By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Amid racks of guitars and stacks of amplifiers at the Arizona Music Center hang autographed publicity photographs, the type most any music shop will accumulate over time.
They are the only stars smiling on the Arizona Music Center these days.
Virtually every picture is inscribed "To Ruby," matron of the family which presided over the shop for 33 years. Ruby Dominguez and her former husband built a venerable family business in a little strip shopping center wedged between the car dealerships on Glendale Avenue.
The couple's three children grew up with the business, including daughter Diana Lee, who inherited the family's musical bent and is now a popular local singer.
Ruby Dominguez, local musicians say, was the store's ambassador. She would cut them deals when they were struggling, and celebrate with them if they found success.
"She has been one of the fairest human beings I have ever dealt with," says Luis Estrada, a 66-year-old singer and disc jockey who has dealt with the store for more than a decade. "She might even lose a sale because she'd say, 'You don't need this.'"
But Ruby doesn't work here anymore.
Dominguez is now barred from entering the store, the apparent loser in a venomous battle under way for control of the Arizona Music Center's future.
The business is trying to reorganize under federal bankruptcy court protection, and Dominguez has found herself shunted aside--betrayed, she says--by two men she turned to for help in rocky financial times.
The two men, Donald Jeunette and Hyman Brazlin, promised to help her return the store to profitability and save the family legacy, she says. They promised her a job and a steady paycheck.
Instead, she says, Jeunette and Brazlin have taken over the store, leaving her broke, out of work and facing foreclosure on her home of 27 years.
"I'm just at the end of the line," says the 55-year-old Dominguez tearfully. "They won't even let me in the store. I've gotten involved with some dishonest people. They're doing everything they can to take my ready-made business of 33 years."
Jeunette and Brazlin counter that Dominguez is a victim of her own reckless stubbornness. She ran the business into the ground, they say, and salvaging it meant saving it from Dominguez.
On the verge of financial collapse, Dominguez willingly signed the papers giving them control of the store, Jeunette and Brazlin point out. Now, they say, she refuses to face the music.
"One thing you have to learn about Ruby is that she doesn't mind telling you lies," says Jeunette. "The lady is another Tammy Faye Bakker. She has raped this business for years. Ruby doesn't face reality."
Because Michael Milken and Charles Keating garnered all the national headlines when the high fliers went bust, it is easy to lose sight of the small entrepreneurs sinking in the economic backwash.
The remains of one music store may seem like small spoils in a city which has seen legions of attorneys and creditors argue about how to revive such crippled business titans as Circle K and America West Airlines.
But that does not make the ending any less bitter for Dominguez, who feels she has been taken advantage of by vultures who descended on her when she was weak.
"These people have literally destroyed me," she says. "It is like somebody sticking a knife in my heart."
@body:It was 1960 when Ruby Dominguez and her then-husband, Richard Lee Dominguez, opened their fledgling music business. Both were musicians playing in various Valley bands, she on steel guitar and he on lead guitar.
"Rock n' roll was getting popular back then," she says. "We opened our music store and combined it with a little, small recording studio."
At first, to make it go, the couple had to hold down other jobs. Ruby gave music lessons to schoolkids, and her husband worked in the parts department of a school-bus manufacturing plant, she says.
Richard Lee was as much tinkerer as musician. As the store took hold, he was able to quit the bus company and devote much of his time to musical gadgetry.
Within a few years, the store offered its own lines of electric drums, vibratones and reverb amplifiers. The clientele grew until the store employed more than 30 people selling instruments and music, building the company's brand equipment and offering music lessons to hundreds of students.
"At one time, teaching for her, I had 63 students a week," says Red Crossett, a lifelong cornet and slide trombone player.
Ruby had music in her blood, local musicians say, and would look after her customers. She was especially supportive of Latin and Hispanic bands.
"Arizona Music Center was the cornerstone for a lot of the Latin musicians in this area," says Luis Estrada.
Crossett says his story typifies Ruby's generosity. He came to Phoenix 21 years ago, he says, a 59-year-old brass player with asthma who was told by his doctor to move to the desert or die.
"I was broke when I hit town," he says. "She gave me a job the first day I got here, and I worked for her for 21 years."
At 80 years old, Crossett is still teaching and playing, and thanks Ruby for it. "I know she's helped a lot of people. I can certainly say that for me," he says. "When I hit town, I didn't know anybody, and she saved an old man's life."
Along the way, the couple's two daughters and son were brought into the business, growing up in the shadows of Peavey amps and Fender guitars.
In the late 1970s, Richard Lee grew disillusioned that none of his musical equipment had brought riches to the store. The small amplifier factory had to be closed and contracts for producing other devices did not materialize, Ruby Dominguez says.
Her husband quit making musical instruments and began experimenting with solar-lighting equipment. The couple split in 1980 and divorced in 1981, and Dominguez says she bought out his share of the business for about $250,000.
"We were still doing real well, because business was booming," she says.
For almost ten years, the store continued to prosper, she says. But in the late 1980s, the recession came to Arizona and events turned the store's financial tides red.
For part of 1989, Dominguez says, traffic through her store was cut off because Glendale Avenue was under construction and customers could not reach her.
Then one of the store's banks went into federal receivership and about $50,000 in credit-card transactions were never posted to the store's account.
A longtime accountant, Dominguez claims, may have been skimming from the company, although no civil or criminal actions were ever brought.
The store was on the ropes. Suppliers weren't being paid, the Peavey company wouldn't renew the store's contract to sell its amplifiers--a huge chunk of Ruby's business--and unpaid taxes were piling up.
Dominguez took out a second mortgage on her home to keep the store afloat. She pulled down money from a retirement account.
In 1991, Dominguez sold part of the business to Valley guitarist Tracy Williams, who had started taking music lessons at the store when he was 11 years old.
Williams bought the store's band-instrument and sheet-music concessions, which he still operates as a separate business housed in the Arizona Music Center building. Williams says Dominguez had dug herself a deep hole, and that not just the economy was to blame.
"She was over $400,000 in debt at that time," Williams says. "She had no control over her business."
Last year, needing more cash, Dominguez sold Williams the building where the store is located and leased space back from him.
Ultimately, Dominguez says, she sank more than $200,000 of her own money into the business, hoping to float it off the rocky shoals. She has stacks of canceled checks, ranging from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, showing money she funneled from her personal accounts into the store.
It didn't work. By last fall, the Internal Revenue Service was poised to padlock the doors because of overdue withholding taxes, and Dominguez was desperate.
"I did not want to go bankrupt," she says. "I did not want them to close me down."
About to be dragged under by the unpaid tax bills, Dominguez found herself turning for help to a guitar student of the store that she barely knew, Donald Jeunette.
@body:Donald Jeunette is 57 years old, and says he has been a businessman since he was 17. Although he will not discuss his business history in detail, Jeunette says that, in his lifetime, he has owned or managed a gas station, pastry shops, a garage and a software company.
At the time he and Dominguez began discussing the Arizona Music Center's precarious finances, Jeunette says, he was working as an "independent paralegal."
"I know what it is like to make a lot of money and what it is like to go broke" is the testament Jeunette offers to his business acumen.
He also knows what it is like to land in court. Since 1980, court records show, Jeunette has filed for bankruptcy himself--in 1981--been sued eight times in Maricopa County Superior Court and had several default judgments entered against him.
The lawsuits range from an unpaid furniture loan and credit-card bill to disputes over unpaid bills from Jeunette's previous businesses.
In 1980, for instance, three business partners won a summary judgment against Jeunette for about $33,000 in loans that Jeunette had taken from them and never paid back.
In 1983, one of Jeunette's landlords was awarded $2,800 after he failed to pay the rent on an office.
Also in 1983, Jeunette and the garage he was then running, Don and Sons Automotive, was sued for $19,000 by an equipment company that claimed it had not been paid for an engine analyzer Jeunette leased from it. The suit was later dismissed because the equipment company did not press it.
Throughout the lawsuits, Don Jeunette was not Don Jeunette. He was Donald G. Proctor. In 1987, Proctor, his wife and their daughter legally changed their last names to Jeunette.
Jeunette dismisses the lawsuits as the normal lot of a small businessman. The name change, he says, was a "personal thing." He was born Don Jeunette and received the last name Proctor from a stepfather. In 1987, he says, "I decided I wanted my name as it was on my birth certificate."
Ruby Dominguez says she would have been more wary if she had known some of Jeunette's history when she began talking to him about saving her store.
Jeunette, who says he dabbled in music himself as a younger man and played in his own band before his daughter was born, was taking guitar lessons at the store last year when he and Dominguez came together.
Jeunette claims Dominguez approached him for help. Dominguez claims it was the other way around. Dominguez claims Jeunette misrepresented himself, saying he was an attorney. Jeunette says he made it clear that he is only a paralegal.
Whatever the case, on the first Friday in September, Dominguez met with Jeunette and outlined the store's troubles.
Jeunette says he told Dominguez she had to get into bankruptcy court immediately to avoid being shut down. "We had to bust our butts to get that petition filed by 4 p.m. that day," Jeunette says. "The IRS lady was due back Monday morning, and she would have locked the doors."
Jeunette contacted an attorney he knew, Bert Roos, to draft a hasty petition for Chapter 11 reorganization and get it filed by the end of the court's business day.
The store was indeed in dire trouble, according to bankruptcy-court filings. It owed almost $375,000 to creditors--although the largest chunk of that, by far, was the $200,000-plus owed to Dominguez herself. Back taxes, state and federal, were in excess of $66,000. The store listed about $100,000 in assets.
Although he urged her to file for bankruptcy protection, Jeunette says, he had "no interest whatsoever" in assuming control of the business.
Within the next two months, however, the store slowly slipped out of Dominguez's hands and into Jeunette's.
@body:From their first meeting on, Dominguez contends that Jeunette pressured her into giving up control of the store, telling her "I'm going to save you, lady."
Jeunette remembers it differently, saying that Dominguez was practically begging him to come in and run the business.
"I was constantly asked to come in and manage the store. I wanted no part of this business," he says. "I finally did agree to be manager in some way."
Actually, in quite a big way. Within two weeks of the bankruptcy filing, Dominguez and Jeunette signed a "consulting agreement," under which the bankrupted business would pay Jeunette $30 an hour to take over "complete management of Arizona Music Center, which shall include overseeing employees' scheduling and inventory control."
Eventually, Dominguez signed her personal van over to Jeunette to pay some of the consulting fees.
Four weeks later, Jeunette brought in divorce attorney Hyman Brazlin, who agreed to put up at least $10,000 to buy new inventory for the store.
And one month after that, Dominguez says she was presented with a contract which gave Jeunette 40 percent of the store and Brazlin 20 percent in exchange for saving it.
Under the terms of the agreement, Jeunette put up no money, but was guaranteed a salary of $3,500 a month for two years. Dominguez was guaranteed a minimum salary of $2,750 a month for at least two years.
Dominguez kept a 40 percent share of the store--stock that everyone agrees is currently worthless--and was promised that, should it ever be possible, the company would pay her back the more than $200,000 she had lent it.
Dominguez signed all the documents, she says, because she felt she had little choice.
"I thought they were honest," she says. "They assured me that I would be protected."
Jeunette became a constant presence at the shop, taking over its daily operations. He and Dominguez began to clash with some regularity, both acknowledge.
"He said, 'From now on, I am the boss and what I say goes,'" Dominguez says. "He said, 'If you don't cooperate, you're out on the street.'"
Jeunette and Brazlin counter that Dominguez would not get out of the way and let them save her. "She was disruptive. She would argue with everybody," Jeunette says. "There was constant argument."
The weeks of tension came to a head earlier this year when Jeunette told Dominguez she was not to work at the store anymore, but could remain as an outside salesperson. She was supposed to hustle instruments and equipment to schools and churches.
Daughter Diana Lee was fired outright from her job at the store. Dominguez son, Rick, has continued to work there throughout the turmoil.
In March, Ruby says, the store held one of her paychecks, and then cut her off the payroll completely. In late April, she says, desperate for some source of income, Dominguez opened a booth at the Swap Mart on 27th Avenue, peddling picks and guitar strings to try to bring in some cash.
She is four months behind on her mortgage payments, and the finance company is about to foreclose on her house, she says bitterly. "Here I am trying to make a little money off of a Mickey Mouse booth," she says. "They have my store. It's not a family store anymore."
Jeunette and Brazlin, however, say that Dominguez's pay was cut off only after she opened the Swap Mart booth. Under the terms of the contracts, Dominguez agreed not to compete with the store in any way.
"As far as we're concerned, at that point, she quit," Brazlin says.
Dominguez had not been selling much as an outside salesperson anyway, they say, and some of her pay was withheld before she opened the booth.
Brazlin says Dominguez had advanced herself money out of the store's checking account and her pay was withheld to pay it back to the store.
"I don't think she was stupid, but she couldn't handle money," Brazlin says.
Since taking over the business, Brazlin says he has invested $250,000 of his own money buying new stocks of guitars, amplifiers and other musical gadgetry. The store has been remodeled, adding more floor space and instrument displays.
Jeunette says Arizona Music Center may yet make it out of bankruptcy-court protection. But Dominguez's days at the store's helm are over.
"The lady still has 40 percent of the company," he says.
@body:In mid-May, the battle over Arizona Music Center reached its low point to date. Diana Lee, Dominguez's daughter, tried to launch a boycott of the store. Lee, her children and some musician friends picketed outside the store one Saturday, urging customers to stay away.
Lee, who had worked at the store until she was fired by Jeunette, has taken the changes at her family's store as personally as her mother.
She vehemently contends that Jeunette and Brazlin conspired from the beginning to assume control of her mother's business.
"She was in duress, she was facing bankruptcy," Lee says. "Obviously, the two already had it planned, what they were going to do."
During the picket, Lee and friends passed out fliers urging a boycott. "Did you know that attorney Hyman Brazlin and business partner Donald Jeunette are swindlers?" the fliers read in part. "Don't patronize crooks."
Jeunette and Brazlin responded to the picketing by filing suit against Lee, asking for $5,600 in damages and $5,000 in attorneys' fees. They also successfully sought a restraining order to prevent Lee from continuing her protests.
On May 14, Jeunette showed up at the Swap Mart booth Dominguez is running, bringing with him a videotape camera. He says he wanted to document the fact that Ruby's stand was now competing with the store, and show that the business logo displayed at the booth was a rip-off of the Arizona Music Center logo.
Words passed between Jeunette and a friend of Dominguez's who was manning the booth at the time. Both sides agree that the showdown almost came to blows, but claim the other started the argument.
Jeunette also says that he has received death threats, although he has not reported them to the police and will not discuss who he believes is behind them. "It's a very volatile situation. There's a lot of bitterness," he says. "I go to work every day--and come home--armed."
The incidents underscore the hard feelings between Dominguez and the two men who now control the onetime family business.
Dominguez looks back on each step of the past ten months and sees a continuous trail of incremental deceits that effectively amounted to a legal looting of her store.
Right now, she owns 40 percent of a business that owes her more than $200,000, she points out, but is not allowed on the premises, has no say in how the store is managed and cannot see the books.
She is drawing no pay from her business of 33 years and may soon lose her home, while Jeunette is drawing his salary.
Jeunette and Brazlin, however, cast themselves as reluctant saviors, and say they have done nothing but try to salvage the business. Dominguez had to go, they say, for the store's own good.
"I'm the one who put the money up, and I'm the one that's been putting money in ever since. Does that sound like I'm exploiting her?" Brazlin asks. "How can you exploit her when she had nothing?"
Maybe not much money, Dominguez counters, but she did have more than three decades of good will with steady customers. All she needed, she says, was some help making it over the hump, and that good will would have pulled her back into the clear.
Old customers agree. "That's her life. That place means everything to her," says Al Greenwell, a music instructor who has known Dominguez almost since the store opened. "For a woman her age to lose that, it really hurt her."
Longtime customer Luis Estrada says he has stopped going to the store, because Dominguez is no longer there.
"Music without her," he says, "just doesn't run the scale. You say A-B-C-D-E-F-G, but one thing is not there. Ruby's not there. It just doesn't make the scale.