Super Bowl V

The Valley's bid for the Big Game may be derailed by five missing tortoise babies

"Look, the only thing he hasn't squashed is a major sports stadium. I don't think it's an accident that Farrell is suddenly on the scene with just days to go before groundbreaking," Plummer adds. "If it wasn't the tortoises, it would be something else. A fucking cactus-eating gnat or something."

In fact, Farrell has been involved in many well-publicized national efforts to save species, including mammals (Preble's Meadow-Jumping Mouse, the Giant Kangaroo Rat, the Alabama Beach Mouse), reptiles (the Island Night Lizard, the Bluetail Mole Skink) and fish (the Slender Chub, the Pahrump Poolfish).

"He's a hired gun who jets from his fancy Tucson home base to wherever a dollar can be made," claims Plummer, adding that by taking advantage of EPA regulations, which award damages to environmental groups, Farrell netted more than $1 million last year. "Around here, we refer to him as a species we wish was endangered – the yellow-bellied tax-sucker."

An undated photo reportedly showing the missing tortoise babies held by Frank Jantzen.
An undated photo reportedly showing the missing tortoise babies held by Frank Jantzen.

Farrell scoffs at Plummer's accusations, calling the ARW a tool of big business. "I'm hated by the kind of people who think wildlife is best served on a plate," counters the canny 45-year-old.

He noted that it isn't every day he's tipped to a major environmental scandal by an attractive cheerleader. "I have to say, I was a bit skeptical when she called. But when I saw her documents, I knew we had a first and goal from the one-yard line."

Though many residents wish the Cardinals themselves were slated for extinction – the franchise, not the bird – Farrell knows that others will react angrily to his legal challenge, which could hold up construction of the stadium indefinitely. But he hopes the controversy will educate the public about protected desert animals.

"It's time to draw a line in the sand," Farrell fumes. "No stadium should be built until we know what happened to those tortoises. The public has a right to know. Did Bidwill and his goon separate those five babies from their mother and toss them into Tempe Town Lake? For his sake, I hope he didn't. But I wouldn't be surprised if he gave them to other NFL owners as Christmas presents."

Without explanation, after the regular season ended, the Cardinals removed compliance officer Jantzen's name from the team's Web site.

And as for whistle-blower Jennifer Morgan, her sister cheerleaders say they don't expect her back after the off-season. "She's in seclusion. She knows this thing's going to blow sky-high after her allegations are heard in court," Farrell says.

Several legal experts consulted by New Times agreed that the seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated: If the allegations are proven in court, little-known NFL rules make it possible that the Bidwills will be forced to cede ownership of the team.

Says John Rocklin, a former federal prosecutor and sports law expert who has consulted with the NFL and the NBA, "I can't comment on specific cases. But hypothetically speaking, the Bidwills are in a world of legal hurt. The league has binding rules regarding the moral turpitude of owners. They're rarely invoked, but you put together the potential violation of state and federal environmental laws, a possible criminal conspiracy indictment and an eroded fan base, and you've got yourself an interesting scenario."

Sports marketing guru Lynn Stelling-Asoki points out that the Valley's negative perception of the Bidwills could weigh against them. "Imagine the league faced with overwhelming fan outrage – in the form of a petition drive to wrench the team from the Bidwills, for example. The league could decide that, in the face of sustained public outrage, continued support of the family is too much of a liability and use the turpitude rules to oust them."

Stelling-Asoki compared the Cardinals' situation to that faced in 1984 by then-Baltimore Colts owner Bob Irsay, who moved his team to Indianapolis that year in an infamous nighttime escape.

"The way fans in Phoenix feel already, they might help the team pack," she says. "But the general public isn't yet aware what a dramatic development this is going to turn out to be – not until New Times hits the streets, anyway. I'm saying, these allegations are so egregious, the Bidwills probably won't get the chance to whisk the team away."

Ogden Farrell says he's more curious about what happened to the tortoises than what may happen to the Bidwills.

Farrell asked New Times to alert citizens that, if they stumble upon the missing tortoises, they should immediately call authorities. (Farrell's organization, the Sonoran Desert Conservancy, can be reached at 602-238-4804 or at Even do-gooders, he points out, can do the tortoise more harm than good: Picking up a plodding tortoise can cause it to panic and empty its bladder, leading to lethal dehydration.

"After we expose Bill Bidwill's wrongdoing," Farrell adds, "I have a feeling he'll be the one with the bladder problem."

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