Smoking Gun?

Is a former Saguaro Ranch employee offering damning evidence—or outright lies?

When Denis Boaro testified about his ex-employer in a Jan. 7 deposition, the former general manager of McClintock's restaurant also handed over a jump drive with more than 700 work-related e-mails to support his claims that Marana town officials were up to no good.

Marana officials respond that Boaro is lying—and they are prepared to press perjury charges against him through the Pima County Attorney's Office.

Boaro, who worked for Saguaro Ranch developer Stephen Phinny until September 2009, testified that free food and drink were allegedly given by his boss to Marana town officials and council members.

For the past several years, some of Phinny's neighbors have claimed that the developer ignored a public easement on his property in order to market his private community as having only one exclusive entrance. Now neighbors are claiming that Phinny's restaurant offered officials free food and libations in exchange for the Town Council's vote to abandon the easement in May 2009.

Boaro testified that Phinny met consistently with some council members and staff, "likely exceeding 50 hours of meeting time, with ... Mayor Ed Honea, Vice Mayor Herb Kai," and council members Jon Post, Patti Comerford, Carol McGorray and Roxanne Ziegler, as well as Town Manager Gilbert Davidson and Town Attorney Frank Cassidy.

Last week, Rodney Campbell, Marana's public information officer, countered Boaro's claims and told the Tucson Weekly that town officials didn't receive free food and drink in exchange for abandoning the easement. Campbell said Davidson may have eaten there for free occasionally, but only during special community events, such as Marana Arts Council meetings.

Town Attorney Frank Cassidy claims Boaro perjured himself during the deposition, and in response, Marana town officials have requested that the Pima County Attorney's Office investigate Boaro for perjury. He says all Town Council members and officials named in the amendment have filed affidavits under oath claiming Boaro's statements are untrue.

"His statements are absolutely false," Cassidy says.

These latest allegations are just part of an ongoing battle involving Phinny, Marana and a group of neighbors. On Jan. 19, based on Boaro's deposition, those neighbors filed an amendment to a lawsuit they originally filed against Phinny in June 2008. That lawsuit was temporarily put on hold after Phinny and Saguaro Ranch filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In the amendment, Phinny's neighbors—Tracy Chamberlain, Sharyl Cummings, Steve Blomquist and Tim Blowers—contend that if Boaro's allegations are true, the town could be in violation of state open-meeting laws and a gift clause that forces officials to report free items as gifts.

Chamberlain described Boaro's testimony as the smoking gun she and her neighbors have been looking for, because it confirms things they've suspected for a long time—particularly since May 2009, when the Town Council seemingly rushed to vote to abandon the disputed easement, she says.

The neighbors have also filed a lawsuit against the town. That case continues to makes its way through Pima County Superior Court; meanwhile, Phinny keeps blocking entrances to parts of the easement, while Chamberlain, Cummings and Blomquist keep walking the easement up to McClintock's carrying protest signs, which has led to arrests and charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct.

The neighbors' attorney, Stephen Weeks, says Boaro's testimony may answer questions about the town's rush to abandon the easement—and that getting Boaro's e-mails was an unexpected "Watergate moment."

"I asked him, 'Do you keep any record of what was going on?'" Weeks says. "And then he handed over a jump drive. ... We're still going through these e-mails, but what we've found so far has been interesting."

In an article in the Explorer, town officials and council members fervently denied the claims. Davidson said it was "absolutely slanderous and completely not true."

On Dec. 26, 2007, Boaro reportedly received an e-mail to let him know that Davidson would be at the restaurant with all senior staff members for a retreat dinner party on Jan. 5, 2008; there is also reportedly an e-mail from Phinny on Nov. 4, 2008, letting Boaro know he'd be at the restaurant at 5 p.m. to meet Davidson for a drink; and on March 21, 2009, Boaro received an e-mail that Davidson would be at the restaurant that night for dinner with a party of four.

Davidson told the Explorer: "I was there for the ribbon-cutting of Saguaro Ranch, and for a special event at the invitation of the Marana Art Commission. I had lunch there when the Tucson Museum of Art was considering relocating their museum to Marana. I presented to their board and talked about Marana and our community's vision. That is it."

Cassidy, responding to an e-mail request to him and Davidson for comment, told the Weekly it's important to look at each e-mail individually.

The e-mail regarding the retreat is moot, since Davidson changed the retreat venue to Heritage Highlands at Dove Mountain. The e-mail regarding Davidson meeting Phinny at McClintock's is hard to believe, Cassidy says: It was Election Day, and Cassidy says he can't understand why Davidson would be meeting Phinny—and even if he was, it's not against the law.

The other e-mail regarding Davidson and a dinner party for four is true, Cassidy says, but it was a private dinner paid for by Davidson; Phinny recently provided the city a copy of the receipt.

"If anything, it shows that Gilbert walks the walk and supports (local businesses)," Cassidy says.

In an e-mail, Phinny said the receipt is available through his attorney, Eric Sparks. As of press time, Sparks had not yet provided the Weekly with a copy of the receipt.

Cassidy says he found it interesting that Councilman Post was included in the lawsuit amendment, considering Post told Cassidy that he has never been to Saguaro Ranch and met Phinny for the first time at the opening of the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain.

Molly Edwards, the Arizona Attorney General's Office press secretary, said that if a state investigation into the matter was in order, the AG would be unable to say if it was occurring.

However, Cassidy says that even if some of Boaro's statements are correct, it doesn't matter, because there were no open-meeting violations, since Boaro doesn't confirm whether there were four or more council members present, as defined by law.

Regarding the gifts clause, Cassidy says the food and drinks would have to be provided in exchange for something of value.

"The Town Council, when it voted to abandon the easement, determined (the easement) had no value," Cassidy says. "The e-mails are hearsay, but the bigger issue is that Boaro is not telling the truth."

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