By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A widely distributed June 2001 preliminary site plan for the homeless project incorrectly identified the owner of the lumber yard as the "O'Malley family," even though a Cowley-led real estate partnership purchased the land a year earlier.
The county never corrected the mistake and continued to refer to the site in internal documents as the O'Malley property.
Neil Urban, a county official overseeing development of the campus, says the county wasn't trying to hide the ownership of the land from the public but that everyone simply referred to the lumber yard site as the O'Malley property.
At the same time the county was telling the public the land was owned by the O'Malley family, county spokesman Al Macias says Stapley privately disclosed his prior business relationship with Cowley to county administrator David Smith.
Macias says Smith "believes it was sometime about July of last year that the quote unquote O'Malley property came into play as part of the campus. That's when David was told by Don that the owner of the property, Mr. Cowley, and he had done business sometime in the past."
Macias says Smith was not concerned about Stapley's previous business ties with Cowley.
"It was not going to impact our negotiations" to purchase the land for the campus, Macias says.
Even after Stapley's July 2001 disclosure of his ties to Cowley, Smith continued to refer to the property in internal county documents as the "O'Malley" property.
Smith did not relay information about Cowley's relationship with Stapley to Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who was supporting development of the homeless project and in whose district the facility would be constructed.
Wilcox says she was not aware that Stapley's friend was the owner of the property until told by New Times.
"It doesn't trouble me," she says. "Don is not doing the negotiating. We have county professionals doing that."
Smith did not return calls seeking comment.
Stapley's relationship with Cowley is raising concerns among top county employees.
Facilities management director Hintz, whose office is directing the project, says he didn't know Cowley was involved in the project until told by New Times. Hintz says he knew the property had been sold to SMT Investors, but he did not know that the company was controlled by Cowley.
Nor did he know about Stapley's relationship with Cowley.
"What you are telling me is news to me," Hintz says.
Hintz says he's concerned that Stapley did not disclose his relationship with Cowley prior to voting in favor of the county purchasing land from a former business partner.
"I would recuse myself from those actions by saying, 'Hey, I had a relationship with this particular individual or this particular group,'" Hintz says.
Cowley's name doesn't appear connected to the lumber yard property in county documents related to the homeless project reviewed by New Times until early this year -- 18 months after he purchased the property.
This is not the first time Stapley and Cowley have been connected to a questionable real estate project.
A recent land speculation by the pair resulted in substantial fines and a consent decree. What's more, Wilcox's suggestion that no harm can result from the Stapley-Cowley relationship because Stapley is not directly negotiating the price misses the point. Cowley's nose is inside the tent and taxpayers will foot the bill on his speculation.
In 1995, Stapley and Cowley teamed up in a series of real estate transactions that outraged Pinal County officials and eventually led to an investigation by the state Real Estate Department.
Stapley -- in interviews with state investigators -- admitted to acting as a "straw man" in a sham real estate transaction engineered by Cowley involving land near Maricopa County's San Tan Regional Park about 15 miles south of Apache Junction.
The state alleged Stapley's purchase of 40 acres -- half of which he immediately sold to Cowley's daughter -- was part of an illegal lot-splitting plan to skirt state subdivision regulations. The Attorney General's Office filed a complaint against Cowley and his partners in March 2000. Stapley, who was already a county supervisor when he purchased the San Tan land, was not named in the complaint.
Cowley signed a consent decree settling the charges in May 2000 and has since paid $87,500 in fines to the state and Pinal County.
Stapley profited handsomely from the San Tan deal, turning a $40,000 investment into a $120,000 net profit in two years ("Stapley Manner," June 1, 2000).
Cowley wasn't the only investor in the lumber yard property with ties to Stapley.
Wilford A. Cardon is another longtime Stapley friend and former business partner. Cardon and Stapley built shopping centers and office buildings together in the 1980s. The two shared an office suite on East Southern Avenue in Mesa until Stapley moved out a little more than a year ago, according to Cardon's secretary.
It was Cardon who introduced Stapley to Cowley many years ago, Stapley told state investigators probing the San Tan case. Cardon and Cowley are lifelong friends who served as Mormon missionaries together in Brazil.
County records show that Cardon was the lead investor in Cowley's real estate partnership that purchased the lumber yard in June 2000. Cardon subsequently sold his 85 percent interest in the property to Cowley and his relatives.