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County Supervisor Don Stapley made a killing on a shady development and sank the profits into a mansion. Then he told the tax assessor to value his estate at $863,000 -- while listing it for sale at $2.5 million.

The trade extricated Stapley from the San Tan land that was under investigation by the Real Estate Department and the attorney general. It also eliminated questions about Stapley's ownership of land adjacent to a 10,000-acre county park. The county created the park in 1986, but has only recently begun adding improvements and fencing the perimeter. In 1999, Maricopa County and Pinal County signed a joint agreement to build a paved road into the park's north entrance.

Stapley says he knew little about the park prior to purchasing the San Tan land in 1995. He says he had never even been to the property before he bought his parcel -- despite records showing that a Stapley partnership once owned the same controversial 200 acres in 1984.

Stapley says that as discussions at the county concerning development of the park progressed, he became increasingly concerned about owning the land.

Stapley is asking $2.5 million for his Arcadia home, though he told the county it's worth $863,000.
Paolo Vescia
Stapley is asking $2.5 million for his Arcadia home, though he told the county it's worth $863,000.

"That's part of the reason, as I recall, that I felt a bulk trade of 15 acres was something that would be a good thing to do because I shouldn't be involved in properties around a county park," Stapley says.

"I remember discussing that specifically with Marlan [Walker] and pointing out to the AG that I would like to get away from the San Tan area in terms of property ownership," he adds.

While Stapley made a killing on the deal, Tercha had to look elsewhere.

Tercha finally closed a deal last year with Arizona Sun Holdings. However, the price had gone up $5,000 to $40,000. Despite the price boost, Tercha says he's glad to have the land.

"We are completely happy with the situation, but it was a pain in the ass getting it," Tercha says.

Arizona Sun Holdings, meanwhile, still owns 10 acres near the park. Pope says his company also profited from the Stapley trade, netting $87,500 on the sale of the San Diego condominium and $38,000 on the sale of Stapley's former Mesa home to Mesa city councilman Bill Jaffa.

"It was a fair deal," Pope says.

Then, oddly, he adds: "I'm not particularly proud of it. It was just a transaction that happened a long time ago."

A little more than a year after moving into the Arcadia estate in the fall of 1997, the Stapleys once again were packing their bags to move.

But the family was just going down the street to a condominium for a couple of months while a team of interior designers and craftsmen commenced a complete makeover of the 20-year-old house.

The Stapley home had been selected by the American Society of Interior Designers to be the 1999 Phoenix showcase home as a part of a fund-raising event for the Harrington Arthritis Research Center.

Stapley says a neighbor suggested that the house would be a good candidate for the showcase. Stapley says after lengthy discussions with his wife, the couple decided to offer their house to help raise money for the charity.

ASID eventually selected the Stapley house and dispatched 20 design teams that included more than 30 designers to prepare detailed plans for different spaces throughout the expansive home. The Stapleys were not charged for the design services, which easily would have cost more than $100,000.

Stapley, meanwhile, agreed to cover the remodeling costs and signed a series of contracts with the individual design teams to remake the grand entryway, powder room, dining room, an atrium, the master bedroom and three other bedrooms, the kitchen, various bathrooms, a living room and adjacent patio, laundry room, library -- even the pool pump house, which was converted into a guest house.

Stapley refused to provide copies of the contracts that detail prices for materials and supplies, which designers say were also often donated or obtained at deeply discounted prices.

"It's my own private business and has nothing to do with you," Stapley says of the contracts. "I can tell you we invested $350,000 to $400,000 in cash for goods and services that were provided."

Showcase homeowners generally reap a windfall from their investment, says Bob Case, chief executive officer of the Harrington Arthritis Research Center. Case says homeowners typically agree to invest $100,000 to $200,000, mostly to cover construction costs.

"The homeowner usually gets easily twice to three times that same amount back out of the project in increased value of the property," Case says. "If they are going to be putting something in that is going to be permanent, they are purchasing it at rock-bottom, wholesale prices."

The Stapleys went all-out on upgrades, including spending about $80,000 on the kitchen, which, according to interior designer Mary Fisher Knott, could not be replicated for the same price in another setting because many materials were obtained at deeply discounted prices.

Once the remodeling was completed, the Stapley home was opened for public tours for three weeks. About 10,000 people toured the residence -- at $14 a head. A gala opening was also featured at $125 per person.

Interior designers and suppliers of custom appliances benefit from the tours because their services and products are exposed to thousands of people who could become future customers.

"It's advertising promotion for the designers, so they don't charge anything to do it," says interior designer Libby Copeland, ASID co-chairman for Stapley's showcase home.

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