By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The Harrington Arthritis Research Center also earned a financial benefit, Case says, reaping more than $100,000 from ticket sales and the gala held at the Stapley home.
How much the Stapleys will benefit financially from the project depends on how much the estate sells for. Stapley says he hasn't received any firm offers at the $2.5 million sales price.
The showcase, Stapley says, was done primarily to benefit the charity.
"I wasn't looking for a free ride. I looked honestly first at the charity and what we could do to help. They thought the location was so good, we felt it would be worth the sacrifice to help a good organization.
"We did get a benefit from it. But it is an intangible benefit; it wasn't a monetary benefit," Stapley says.
The biggest plus is that the house was updated swiftly, he says.
"Getting it done quickly, to me, was the most important part of that," Stapley explains. "Because my wife is slow. She lived in the house in Mesa for 14 years and we still weren't done. I mean, that's just the way she is. This has really helped to get things completely done."
While Stapley downplays his potential financial return from the showcase event, there is no doubt the estate has greatly increased in value.
"In the last three years, what has the real estate market done in the Arcadia district?" Stapley asks before answering his own question. "It's gone up tremendously. I had no idea for sure it was going to go as high as it has. I had no clue."
Knowing about rising real estate values, however, didn't stop Stapley from trying to reduce his taxes by authorizing his property-tax consultant to appeal the 2001 assessed valuation of his property. The appeal sought to lower the value of the property to less than the amount Stapley paid to acquire it in 1997.
Stapley, who earns $54,600 a year as a county supervisor, has a history as a tax resister.
In 1995 -- not long after being elected supervisor in November 1994 -- Stapley sued Maricopa County in Superior Court after his tax appeal on 4.95 acres of citrus groves in east Mesa was denied.
Stapley, representing himself, told Judge William J. Schafer III that the property he had owned since 1989 was worth $50,000. The county assessor had valued the land at $198,000.
Without comment, Judge Schafer lowered the full cash value of the land to $6,485, court records state.
That slashed Stapley's 1995 property-tax bill on the parcel by 93 percent, from $3,540 to $231.84, according to county treasury records.
Stapley's taxes remained at $231.84 a year until he sold the property last November. Suddenly, the value of the orchard skyrocketed again. According to an affidavit filed with the county, the same land Stapley valued at $50,000 and Judge Schafer lowered to $6,485 was sold for $320,000.
Stapley filed his first tax appeal on his Arcadia home on March 28, 1998, for the 1999 tax year after the county assessor said the property was worth $1.148 million.
Stapley, acting through property tax appeal specialist Parker, claimed the property was worth only $861,294. This time, the county assessor lowered his assessed valuation to $900,000, the amount Stapley paid for the home.
Like many Arizona real estate brokers, Don Stapley got hammered in the late 1980s when the market collapsed. At least one of his companies was forced into bankruptcy, and judgments were levied against Stapley in the aftermath of the carnage, court records show.
In some circles, the debacle and ensuing lawsuits, judgments and bankruptcies were seen as a badge of honor, the real estate developers' equivalent of a Purple Heart.
But instead of acknowledging that he had been slammed by the market, Stapley failed to disclose on real estate license renewal forms the bankruptcy of at least one of his companies, Real Estate Department records show. He also failed to disclose throughout the 1990s that he had judgments levied against him or his companies, records indicate.
Assistant attorney general Denious says the department is investigating.
Walker, Stapley's attorney, says he's negotiating a settlement with the department.
"Don wasn't trying to hide anything," Walker says. "The lawsuits were all a matter of public record."
Real Estate Department officials declined to discuss the investigation, but Walker says he expects it to be brief.
"We are going to enter into a consent order," Walker says. "It's small fry and some education hours" for Stapley.
Walker says the latest investigation -- just like the lot-splitting charges against Stapley that were eventually dropped -- is the result of anti-Mormon sentiment.
"She hates Mormons," Walker says. "She is digging to find dirt on some prominent Mormon, to find an affair to write about to embarrass the Mormon Church."
Jensen is a widely respected reporter who has covered development issues in the East Valley for more than a decade. Her stories first uncovered the illegal lot-splits on the 200 acres in which Stapley had invested.
Her follow-up stories have revealed other lot-splitting developments in southeast Maricopa County that are carving the desert into one-acre lots that lack utilities and are accessible by substandard roads that school buses can't navigate. She did not return a call seeking comment on Walker's remarks.