Jennifer Cannon, $1,130 (plus 10 percent interest annually) stemming from a judgment she won against him two years ago.

Walker, who is seeking to unseat four-term Democratic incumbent Steve Leal, expressed surprise when asked about the unpaid debt last week.

"That one doesn't sound right," Walker, 47, told the Weekly last week. "For you to say I owe somebody money is a shock to me because I'm pretty sure I got everybody satisfied."

Walker had trouble recollecting any details of the episode in which two young women with no formal legal training successfully sued him for failing to return a $400 rental deposit. Nor could he recall how his appeal of the case was rejected by a Superior Court judge last year.

"I've had over a thousand court cases," Walker said. "I can't remember them all."

After Walker reviewed his records, he said the case had not yet been settled, despite court records to the contrary. "That one is still pending," he said earlier this week. "They have to make a decision on how much they owe me on the counterclaim. I can't talk about that case."

Although Walker said he was referring to a court record "right in front of me," he refused to tell the Weekly the date on the record.

A review of public records confirms that Allen and Cannon aren't the only ones who have had to go to court to collect money from Walker, who promised last week to give half his salary to the homeless if elected to the City Council. On top of being a serial deadbeat, Walker has developed a checkered public record over his last 13 years of being a small-time infill developer and landlord in Tucson.

· He was sued in January 2002 by the Tucson Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which alleged that $45,000 of the organization's money had ended up in Walker's business bank account. The suit said that Walker, while a board member of the non-profit, had "breached (his) fiduciary duties" and profited with the association's dollars "to the extent that it would be unjust for Defendant to retain the funds without reimbursing Plaintiff."

The suit was settled nine months later when Walker agreed to pay the Tucson Association of the Blind $54,284 by May 2003.

Walker said he can't talk about the case, even to say whether he has paid off the debt.

"I can't even comment on that one," he said. "That's really out of the realm. It's a very unfortunate event that cannot be discussed by either one of us."

Attorney Gary Urman, who represented the Tucson Association for the Blind, said both parties "settled differences amicably" in the case.

· Walker failed to pay property taxes on rental properties in 2002, 2003 and 2004. It was only June 2 of this year, as he prepared to file as a candidate for City Council, that he delivered a check for $9,309 (including $1,126 in interest and other penalties) to the Pima County Treasurer's Office.

Walker blamed the late taxes on a mix-up between "arrogant" employees at the County Assessor's Office and his mortgage company after Walker subdivided the lots for which he owed taxes.

· Walker was cited in 2001 for illegally tapping into a Tucson Water pipeline to deliver water to his rental units. He was fined $750 and didn't pay it fully until July 2004, after the case had been turned over to a collection agency.

"I was furious over that one," said Walker, who blamed the incident on the "stupid" city water department and his subcontractors who were working on a project he was building, although he couldn't remember where it was located. "I've done a lot of building projects," he said.

· Walker boasted last week at a forum that he had never voted for a tax increase. That's undoubtedly true, since he hasn't voted since 1986. In fact, despite bragging about his close relationships with Congressman Jim Kolbe and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, Walker has only voted once in the last quarter-century, in the 1986 general election, according to county records. He has never voted in a city election.

Walker claimed to have voted by mail, but said he refused to sign the envelopes in which he returned the ballot--a legal requirement which, he suggested, resulted in his votes not being counted.

"I said, 'No, I don't have to sign this thing. I don't want them to know how I voted,' " said Walker, who added that he only learned about his voting record when campaign strategists informed him about his poor record. "When they told me that, it made me sick. All the volunteer work I've done and all the things I've been doing to get people elected and I wasn't even getting my vote counted."

Walker said his campaign strategists suggested he simply tell the public he hadn't voted, but he couldn't bring himself to do that. "I can't lie," Walker said. "I know I did (vote). ... You bet I have. I'm not going to say I didn't, because that wouldn't be truthful. ... I voted and I know I did. I'm not backing down on that."

County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez says county records dating back to 1996 show no record of Walker ever requesting an early ballot.

· At least seven contractors, construction material suppliers and other lenders have sued Walker for more than $50,000 in unpaid debts since 2001. In addition, he's lost more than $14,500 combined in nine small-claims cases in Pima County Justice Court since 1992, according to records on the court's Web site.

In some cases, Walker couldn't remember details; in others, he said he couldn't discuss them. He blamed recent lawsuits on a cash flow problem that erupted after a company that owed him $1.4 million went bankrupt in 2000 or 2001.

"When that happened, I got behind the eight ball," said Walker, who refused to give the name of the bankrupt company to the Weekly.

He described his creditors as "good people" and expressed concern that they might be damaged by media coverage.

"Because I'm running, I hope you don't hurt them by publicizing them," he said. "They're honestly good people but they had overzealous attorneys and by filing those claims, didn't get them paid any faster. But they got paid. I couldn't look myself in the mirror knowing that I didn't pay them."

· Walker was ordered by a City Court magistrate to stop harassing a woman in December 2000. The order expired in April 2002.

Walker said that incident arose after he was helping the woman who filed the complaint with troubles regarding her boyfriend or husband. When the boyfriend or husband discovered that she was talking to Walker, he forced the woman to file the complaint.

"I don't remember having a restraining order, but it didn't matter because I was never going to see or hear from her again anyways," he said. "I really feel bad for her."

· Walker was evicted from a Foothills home after he defaulted on the mortgage and the house was sold at a trustee sale in 2002, according to court records. Walker had used the palatial pad--said to have once been the home of '70s TV superstar Farrah Fawcett--for GOP fundraising parties, as well as a swinging location for a Playboy shoot of UA co-eds.

In court papers, attorneys for Bank One said Walker had refused to move out of the house following the trustee sale.

"Defendant has continuously occupied and is presently in wrongful possession of the property as tenants by sufferance against Plaintiff's consent," according to the documents. "Defendant has failed or refused to surrender possession of the property after receipt of Plaintiff's written demand for possession and is guilty of forcible detainer."

Walker downplayed the court filing against him as "standard procedure. They do evictions on all foreclosures." He said the allegations that he overstayed his welcome were bogus.

· While Walker promises to closely examine Tucson's billion-dollar budget to protect taxpayers, he himself owes the city $134 in delinquent fees from a parking ticket, according to City Court records. "I'll run down there and pay that today," Walker said earlier this week. "As far as I know, there are no parking tickets owed."

· A prospective tenant, Michael Porzio, sued Walker in 2000 to recover a $1,000 deposit. In his lawsuit, Porzio says he decided against moving into the apartment after Walker advised him that Walker would be "regularly engaging in sexual acts in public, in the pool area of the apartments."

Walker denied that claim last week.

"I was so mad about that, I got an attorney and they immediately dismissed that," Walker said. "I told them I'd sue them for everything they had for even making a statement like that."

He views such outrageous claims as an unfortunate part of the rental business.

"When you're a landlord, you'd be surprised by what you get accused of," Walker said. "It's just sickening. People will do anything to get out of paying rent if they can get out of it."

Walker said the reason so many creditors have to take him to court to collect money is "probably because I didn't feel I owed it."

So what about the tens of thousands of dollars of claims that have been substantiated by his creditors' legal efforts?

"If I'm wrong, I'm wrong and I need to pay it. And that's certainly what I've done," says Walker, who blamed his recurring legal problems on litigation-happy suppliers. "Some companies, the standard rule of thumb is just to file immediately. They give you 30 days and then they file immediately. So of course, as soon as you find out you missed that stupid bill, you pay it."

Getting hauled into court to pay his debts once bothered Walker, but he's gotten past worrying about legal trouble.

"The first time I ever got sued, I was really depressed," he said. "And a friend of mine told me, 'It's a sign of the times. Everybody's suit-happy, it's everybody's fault but their own.'"

Roommates Melissa Allen and Jennifer Cannon made a point of carefully cleaning the UA-area house on Martin Avenue that they'd rented for a year from Vernon Walker when they moved out more than three years ago in May 2002. Then they shot a couple rolls of film to document their work because they were worried Walker might not return their deposit.

"We had kind of a bad feeling about him," Allen says.

Their concern proved justified. Over the next couple of months, phone records show they repeatedly called Walker. Allen says the elusive landlord kept promising a check was in the mail.

When they hadn't received their money by August, the young women, who were then University of Arizona students, visited UA student legal services, where an adviser explained how they could file a lawsuit against Walker. Under Arizona law, landlords have 30 days to return a deposit or send the former tenant a letter detailing damages that the deposit covered. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant can sue for the amount of the deposit, topped by a penalty of double the deposit in damages.

Armed with their photos and extensive notes of their dealings with Walker, Allen and Cannon filed suit in Justice Court in August 2002.

"We weren't messing around," says Allen, who has carefully kept her legal records in a purple organizer. "I think what he wanted was to have college girls move in there that he could take advantage of. We weren't going to let him get away with that."

Walker wasn't messing around, either. He responded with a counterclaim for $1,619, claiming that the women had failed to return the keys.

"We gave him back the keys the same way we paid rent every month, by slipping the envelope under the door of his place," says Allen. "In a year, he never failed to receive rent. So it was odd that now he wouldn't receive the keys."

Walker also testified he had sent the young women a letter detailing deductions from their deposit to cover the costs of damages at the house, including dirty windows and destroyed oleanders. (Although most details about the case eluded him last week, Walker himself expressed puzzlement that he had made any claims about the plants at the residence, saying, "I don't remember the oleanders on Martin.")

Walker could provide no evidence that he had ever mailed the letter, other than a copy of the correspondence he brought into court.

Allen remembers being so outraged by Walker's side of the story that she sometimes had trouble maintaining her composure in court.

"I got in trouble because I was getting so mad and I was making dissatisfied noises," she says.

Walker dismissed the suggestion that the counterclaim was an effort to bully the girls into backing down. "You've got to substantiate," he says. "You don't just make up stuff like that."

But Justice of the Peace José Luis Castillo Jr. found Walker's efforts to substantiate his claims difficult to believe.

In his order, Castillo wrote that Allen and Cannon "either telephoned Mr. Walker in an attempt to build a record that would support a false accusation or the calls were of a legitimate nature demanding the return of their deposit. This court believes the latter as two of the calls are at least two minutes in length and the Plaintiff's testimony is deemed substantially more credible than the defendant's."

Castillo added that the letter Walker claimed to have sent the women detailing why he had not returned the deposit was not supported by any other evidence in his files. "The letter he presented is not convincing by itself," Castillo wrote.

The women were awarded $1,130 on June 12, 2003.

Rather than pay the judgment, Walker appealed the decision, sending the case to Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini. The legal maneuver required Allen and Cannon to pay $170 to keep their case alive.

It was an unsuccessful gambit by Walker. Bernini upheld the Justice Court decision in June 2004 and awarded additional court costs to the women.

"It didn't work out so well for him," Allen says.

But collecting from Walker has proven to be harder than beating him in court. "He hasn't paid us a cent," Allen says.

At a hearing last month--which Walker skipped--Allen and Cannon were each awarded $92 from a bond Walker had filed with the court.

Walker said last week he'd pay the young women "as soon as I check to see if it's valid."

After reviewing the file, Walker insisted that the case remained unsettled, even though the records indicate that the case has been resolved and that the court has paid them the bond he filed. Walker repeatedly declined to answer questions about the date of the court records he was reviewing.

Given how much Walker has done to avoid paying her, Allen remains skeptical that he'll ever cut her a check. But the episode has given the physiology grad a new ambition: attending law school.

"It just felt good to go to court and have them say, 'Yeah, you're right,'" she says.

Walker says he got into the City Council race after four businessmen--whom he declined to identify--encouraged him to take on four-term Democrat Steve Leal. He says they told him, "We need somebody that's ornery enough to stick up for us."

Walker's three biggest priorities are fighting crime, finding transportation solutions and improving the management of the city's budget. He says his financial history shouldn't dissuade voters from supporting him.

"I stood up and fought," Walker says. "I paid everybody back. I could have declared bankruptcy ... but I stood up there and paid everybody that I owed. Sure, there were some overzealous attorneys that wanted to sue, but they didn't get paid any faster. I can look myself in the mirror knowing that I paid them."

Asked about the money he owes Melissa Allen and Jennifer Cannon, Walker asked: "If I wrote a check to them today, would you not report that (debt)?"

Told the Weekly would report that he had paid the debt following our inquiries, Walker said: "What I want to do is, I want to stand up and straighten that out."

Walker's most high-profile experience in local politics began in the late '90s, after he purchased the sprawling Foothills home that he defaulted on in 2002.

After he lost the house, Walker's political activities slipped back under the radar screen until he launched his City Council campaign earlier this year to unseat Leal.

A campaign finance report filed one week late with the city shows that Walker had raised only $3,575 as of May 31. By comparison, Leal had raised more than $35,000.

Walker's political strategist, George Gobble, was out of his office last week and did not return a phone call from the Weekly. Gobble, a well-connected consultant who has done work for Congressman Jim Kolbe, is also the strategist for Republican Fred Ronstadt, who is seeking a third term in midtown Ward 6 this November.

Walker remains largely unknown to voters. Melissa Allen discovered his new political ambitions when she Googled him after he missed their last court appearance.

When she spotted news reports about his candidacy for the City Council in the local press, her first thought was: "You've got to be kidding me. It can't be the same guy."

But after a moment of reflection, she wasn't all that surprised.

"He's just such a pompous, self-inflated character that it fit," Allen says. "He thinks he's this outstanding guy and he went to court and he was saying, 'I do this and I'm on this council and I'm such an upstanding citizen.' All right, then pay the money that you owe."