Longform

The Bermudez Triangle

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Their time together had its rough spots.

He began working with a group of people who wanted to incorporate the town, and after they were successful, he was nominated to the first city council. Eventually, he became mayor before leaving city politics in 1986.

Even then, rumors followed him.

"I lost three businesses while I was mayor of San Luis and they still thought I stole from the government," he says of his so-called enemies. "I even declared bankruptcy and there are still a lot of people who say I stole from the city. It comes with the territory. You put yourself out there you're going to be scrutinized."

There are people around who remember Bermudez's San Luis days — even he admits he carries "baggage" — but they are reluctant to talk. New Times attempted to contact current San Luis city council members who worked with Bermudez, but phone calls were not returned.

Still, his criminal history, a matter of public record, indicates he didn't keep his hands completely clean. In 1987, he was convicted of soliciting the acceptance of a bribe when he asked the local police chief to make some legal problems "disappear" for him.

Initially charged with trafficking in stolen property and soliciting a bribe, Bermudez was able to plead down to one charge.

In 1984, a friend, former Guadalupe police chief John Guerra, asked Bermudez to drive his car across the border into San Luis, Sonora. A few days later, Guerra reported the car stolen to Tempe police and received an insurance payout. After that, he decided he didn't want anything to do with the car and gave it to Bermudez. A few years later, Bermudez sold the engine to a man in Mexico.

That same year, the car was discovered by Mexican police, who reported it to the San Luis, Arizona, police department. When Bermudez heard the car was found and was under investigation, court documents show he told San Luis police chief Michael Jenkins, who he had a well-known feud with, "If you take care of this problem for me, I will get off your back forever."

In the statement he made to the court, Bermudez says he was actually just asking Jenkins for protection. Apparently, Bermudez and Guerra had a long history and, at one point, Bermudez was present when Guerra shot a man in the line of duty. According to his statement, Bermudez feared retribution from the man's family, who worked in law enforcement across the border.

"The relatives of this suspect belong to the state judicial police in Sonora, Mexico, and have made numerous threats to my life and I know they are waiting for an opportunity to arrest me and do bodily harm," he says in the statement. "Even though I had very strong confrontations with my police chief, I had to ask him to accompany me to Mexico as protection, not to influence anyone."

His plea bargain was successful and, though the charge would normally be designated a Class 6 felony, it was reduced to a misdemeanor. He served a suspended six-month sentence and two years probation for it.

Though the probation officer assigned to the case suggested the court accept the plea bargain, he did so with reservations.

The officer, James Montgomery, wrote in his report: "This officer feels the State has shown tremendous leniency towards this defendant, and further, I feel this is all greatly to the defendant's advantage and to societies [sic] disadvantage. It appears that the defendant is an opportunist and stands to obtain personal gain in whatever ventures he may become involved in under the guise of helping his fellow man."

This wasn't Bermudez's first brush with the law in San Luis. In 1979, while working as a bartender at a place called Friends and Lovers, he was charged with aggravated assault after becoming involved in a fight that broke out while he was working. During the course of the fight, he struck another man with an unloaded gun.

Once again, he was able to plea bargain to a misdemeanor, and was given one year of probation instead of serving time.

Despite his run-ins with law enforcement, Bermudez still rose to power in the small town. In 1979, he sat on the county board of supervisors and was elected to the council in 1980. He served as mayor from 1982 to 1984 and then sat on the council again until he retired from city politics in 1986.

He then opened a document-preparation business called Centro de Progresso, similar to the one he operates in Phoenix today. He says he got the idea while working to get the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 passed. Part of the act granted amnesty to migrants who worked in the United States prior to 1982.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin