I had a long telephone conversation with Byron "Bud" Brown, the Scottsdale real estate man, the other day.
Brown, 65, was belligerent throughout. He kept telling me how smart he was. Brown also insisted that nothing he did to make millions in the Big Boquillas Ranch swindle was any different from the gambits Dennis DeConcini and John McCain have employed to make themselves rich.
Brown made more than $7 million profit in a matter of minutes a few years back in a now-classic real estate flip involving the sale of the Boquillas Ranch to the Navajo tribe.
"People have the wrong idea about it. What's wrong with making money?" Brown demanded.
"Isn't this what America is all about? Tell me what's wrong with it. I know a deal in which the Valley National Bank made $12 million in one day. Banks do this all the time.
"So why isn't it all right for me and Tom Tracy to buy the ranch for $26 million and sell it the same day for $33 million?
"Was it all right for DeConcini to pay $100 an acre for land and then sell it for $5,000 an acre because he bought the land knowing in advance the government wanted it?
"Was it all right for McCain to play his games with Charlie Keating?"
We had been talking for several minutes when Brown decided he had to set the record straight with New Times.
"Since you work for the New Times," Brown said, "you tell that Fitzpatrick guy who writes that column that the next time he calls me a liar, I'm going to kick his ass."
This unnerved me. Could it be that Brown didn't know who he was talking to? His son had answered the phone, and I had clearly identified myself when asking to speak to Brown.
How could he not know? Was he kidding? I decided not to say anything that might prompt Brown to hang up the phone. The conversation was much too interesting to risk that.
I told Brown I didn't think that anyone at New Times had ever called him a liar.
"Well, you tell that Fitzpatrick that if he's man enough to come out here and face me, I'll take him on anytime."
It is clear that recent events in court have bolstered Brown's confidence.
The other day, Judge Roger Strand of U.S. District Court ruled Brown could not be prosecuted for the land deal because the U.S. Senate had granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony against Peter MacDonald.
I had watched MacDonald in court. I empathized with his agony. He was a man who never had a chance, and is now serving time in the federal prison in Pennsylvania.
Brown had played the rat in sending MacDonald to jail. He had betrayed MacDonald by wearing a wire and getting him to make statements that were later used as evidence against him.
I wanted to know how Brown could live with himself after doing something like that.
"Didn't you feel that you betrayed MacDonald?" I asked. "Didn't you feel that he was your friend and you put him in jail?"
Brown didn't back off a bit.
"I did what I had to do," Brown said. "Those government guys got me in a room and told me they were going to put me away. They were going to charge me with all kinds of things. They gave me a script to play with Peter, and I did what they told me."
"But what about the betrayal?" I asked.
"I had no choice," Brown said. "They told me what my alternatives were, and so I put the wire on and went into the meetings with Peter.
"I think we're still friends. Peter MacDonald was railroaded. His enemies got what they wanted. If they ever want to raise a defense fund for him, I'll be glad to contribute.
"Justice is still yet to be done in this case," Brown said. "I have been forced to spend $1.5 million in attorney fees to defend myself from the federal and state government."
It should be noted, incidentally, for those interested in the financial status of local lawyers, that Brown's attorney over the past few years has been A. Melvin McDonald, former U.S. attorney and also a former Maricopa County Superior Court judge.
Brown cackled on aggressively.
"Now that the judge has ruled I can't be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office, it's time for me to get even for what they put me through. I'm gonna sue them all."
He made it clear he was talking about the prosecutors who have been trying to put him behind bars.
You must tip your hat to a man of such daring. But you have to realize that Brown is something of a wild card. How else could a man whose educational background consists of a few semesters at a cow college named Wichita State have bamboozled so many smart people in what has come to be known as the Big Boquillas Ranch swindle?
Brown blames newspaper reporters for being so stupid. They don't know anything, he says, and they are too lazy to look it up. He proceeded to test me.
"Do you know the difference between a bribe and a kickback?" he demanded.
I said I would like him to explain.
"If you know anything at all about these things," Brown said, "you'll realize that the money I paid MacDonald was a kickback, not a bribe. Everybody knows that the only way you can do business with them, no matter who they are, is to give them kickbacks. And that's the way it will always be."
In case you don't know how the Big Boquillas Ranch sale went down, allow me to explain.
For years, MacDonald, an engineering graduate of the University of Oklahoma, had been the most powerful Native American leader in the country.
Brown, who twice ran for Congress, was a MacDonald contributor during MacDonald's fourth and final campaign for tribal chairman. By this time, they had known each other a dozen years.
After the election, Brown invited MacDonald and his family to take a trip to Hawaii with him for rest and recreation. It was during the vacation that Brown outlined his scheme.
Brown, who had a real estate license, would go to the Tenneco West Corporation of Bakersfield, California, which wanted to sell the ranch. He would offer to find a buyer. In fact, Brown did this so convincingly that he also arranged to receive a $750,000 bonus from Tenneco.
Brown would enlist Tom Tracy, another Scottsdale businessman, as his partner. Brown would identify Tracy as the buyer. They would put down $100,000 to hold the $26 million property and then sell it immediately to the tribe for about $33 million.
Brown told MacDonald the profit would be split three ways. Brown, Tracy and MacDonald would make a handsome profit, and the tribe would have added an important piece of land.
Brown and Tracy split the millions. MacDonald got several thousand dollars and the use of a BMW automobile for which he had to pay $900 per month.
Brown was no stranger to imaginative financial schemes. Over the years, many had not succeeded. But that never kept Brown from hatching new plans.
In 1970, Brown tried to sell the City of Phoenix on an aerial tramway that would run from Phoenix Civic Plaza to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
He had already suffered severe financial damage from his operation of a tram that took tourists from Custer, South Dakota, to a 5,750-foot-high peak in the Black Hills. The problem in those days was a lack of tourists for the Black Hills.
Several years later, Brown went to Washington, D.C., and tried to get the contract to build the Alaska pipeline.
It was in 1974, when he ran for Congress in District 4 against archconservative John Conlan, that Brown first met MacDonald.
Brown, a Democrat, lost that race by 16,000 votes, and he noted that most of the votes against him came from the Navajo reservation. He realized it would be important to cultivate MacDonald.
Brown's long friendship with MacDonald was always the key to getting his deal done.
Brown did not have the money to be dealing in this league. For that, you must give him chutzpah points. All he brought to the deal was imagination, greed and a risky plan. There was always a good chance the deal could fall apart.
Tenneco never had a clue that Brown was obtaining the property only to flip it for his own huge profit.
So the ranch was purchased for $26.2 million. And then Brown and Tracy sold it to the tribe--minutes later--for $33.4 million. The profit came to more than $7 million.
According to government records, Brown's share of the profit was nearly $5 million, while Tracy got more than $2 million. MacDonald got a down payment of $25,000 in the form of a loan and the use of a leased BMW.
Oh, yes, he also got sent to a federal prison cell in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The government worked hard to attempt to prevent Brown from getting away with all the money. The Arizona Attorney General's Office saw to it that Brown's real estate license was revoked and that he was fined $11,000.
Some might think that's a mere slap on the wrist. But Brown considers it an outrage, and plans to appeal.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The United States Attorney's Office tried to get him on money-laundering felony counts, but had to drop them because Congress had granted Brown immunity in exchange for his betrayal of MacDonald.
MacDonald was heartbroken to learn what Brown had done to him.
In MacDonald's autobiography, The Last Warrior, he says of Brown: "I'm not comfortable talking about what happened. I have a mixture of sadness, anger and frustration in my heart."
MacDonald is the only one who comes out of this tale with dignity.
By the time Brown had finished telling his story, he finally decided to ask my name.
"I'm Fitzpatrick," I said. "I never called you a liar, but you are an asshole."
"Don't talk to me like that," Brown shouted into the phone. "I'm taping this conversation."
Then he seemed to freeze on the other end of the phone.
"You gave my son a phony name," he said, "or else I would never have taken the call."
I again insisted I had identified myself properly. "Who did this guy say he was?" I heard Brown demand to someone else in the room. "Who did the son of a bitch say he was?