Phoenix City Hall Finally Shutters Michael Booher's Rave Scene, Yet the Party Goes On. And What About Clean Elections Cheat Doug Quelland?
A year and a half ago, I told you about Michael "Boo" Booher.
I told you that Boo, 62, was a convicted pedophile — a guy who'd pleaded guilty to molesting a 7-year-old girl. I told you he was hosting unlicensed raves in a warehouse next to the Fourth Avenue Jail in downtown Phoenix, parties that were packing in thousands of teens. I told you how the Fire Department shut one party down — but when the Phoenix Police Department was summoned to the scene, they didn't even write up a report. And so Boo's parties continued.
Not if you work for the city of Phoenix. At City Hall, it seems, outrage is outré. Even the potent combo of sex and drugged-out adolescents can't roust these guys.
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Rest assured, this isn't just about ignoring New Times. This is about City Hall ignoring its own police department. (Ultimately, the cops concluded that parties at Boo's were a real problem.)
For nearly two years, City Hall shrugged. First, they ignored the unlicensed parties. Then, after our report made the situation impossible to ignore, they chose to avoid the hammer and instead offered a helping hand — doing what they could to help Booher and the warehouse owner, Malcolm Marr, get a "use permit" to throw raves legally.
So, last July, Marr appeared before the city, along with Booher. (Marr's attorney, Vojtek Karpuk of Jennings Strouss, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Marr told the city that he hoped to get a permit to hold bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, and, yes, raves at the warehouse. Boo himself — the same dude who'd gone to prison for molesting a young girl, only to spend his time as a registered sex offender partying with other young girls — actually got up before the city's zoning adjustment hearing officer and boasted about what a tight ship he was running. Booher explained that his workers screen for illegal drugs and "other illegal activities," according to meeting minutes. Marr added that, historically, raves were held in the desert — by bringing them downtown, he and Booher were just trying to provide a place where they could be "safe and controlled."
The Phoenix Police weren't buying it. Sergeant Jeff Fields noted that he hadn't heard about plans for any bar mitzvahs or quinceañeras. All he knew about were raves. Lieutenant Brad Burt added that his department was opposed to the proposal so long as Booher was involved.
The city approved the plan anyway.
Guess what happened?
Seven months later, Sergeant Laura Liuzzo fired off a memo to her supervisor detailing how raves at the Marr warehouse have "consistently violated" city ordinances.
On February 14, Liuzzo wrote, things got really out of hand.
"[A] large-scale police response was required to quell a fight with multiple suspects that were attempting to incite a riot, and committing aggravated assault on police officers during their arrest for selling drugs," Liuzzo wrote. Earlier the same night, the police and fire departments had arrived on the scene due to concerns about overcrowding; they found exits "locked and blocked," kids as young as 10 years old, and "many of the patrons appeared to be under the influence of drugs."
Booher and Company were hardly cowed. Why should they be? They'd violated the rules before with no consequences.
So just two weeks later, the music was again pumping so loudly that "employees from the Sheriff's Office complained that the bridge between their building and the parking garage was shaking," as Liuzzo wrote. Meanwhile, kids under 18 congregated past the city's curfew; the police were flooded with calls about loud music even after 3 a.m.
Reading that, you might wonder about the whereabouts of one Michael Booher. After all, he'd promised the city that he'd keep things under control, screen for drugs and stop illegal activity.
Yet when Booher and his staff became aware of a detective videotaping the party from the parking garage across the street, reported Sergeant Liuzzo, "they spent close to 15 minutes shining flashlights . . . and attempting to take photographs of him, instead of ensuring that their young partygoers were being kept safe." Nice.
And here's the kicker.
Last week, I sat in a hearing room at City Hall and waited for the city to revoke the warehouse's use permit, as police had recommended. The warehouse had been in clear violation of the law so many times. Surely, I thought, the city would shut down the site.
Instead, an assistant city attorney stood before the hearing officer and explained that it was all good; at some point before the hearing even began, the city had come to terms with Marr, the warehouse owner. Marr had fired Booher. And, he'd agreed that there would be no more raves on the property, just — you know — bar mitzvahs and quinceañeras.
The city dropped its request for revocation. Party on.
A month ago, I told you about the dirty tricks in Arizona's 10th Legislative District race.
I told you about how last fall's race featured a Green Party candidate who'd been officially repudiated by the real Green Party, yet still managed to get $68,531 in public funding for her campaign. Thank you, Clean Elections!
Naturally enough for a candidate who'd been a registered Republican just days before filing to run, Margarite Dale seemed more interested in helping her GOP rivals than winning one for Ralph Nader. Dale got initial contributions from the families of her supposed Republican opponents, Jim Weiers and Doug Quelland. Records show that she then hired a Republican strategist, Shane Wikfors. (Yes, he's the same guy who runs one of the Valley's most popular conservative blogs, www.sonoranalliance.com.)
Was Margarite Dale's candidacy a Republican dirty trick, designed to strip away votes from incumbent Democrat Jackie Thrasher? Duh!
But the Dale matter is a mere sideshow to the real scandal in District 10.
Dale, Thrasher, and Republican candidate Doug Quelland all opted to run under Arizona's Clean Elections system. That means they got tens of thousands of dollars in public funds for their campaigns in exchange for agreeing to certain rules. They couldn't raise money on their own after an initial startup period. And they couldn't exceed spending limits by spending extra money on the side.
It's increasingly clear that Doug Quelland did just that.
Todd Lang, executive director of the Clean Elections Commission, wrote an excellent 16-page report on just this subject. Lang found probable cause that Quelland had violated several state laws, recommending fines as high as $46,000. If the commission agrees that Quelland violated the laws in question, it could also vote to remove him from office.
According to Lang's report, in March 2007, Quelland hired Larry Davis and his company, Intermedia Public Relations, as campaign consultants. Quelland agreed to pay the company $15,000 in monthly installments.
That $15,000 never showed up on Quelland's campaign finance report.
Davis blew the whistle after Quelland's victory, saying that Quelland exceeded spending limits by paying him under the table. But Quelland's lawyer denied that Davis had been hired for political work. He also told the commission that Davis ought to have to produce checks.
"Mr. Quelland has to be free from having to prove a negative," attorney Lee Miller argued.
Davis didn't have documentation. But when the Clean Elections Commission subpoenaed Quelland's bank records, go figure, they found evidence of the payments that Davis had described. Davis was paid $7,000 through January 2008. (After that, Quelland allowed him free rent in a strip mall he owned, in exchange for another six months of services.)
None of that — either the $7,000 in checks or the $6,000 rent giveaway — showed up in Quelland's campaign finance reports.
The commission heard Todd Lang's recommendations last Thursday. In almost every instance of disciplinary action I've examined, the commission has followed Lang's recommendations on the spot.
But this time, they failed to act.
They said they couldn't tell who's telling the truth. They'll have to revisit the matter at a future meeting.
I couldn't attend the meeting. (I was over at City Hall, watching the city of Phoenix drop the ball on the Marr warehouse. So many scandals, so little time.) But sources in attendance tell me that Quelland basically filibustered the commission, rambling on for at least an hour without effectively refuting any of Lang's findings.
Who needs evidence when you have blather?
My sources urged me to be kind to the Clean Elections Commission. They say that Quelland took up so much time that everyone's heads were spinning. I can only hope that they're right — that fatigue, not confusion, kept the commission from following through.
Because, trust me, ...you don't need a lie detector to figure this one out. You just need common sense.
It's a cliché, but an absolutely accurate one: The truthful story is always the simple one. Doug Quelland hired Larry Davis to be his campaign consultant, then paid him for the work under the table. Davis blew the whistle. End of the story.
Contrast that with Doug Quelland's version of the story, according to his deposition. Two days after Quelland hired Larry Davis to run his campaign, Quelland claims, he fired him. Supposedly, Davis wanted to trash Quelland's opponent, Jackie Thrasher, and Quelland just didn't like that.
Now, the contract between Quelland and Davis had called for Davis to get certain payments if he was terminated. Quelland never made those payments.
So how to explain the lack of a termination payment — and the ongoing monthly checks?
This one is a doozy. According to Quelland, just after he fired Davis as a campaign worker, he hired him to promote his Phoenix coffee shop, Q's Coffee Bar. And he just happened to pay him exactly the same price they'd previously agreed upon for the political work. What a coincidence!
Naturally, hearing a story that implausible, Clean Elections staffers investigated a little bit more. According to Lang's report, staff learned that, after he was supposedly "fired" by Quelland's campaign, Larry Davis ordered campaign T-shirts that said "VOTE QUELLAND" and paid for them with campaign money.
Also, after its supposed termination, Davis' company created Quelland's campaign Web site.
And went to campaign meetings with state GOP officials.
And organized fundraising "community breakfasts."
Of course Quelland had an explanation, right? Hold your breath . . .
The guy that Quelland fired had chosen to return to the campaign as a volunteer.
Quelland's story falls apart in several places. Quelland claims he never attended any fundraising breakfasts — yet witnesses, including former Speaker of the House Jim Weiers, put him right there. (Weiers, suffice it to say, has absolutely no reason to smear his former running mate and current House colleague.) Quelland also said under oath that he'd never seen a particular type of "sales receipt" produced by Davis — only to subsequently produce one just like it in order to make some other point.
Nothing about Quelland's mess of evasions and denials and dodges passes the smell test.
The simple story? Quelland broke campaign finance law and then lied about it.
It took me all of two hours to sort this one out. But the commission, the people appointed specifically to figure out this stuff, put the matter on hold.
Obviously, there's no comparison between a perv and a Clean Elections scofflaw. But there's a disturbing parallel in these two cases.
Malcolm Marr, an otherwise upstanding citizen, can hire a convicted child molester to manage his warehouse and then stand by while that guy parties with half the teenagers in Phoenix. The system does nothing to hold him accountable.
Doug Quelland, a small businessman and would-be politician, figures out a way to funnel more money into his campaign. He makes payments under the table and then concocts a cockamamie story when confronted with the evidence. The system is too confused to lower the boom.
Where is our outrage?
Why aren't we hounding these guys? Why aren't we at least shuttering the Madison Street warehouse for a while, to make it clear that if you don't follow the rules, you don't get to throw parties? Futhermore, why hasn't anyone called for Quelland to resign?
I had a long conversation last week with a promoter in the local rave scene. He tells me that, during the two years that "Boo" was allowed to serve as innkeeper, he became a big player. "He's at every show that's at the warehouse, and he's been at many shows that aren't there," the promoter tells me.
The promoter hastens to tell me that he's never heard of any actual shenanigans — it's more that the rave scene is full of scantily clad teenage girls. And, teenage girls being the way they are, they're happy to run up and shriek "Boo!" and give the warehouse manager a warm hug. "He's putting himself in a position where 15-year-olds are going to thrust themselves on him," the promoter says.
"A lot of people in this community are like, 'This is a convicted pedophile hanging out with 12-year-olds,'" my source adds. "Show me another job where you can get convicted of that particular crime and still do that."
Plenty of ravers were convinced Boo's scene would be shut down after I wrote about it nearly two years ago. Many hoped for it.
But the city didn't shut it down. No one seemed to care. Indeed, someone called me after my first story and suggested I was stirring up trouble. He's done his time, they said; do we really believe in hounding child molesters for the rest of their lives?
But I change my answer if they're hanging around with underage teenagers until 3 a.m. In that case, I think, a little hounding is more than appropriate.
And if someone violates campaign finance laws and their only explanation is an explanation that makes no sense, we ought to force them to suffer the consequences.
I'm all for measured responses and careful fact-finding. But we've found the facts in these two situations, and they're about as ugly as they get.
Really, if we don't get angry about stuff like this, what do we get angry about?
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