MacDonald: This Shakedown Artist Didn't See the Real Profits
Some thoughts about the Peter MacDonald hearings:
I pick up my Arizona Republic each morning in the dark. I walk with it to the porch light. It is then that I'm able to see that Pat Murphy's Republic staff has placed still another story about the Navajo tribal chairman on the front page.
I go inside the house. I get a cup of coffee. Each morning I dutifully read the MacDonald dispatches from Anne Q. Hoy of the Republic's Washington bureau.
I see three things wrong with them:
1) The federal government's strategy of immunizing MacDonald's own son from prosecution is despicable. How cynical and heartless can you get? The idea of forcing a son into the betrayal of his father is ghastly. The tactic is something that was a prime strategy of the darkest villains of the Hitler-Stalin era.
2) The daily sight of Senator Dennis DeConcini--Mr. Lucrative Land Deal himself--playing judge and jury on the Senate investigating panel. This immediately elevates a deadly serious matter into farce. It's Alice in Wonderland and Judge Roy Bean all rolled into one.
And it raises another question. Why hasn't Congress investigated the Arizona land deals that made millions for DeConcini and his pals? Why doesn't it get DeConcini's wife, Susan, to turn government witness against him?
3) The fact that MacDonald is a shakedown artist is a given. But even the Republic stories show that MacDonald's profit is minor league compared with that of the real estate men who put the deal together.
Byron "Bud" Brown and Tom Tracy, two Phoenix-based entrepreneurs, hit the jackpot. They made lottery-size profits in this transaction that took them less than a day.
It's one of the great land scores of American history. Clearly it's the best real estate deal between white men and red men since the purchase of Manhattan Island.
Brown's profit was $4.9 million. Tracy's profit was $2.93 million. With figures like that, you don't even have to write in the exclamation points.
And yet MacDonald is left to take the heat. He's received approximately $10,000 and a year-old BMW for which he will have to make monthly lease payments of $900. All the rest of the money, we are told, was promised to him in the future.
Brown testifies under immunity with attorney Melvin McDonald at his side.
Brown certainly knew where to go when the heat came down. McDonald is a former United States attorney and a former Maricopa County court judge. With the rates that McDonald charges, he'll be the third man in the case to come away with more money than the Indian chief.
Peter MacDonald Jr.'s testimony creates a sensational atmosphere. His father sent him first to Harvard and then to Oklahoma University and then law school. It took him seven years to pass the bar examination. He is either stupid or indolent and perhaps a mix of both.
Brown and the young MacDonald relate the Navajo chief's graft strategy. It's pitiable in comparison with the total stakes on the table. MacDonald was always playing for peanuts, while the two white men were shooting for the moon. But nowhere do the Republic stories tell about Brown and Tracy. Who are these men who made off with close to $8 million for a day's work? Can it be the Republic doesn't know or doesn't care?
Is the paper so anxious to back up its earlier Indian series that it will forego telling us the background of two of the great con men of our day? Here's how the Republic played the story on the day it was revealed that Brown and Tracy had made their big score.
The headline on page one reads: "CASH SOUGHT FOR DAD IN RANCH DEAL, SON SAYS."
The opening paragraph of the story from the Republic's Washington bureau tells of the elder MacDonald's request for "thousands" of dollars in kickbacks.
Not until the thirtieth paragraph,
deep . . . ever so deep . . . and on the jump page . . . does correspondent Hoy reveal what are really the key facts to the Republic's readers:
Brown's profit was $4.9 million. Tracy's profit was $2.93 million.
I wondered why the Republic's editors hadn't corrected this point so their readers would be able to tell who actually came away with the profits.
I called Robert Franken, an assistant managing editor and currently one of the two high-ranking men in the newsroom.
I asked Franken if he didn't think it strange that the Republic didn't make a point out of the huge profits made by the two real estate men.
Franken was cordial but seemed to be making a deliberate attempt to remain vague.
"I don't know," Franken said.
I asked Franken if he thought his readers wouldn't be interested in knowing something about Bud Brown, who comes out of this with immunity and $4.9 million.
Franken himself clearly didn't know who Bud Brown was.
"If Brown had made that much money in the lottery, wouldn't you have done a story?" I asked.
Franken didn't answer that question.
Instead, he did something that editors do all the time. He passed the buck. "I wasn't in charge that night," Franken said. "Howard Finberg [also an assistant managing editor] would have been responsible for making a change like that. Try him."
Finberg, according to Franken, was out of town. Finberg did not respond to messages requesting that he call back. Normally I would have skipped over Franken and Finberg to reach the
Republic's managing editor. This is not possible at the Republic.
Currently, it does not even have a managing editor.
Since the retirement of Alan Moyer in December, the paper has operated without one.
It's uncertain when a managing editor might be named. Several candidates have been interviewed from outside the local staff. They have turned the job down.
Publisher Murphy announced at a recent staff meeting that neither Franken nor Finberg will be elevated to the post.
What this means for their careers at the Republic is fairly obvious. In the meantime, the Republic moves along short-handed at the top. From a financial view, that's not all bad. Revenues for the largest daily newspaper in Arizona are down. At this rate, they are saving a comparatively big salary.
News coverage has always been secondary to the business-oriented Pulliam press. All that has ever mattered to the old men on the board of directors back in Indianapolis is to continue the steady pipeline of profits moving from Arizona to Indiana.
FINALLY, MEET BUD BROWN It didn't take long to find Bud Brown at his Scottsdale home.
"Bud's busy right now," a woman's voice said. "But he'll call you right back if you leave a number."
Five minutes later, Bud Brown was on the line.
"Is this the Bud Brown who tried to sell the City of Phoenix on building a tramway system back in 1970?" I asked.
Brown recalled his plan in detail. He had tried to sell then-Mayors Milton Graham and John Driggs on an aerial tramway that would have run from Camelback to South Mountain down Central and from Phoenix Civic Plaza to Sky Harbor airport.
Brown had developed the equipment, and he offered to build the tram for a cost of $420 million. At that time, it would have been a relatively simple matter for the city to get the needed funds from the federal government.
Now, a similar project will be placed before the voters. It will cost many times more and must be paid for by tax dollars.
"I warned them," Brown said smugly, "that if they didn't do it that the traffic in Phoenix would eventually come to a standstill, and I guess it has.
"They told me, thank you, that I was too far ahead of my time," Brown said. "What else could I do? I saw what I was up against. If an officeholder doesn't make a decision, he can't get in trouble."
Brown had already invested $700,000 in tramway projects. One of them was then operating, taking tourists from Custer, South Dakota, to a 5,750-foot peak in the Black Hills.
In 1972, Brown backed George McGovern for the Democratic nomination for president against Richard Nixon.
Bernie Wynn, then Republic political editor, did a hatchet job on Brown during the Democratic convention held in Miami.
Wynn informed his Republic readers how Brown picked up the tab in Miami for a fleet of boats to promote McGovern. He described Brown as "a builder of aerial tramways, a constructor of pipelines, and a multimillion-dollar dabbler in real estate."
Next, Brown attempted to get the contract to build the Alaska pipeline, but he ran into a political stiff arm from the Department of the Interior and the Richard Nixon administration.
But Brown didn't back down. He took the issue to the United States Supreme Court. Not until it refused to hear the case did Brown admit his defeat by the oil interests.
"If they had let me build that pipeline," Brown says now, "it would have been a better pipeline. It would have guaranteed that the cost of oil could be kept at a minimum for the American consumer."
In 1974, Brown ran for Congress in the fourth district against John Conlan. Ten years before that, before moving to Arizona, Brown had run for Congress, without success, in South Dakota. Brown was beaten by Conlan by 16,000 votes, and he says now that most of the votes against him came from the Navajo Reservation and Peter MacDonald.
"The Hopi-Navajo dispute was very big in those days," Brown said, "and I came down on the side of the Hopis."
Nevertheless, Brown and MacDonald achieved a friendly relationship.
Brown's partner in the purchase of the Big Boquillas Ranch was Tom Tracy of Phoenix.
Tracy is listed as owning Tracy Oil and Gas, but try to find such a company. Tracy also owns Reppell Steel, as well as being a rancher up in Oregon.
It was Brown, the idea man, who masterminded Tracy's purchase of the 491,000-acre ranch from Tenneco West.
Tenneco had been trying to sell the land for $25 million. Nobody would buy it.
Suddenly, Tracy bought it for $26.2 million and then turned around the same day and sold it to the Navajos for $33.4 million.
Brown got 59 percent of the profit plus a broker's commission of $750,000.
All those years of dreams and schemes that failed had ended happily for Brown.
I asked him how he felt about it all.
"I can't talk about Peter MacDonald," Brown said.
"But there's one thing I can tell you," he said, chuckling.
"Money's the name of the game."
MacDonald was always playing for peanuts, while the two white men were shooting for the moon.
Clearly it's the best real estate deal . . . since the purchase of Manhattan Island.
All those years of dreams and schemes that failed had ended happily
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.