Suite and Low

United Way loses thousands as county pols snag its World Series seats

The Valley of the Sun United Way was looking forward to a big fund-raising windfall last weekend by auctioning its luxury suite at Bank One Ballpark for the first two games of the World Series.

"We had some major contributors that we thought would come up with a significant auction price for the suite," says United Way president Brian Hassett.

Hassett figured the United Way could raise a minimum of $10,000 per game for the 12 to 18 seats in the suite.

"It probably would have been at least that," says Hassett.

Ticket brokers say the suite would have commanded far more -- especially since the purchase would have been tax-deductible.

But the United Way's plans were suddenly disrupted by a phone call from Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley's office, Hassett says.

"Mr. Stapley's office called and said they were going to need the tickets," Hassett says.

Instead of auctioning off the tickets and raising money for its charities, Hassett says the United Way was pressured to sell all the suite tickets for the first two games of the World Series at their $145 face value to three Maricopa County supervisors and their friends.

Stapley purchased seven tickets for $1,015. Supervisor Andy Kunasek purchased two for $290. Leading the way was Supervisor Jan Brewer, who bought eight tickets for $1,160.

The balance of the suite tickets were purchased by the supervisors' friends.

"There is a bunch of other checks that came in . . . through the supervisors," Hassett says.

The United Way subleases the stadium suite from the Maricopa County Stadium District, which is overseen by the five-member Board of Supervisors. The lease agreement gave the supervisors leverage to muscle the charity for the tickets.

Hassett says the United Way has rights to all baseball events involving the Diamondbacks, including "ancillary baseball events" which include playoff games and the All-Star Game. But since the definition of ancillary baseball events didn't specify the World Series, the United Way concluded -- incorrectly -- that the World Series was a stadium district event.

Under the lease terms, tickets for stadium district events are controlled by the county.

The stadium district, however, has no control over the World Series tickets, according to Maricopa County Stadium District director Bill Scalzo. The tickets are controlled by the Arizona Diamondbacks and Major League Baseball.

Hassett says the United Way was also concerned that if it didn't provide the tickets to the supervisors, the supervisors might cancel their stadium suite lease.

"It only takes 30 days' notice to terminate the lease," Hassett says.

The ballpark suite lease agreement with the stadium district has been an important tool for the United Way.

"We are grateful they partner with us," Hassett says. "It's been a nice thing for the community."

The charity uses it for fund-raising efforts and also takes disadvantaged children to ballpark events.

"Most of the time we got kids in there from south central Phoenix Boys and Girls Clubs, kids who would never get to see a game," says Hassett.

But for Game One of the World Series, supervisor Jan Brewer was joined by her husband, friends and campaign consultants -- including former Symington aide Doug Cole -- in the suite perched above first base. Clad in a World Series tee shirt, Brewer enjoyed the game in a ballpark she sharply criticized during her campaign for supervisor.

Brewer defeated former supervisor Ed King, who voted in favor of imposing a quarter-cent sales tax to raise $238 million to build the ballpark. Brewer railed against King throughout the campaign for his vote to impose the tax. Brewer is expected to run for secretary of state next year.

Brewer did not return repeated calls to her office seeking comment. Nor did Supervisor Kunasek.

In a taped interview Monday, Supervisor Stapley denied having his office call the United Way about the tickets.

"I can tell you my office did not call the United Way and ask for those tickets," he says.

Stapley confirms that he purchased the tickets, but denies attending either of the first two World Series games.

"I did not attend the game, and I did not keep any of those tickets for myself or for my own personal use, okay?" Stapley says.

Stapley wouldn't say why he purchased the tickets if he didn't intend to go to the game.

"That's none of your business," he says. "It's a free country and I can buy baseball tickets and sell them to my family. I can sell them to my clients. I can sell them to my friends at face value and not scalp 'em, all day long. I could scalp 'em if I wanted to, but I wouldn't do that."

Whatever Stapley did with the tickets, it's clear the United Way would have liked to have used the tickets to raise money.

"We will never know how much we could have gotten for the World Series," Hassett says.

Hassett says United Way fund raising has been slow this year.

"The economy slowed down dramatically last summer and some of our biggest companies got bought and merged," he says.

The aftermath of September 11 has also diverted more than $1.1 million in local United Way funds to relief efforts in New York City and Virginia.

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