By Amy Silverman
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By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Then everybody loses their money."
"What happened as far as I'm concerned is between me and the Foundation and I'm not going to feel comfortable talking to you," he said.
Marie Barclay, a retired administrative assistant who winters in Mesa, bought her lot in Juniper Ridge in 1987 for $23,750. Like the Pratts, Barclay was impressed by the landscape, the cool climate and the brand-new facilities.
"For a while, it was just like Shangri-la," says Barclay.
There were potlucks and happy hours. Las Vegas Night at the lodge. Golf games. Bridge tournaments.
Then Merabank, the savings and loan that financed the resort, was taken over by the federal Resolution Trust Corporation. WCLF Juniper Ridge, a Delaware limited partnership, bought the Juniper Ridge note from the RTC in the early 1990s.
The responsibility for maintaining the country-club-like "amenities" fell on the owners of Juniper Ridge's 173 developed lots. But the homeowners didn't have sufficient cash to maintain facilities designed to accommodate more than 1,000 residents.
"It was discouraging to watch it deteriorate," Barclay says. "You feel powerless to be able to do anything.
"From my point of view, you don't know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. You just sort of have a feeling of being jerked around."
The elderly residents gained hope in 1995, when Pinal Vestings Inc., a company owned by Phoenix RV park developer Steven Northroup, signed an option to buy Juniper Ridge from WCLF, for $1.5 million.
Northroup figured Juniper Ridge, once it was up and running and the lots were sold, could make him a millionaire. But he needed expertise and financing, so he sought help from companies owned by Phoenix developers McRae, Stuckey and Holmes.
But Juniper Ridge was no sweet deal, after all. During escrow, the Phoenix developers discovered problems they claim they weren't told about by WCLF, the seller. For instance, they claim in court documents that WCLF actually didn't own the roads in the RV park. The lodge and the crafts building were condemned as unsafe by the Navajo County building inspector--one expert estimated that repairs to the grounds would cost $500,000. And there was--still is--a nasty fee dispute with the sewer company.
Northroup's company sued WCLF in 1996 in federal court, claiming fraud. WCLF countersued, denying wrongdoing and saying Northroup had breached a sales agreement.
McRae, Stuckey and Holmes claim they were partners of Northroup at the time of the federal lawsuit, had kicked in $50,000 to lock in the option, even helped pay legal fees for the federal lawsuit. As Northroup's partners, they say, they had controlling interest in the partnership.
Bottom line: The three Phoenix developers say they were entitled to buy Juniper Ridge once the problems between Northroup and WCLF were ironed out in federal court.
As the federal case dragged on, Juniper Ridge remained in escrow. The delays in closing the deal put Northroup in desperate financial straits. He'd relied on his only other RV park to finance him until he made his millions on Juniper Ridge. By 1996, his other facility filed for bankruptcy. Northroup was broke.
"Even though I knew I didn't have the necessary capital to fund the purchase of Juniper Ridge, I was certain that with it being one of the last great RTC deals, I could raise the capital or sell my position early, realizing substantial profit to me of no less than several million dollars net," he wrote in a desperate letter to his partners in July 1996.
"I am at a crossroads in what I should do at this point," Northroup continued. "On one hand I feel a responsibility to my other park and of course my family, then I also feel morally duty bound to you, my partners."
Unlike Northroup, Hamilton McRae, John Holmes and Jay Stuckey were not destitute. In fact, they traveled--and still travel--in the patrician circles of Phoenix society. McRae, for instance, was recently elected president of the prestigious Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Stuckey is a member of the Phoenix Thunderbirds. Holmes is an intellectual with a taste for the opera.
Harold Friend also did not seem to be hurting for cash. He owns a tire company that reportedly does business in Guam, among other places. Public records show he has been involved in numerous real estate transactions with BFA. Friend lives in Paradise Valley and keeps an office at the Camelback Esplanade. He claims in a deposition that his companies employ 25 lawyers across the nation to work on "various projects."
"I am doing deals every day long [sic]," he said in a recent deposition.
"I don't buy anything I don't expect to sell," he said. ". . . I buy and I sell. I buy real estate. I sell companies. I sell rugs. I sell furniture. I sell jewelry. And I sell things I buy . . .
"Of course, I am not rich like everybody else, you know, that I deal with. I am just a poor merchant, and I buy and I sell. . . ."
In 1997, Harold Friend wanted to buy Juniper Ridge.
In May 1997, Friend "offered a ridiculously low price" to companies owned by McRae, Stuckey and Holmes to purchase their interest in Juniper Ridge, their lawsuit says. But the Phoenix developers had no intention of selling their interest in buying the RV resort.