Trash Talk

Charges that Paula Aboud manages junky property are piling up.

Paula Aboud cruised--no, breezed--to victory in the Democratic primary election last month for the northside Ward 3 City Council seat, vanquishing an inferior opponent much like she did as an athlete at Tucson High School and the University of Arizona more than 30 years ago.

Now, with four weeks remaining in her bout with Republican Kathleen Dunbar, Aboud must sprint from and fight off charges that she and her real-estate-baron family profit from slum properties.

Aboud says she has "heard subversive criticism and lies" about her family's properties and anticipated that her opponents would attempt to use it in some type of attack.

"My intention is to run a clean race and stick to the issues," she said.

Among the family's thick portfolio of properties are at least 45 pieces in Pima County, according to records in the Assessor's Office. Some are eyesores. Some have or had illegal storage yards. And one is a sad dump of a residential property in Balboa Heights, a neighborhood that has struggled to rid itself of pimps, prostitutes, tricks and run-down properties.

The city and county have cited the Abouds and the investment company they have cloaked in a tax-free Nevada corporation at least twice in recent years. Penalties on one property, outside the city and abutting the Central Arizona Project access line, were to be waived only if the property was cleaned of junk cars, old tires, rotted wood and other debris by October 1.

On a visit by Tucson Weekly the day after, the property was still littered with mounds of tires and wreckage including two dilapidated buses and the cab of a truck without chassis.

Michael J. Aboud, the president of Shaatre, the family management company, said in an interview that the Aboud property has been cleared and that the junk a reporter saw was on a neighboring property. County zoning inspectors could not be reached for confirmation.

In the Elvira neighborhood west of Tucson International Airport, a house on Aboud property in the 6900 block of South Eighth Avenue burned. Before the family could clear what remained, the city fenced it off to prevent accident and injury. The Abouds paid the cost of the fencing. They were later cited for weeds and debris, but no fines were assessed when the family complied with city requests.

On the stump and in campaign literature, Aboud says she is a "true representative, in the trenches and working for Ward 3 and Tucson" and that she and her family are "invested in the well-being of this community."

For Aboud, a former English teacher and coach at Rincon and Sabino high schools in the Tucson Unified School District as well as a former coach at Colby College, a tiny, 188-year-old school in Waterville, Maine, her new career will attract attention to the family business that before enjoyed having none.

She modestly has described herself in the shallow media coverage of this year's city election as a property manager. On the financial disclosure required by city and state laws, she lists "property management" for Shaatre Management Services, Inc. Shaatre, an Arabic word for smart, shrewd or a "go-getter," is incorporated in Nevada but located at Pioneer Plaza, in the downtown offices of her lawyer brothers John Eli and Michael Joseph Aboud.

The financial disclosures, similar to those filed annually by local and state politicians in paid positions, also require a listing of Tucson property other than residence. Aboud lives on East Greenlee in Richland Heights West, where the expansive lots on dirt roads give a preservationist feel. Responding to mounting traffic problems, Richland Heights West surveyed residents in 1999 for solutions. Aboud gave top ranking to a "gated community."

Outside Richland Heights West, she lists ownership interests with sisters Alice Aboud and Shelley Aboud of seven pieces of property valued for tax purposes at nearly a half million dollars, according to Assessor records. Those values are well below market. For example, rental units she owns at 1634 E. Drachman are on the tax rolls for $133,986, although she and her family partners paid $184,000 for them in 1997.

The lots she and her family have on South Eighth Avenue in Elvira and a lot they have in Las Vistas, west of Campbell Avenue and south of East 36th Street, are not tidy. But, particularly in Las Vistas, they are not unlike some others in the neighborhood. A slightly run-down block house next to the Abouds' Las Vistas lot has a sign seeking a renter for $575 a month.

The 4-plex on East Drachman lies in the shadow of the monolithic University Medical Center and is typical of student housing there.

Two duplexes she and Alice and Shelley Aboud own at 1034-1036 E. Water St. and 1040-1042 E. Water similarly are neither dilapidated nor pristine. They blend into the mix of student and blue-collar housing in this neighborhood between Park and Fremont.

The Abouds bought the Water and Drachman properties from Philip Tannous of Fountain Valley, Calif. Paula Aboud lists Tannous as a creditor in her financial disclosure, listing a business debt to him for more than $10,000--as specific as the form and law require.

And an Aboud house at the corner of East Speedway and North Second Avenue is conspicuous for her purple and white campaign sign. The house, rented to students, needs a little landscaping to clear the weeds. It has a washer outside in an old driveway. But it is not like the properties that will get Aboud the wrong sort of attention.

One owned by an Aboud family partnership on 33 W. Lee Street, just outside Ward 3, is a mess.

Michael Aboud says the tenant, a woman of 70, has been given extra time to prepare to leave the house that he says will be leveled and replaced with a duplex. He said he has offered to pay for workers to help the tenant.

PAULA ABOUD IS THE PROPERTY manager for Shaatre Management Services. She also is a beneficiary of Masadi Investment Group, formerly known as Hunna Investment Group. Shaatre is a general partner in Masadi.

Shaatre Management Services was incorporated on July 21, 1998, according to records from the Nevada Secretary of State. Michael Aboud, a scholar and star basketball player at Tucson High and the UA, is Shaatre's president and treasurer. His younger brother, John, is the company's secretary.

Look no further than Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller's Web page for that state's incentives:

"No corporate income tax. No taxes on corporate shares. No franchise tax. No personal income tax. No I.R.S. information sharing agreement. Nominal annual fees. Minimal reporting and disclosure requirements. Stockholders are not public record."

Indeed, Michael Aboud cited those as reasons his family's trust planner recommended Nevada incorporation.

Michael and John Aboud, both Republicans, are the sons of the late John Aboud, the youngest child of Lebanese immigrants who first settled in Sonora, Mexico. A 1939 graduate of the UA College of Law, the senior Aboud served in the U.S. Army before returning to Tucson in 1945. He and his sons were joined by one of Paula's sisters in the firm. They built up wealth as well as reputations for hard work and for minding their own business. They were not flashy or loud and didn't boast of their family athletic prowess. Until his death in February 2000, the patriarch could be seen walking with his sons from their law office to the La Placita Village garage nearly every evening.

For many years, the senior Aboud was one of just a few lawyers willing to represent Mexican-Americans on the south side.

Property they acquired includes low-rent homes and cheap lots on the south side. As both Michael and Paula Aboud explained, many involved poor tenants who had worked out arrangements with their father. When he died, they inherited those agreements.

For example, an agreement the senior Aboud had with the tenant of the problem property on the far southwest side at West Drexel Road and South Spencer Avenue called for rent of $50 a month and steady maintenance of the property, Michael Aboud said.

But instead of keeping the property clean, tenants and squatters created a vast array of junk that grew until the lone neighbor in a new home north of the Aboud property filed a complaint.

Michael Aboud said he and his brother were unaware of the property condition until the county issued citations.

Michael Aboud and his political-candidate sister say they were well underway renovating properties before she contemplated her Ward 3 run.

It is a case that has brought the type of attention the Abouds had rolled along without until now. It also is a case, though seemingly remote geographically and minor politically, that illustrates the Shaatre operation and, Michael Aboud says, the company's response and cleanup.

A year ago, county inspectors responded to complaints about a junkyard and non-permitted mobile homes on a remote chunk of lush desert. The parcel at Drexel and Spencer is far off paved roads and beyond even maintained dirt roads. It is southwest of Ajo Highway and Kinney Road, in the expansive valley between Black and Cat mountains.

It is no longer hidden. Large-scale developments are sprouting nearby and some older residents are finding more neighbors who, attracted by low land costs, are building big homes.

On this 2.5 acres, county inspectors reported three or more trailers at various times and as many as eight or more people living amid the squalor of tire mounds, junk cars, junk metal and wood and menacing dogs.

Norman Tripp, a county zoning cop, notified Hunna Investment Group of the violations on November 8, 2000, according to records from the County Attorney's Office.

In a response eight days later, Michael Aboud reported that he represented Hunna, which had changed its name to Masadi Investment Group. He did not write that he was a member of either investment group but confirmed that Masadi owned the parcel.

Paula Aboud, according to her city financial disclosure, was a beneficiary of Masadi in the last year, holding an interest of at least $100,000. It is another of the disclosure's vague categories for value, following state law, that asks only whether the interest is worth $1,000 to $25,000, $25,000 to $100,000, or more than $100,000.

"My client and I just learned a few days ago of the situation with the unauthorized trailer and junk vehicles," Michael Aboud wrote in his November 16, 2000 response to the county's Tripp. "We learned that they belong to a William Beach. Mr. Beach is a trespasser and he has no right to be on this property. Immediately upon learning of the situation, I wrote him demanding that he move off our property and take all his junk with him on or before the end of this month."

Beach, Michael Aboud reported, was destitute and disabled and therefore would be given until December 17, 2000 to clear out if Tripp would agree.

It's certainly plausible. Squatters have set up shantytowns in this area and west into the Black Wash for years.

Tripp took his camera for a new tour of the Aboud/Hunna/Masadi/Shaatre property on February 26 this year. He found plenty to shoot: a lonely AMC Concord and a mishmash of disabled cars amid the cactus and creosote; run-down trailers, the tire piles and scrap that was tidied up in rows. Mark Gilbert, another zoning cop, shot photos of much of the same on April 11.

Gilbert said Aboud was alerted to the violation as early as October 2, 2000 and he sent notice that two mobile homes remained without permits as well as the collection of cars.

"While I share the county's concern about our property becoming a junk yard," Michael Aboud wrote in a May 17 response, "I am equally concerned that some of the demands that you have made strike me as being excessive intrusion upon a property owner's rights. For example ... you claim that county zoning code requires all stored vehicles to be removed from the property, that any vehicle which is not registered and operable is considered a stored vehicle. Does this literally mean that I, who live on CR-1 (one home per acre) property cannot have on my property an old vehicle or old trailer that I intend to restore but which are not currently registered or operable. That can't be right."

Michael Aboud's Valley View neighbors high in the Santa Catalina foothills are not likely ready for any of the type of cars "stored" at Drexel and Spencer.

Nobody but those in airplanes are going to readily see this mess. Stand at the end of Sunset or Spencer and the terrain and desert vegetation provide cover.

Still, Gilbert returned to photograph the junk in June and the county stepped things up by citing Aboud and Masadi. Michael Aboud pleaded "not responsible" on July 5. It is here that Michael Aboud clarifies underneath his signature that he is president of Masadi's general partner, Shaatre Management Services, Inc.

Gilbert returned with camera on August 21 and recorded, again, junk: an old El Camino stuffed with junk next to piles and stacks of junk.

The matter went before a hearing officer two days later. Marching orders from the County Attorney's Office were that Aboud should get no more time.

"It has been nine months since Mr. Aboud first acknowledged an awareness of the complaint," prosecutors said. "Not only do violations continue to exist, but the interim Hunna Investment Group (aka Masadi) has profited by allowing the tenants creating the violations to remain on the property without correcting the violations and has been collecting rent."

An agreement reached August 28 included three $5,000 fines for open storage of junk, junkyard without a permit and mobile homes without a permit. Each was suspended pending cleanup by October 1.

County inspectors will make a report to the hearing officer who approved the agreement for the property to be cleared before the Drexel-Spencer case is closed.

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