Longform

Dial's Dirty Laundry

Page 4 of 8

She retained Mick LaVelle as her attorney; Ingalls hired Rad Vucichevich. Both lawyers are experienced and skilled in the courtroom.

Vucichevich quickly noticed that Joan Potter had a potent ally in her corner: Dial Corp. The thick case file reflects the greater-than-normal difficulties he had in getting relevant data on Potter's finances from Dial.

Vucichevich deposed Joan Potter in August 1993, a month before the couple went to trial in Maricopa County Superior Court. The deposition was revealing.

For starters, there was confusion over her education. A 1990 Dial press release indicated Potter had graduated from Temple University with a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"Did you graduate from there?" Vucichevich asked her.
"Yes, I did."
"What year did you graduate?"
"It was 1976, I believe."
Vucichevich revisited the issue a bit later.
"What was the year you said you graduated?"
"I believe it was 1973, '74, something like that ..."

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia school tells New Times that Potter took classes there in 1973, but never graduated.

During the deposition, Potter admitted she'd sneaked into Ingalls' home twice in the preceding months. She said she'd broken in "through the skylight" in April 1993, to retrieve a box of family photographs.

Then, one night in May 1993, she let herself in through an unlocked door. Jerry Ingalls was at his son's graduation ceremony at Arizona State University. The coast should have been clear for Potter. But it wasn't.

"I believed that Jerry had documents that belonged to me, part of my legal files," Potter testified. "I went in, I looked for my files. ... Then other people entered the house."

The others were Ruth and Orville Duvall, acquaintances of Ingalls. Ruth Duvall recalled the incident in a May 26, 1993, affidavit.

"I noticed a woman running out of Mr. Ingalls' office, carrying a handful of documents," Duvall wrote. "The woman ran out the back door, and my husband chased after her. ... She then exited the house andjumped over a fence and ran toward the street. A black Mercedes-Benz vehicle pulled up alongside her, and she got in the car and they drove away."

"Did you find any legal documents you were looking for?" Vucichevich asked Potter at her deposition.

"No, I did not."
The getaway driver was Joan Potter's mother.

Joan Potter rented a condo for several months after she filed for divorce. During the summer of 1992, however, she heard about a lovely home for sale in the Biltmore area.

Purchasing it posed a problem. Arizona is a community-property state, and, unless otherwise agreed, married couples share equally in assets and liabilities until divorced.

Barry Silverman, the Superior Court judge hearing the divorce case, had instructed the two to make no major purchases until it ended.

But Potter was resourceful. First, in August 1992, she agreed to lease the home from its owner for $2,000 a month. She also put down $15,000 in earnest money, with an option to buy the home after six months. By then, she figured, her divorce would be final.

Potter already had contacted Maenner Relocation Inc. (MRI), a Nebraska firm that assists Dial Corp with employee transfers. MRI's president signed an escrow contract with the owner of the Biltmore home within a few days of when Potter signed her lease option. The contract said escrow would close six months later.

Potter was hedging her bets. If her divorce became final within the six-month window, she'd buy the house herself. If not, MRI would buy the house and lease it to her until the divorce case ended.

By early 1993, it was apparent that the divorce wasn't close to resolution. That January 11, Potter called Cheryl Grafentin, MRI's relocations manager.

"She was in the process of a divorce," Grafentin later testified, "had contracted to purchase a property, and, because of the divorce proceedings, had asked if we would purchase the house. Then she would have the option of purchasing it back from us after the divorce was completed."

Grafentin said she told Potter she'd do whatever Dial--MRI's client--wanted: "Joan called me back and verified that the corporation had ... instructed [us] to buy [it]."

In February 1993, MRI did so, for $300,000, and returned the $15,000 in earnest money to Potter. Though nothing was in writing, the firm became Potter's "landlord"--or so the Ingalls camp believed.

When Rad Vucichevich deposed Joan Potter in August 1993, he asked her about the Biltmore house. Among other claims, she said her rent payments were just that, and weren't building equity for her.

"Is Dial aware of this transaction?" Vucichevich asked her.
"Yes."
"Mr. Teets or anyone else?"

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin