Longform

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf Man?

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Another $6 million plus, as it turned out.


The view from Liz and Michael Weideman's patio is pure desert -- total quiet, no signs of civilization -- until you look up, and there on a hill, about a city block away, sits Don Sorchych's house. Sorchych has a perfect view of the partially finished path down to Cave Creek that the Weidemans were building, until the town told them they did not have the adequate permits to build it.

Liz Weideman, a pretty young blonde in a hip pink fur hat, is wheelchair-bound, thanks to a drunk driver who hit her several years ago. She assumed there would not be a problem with building a path, because her neighbors have similar paths to the creek. She says town and county officials assured her she had the right permits, and she had sunk several thousand dollars into the project when suddenly, permission was denied.

Ron Short, the city official who originally approved the project, no longer works for the town and refused an interview request. But Weideman says the halt coincided with her new neighbor's arrival last year.

The Weidemans had been warned about Sorchych -- he has a history of fighting with neighbors, which began with the Red Dog Ranch development and extended to a protracted lawsuit over a lot surrounding his previous house. He finally lost the case on appeal and ultimately moved out of the house, after two of his nemeses -- ousted mayor Bernard Buffenstein and Kent Myers -- built houses right outside Sorchych's bedroom and living room.

Kerry Dudek, one of many former town managers run out of Cave Creek by Sorchych, recalls that Sorchych called town hall often -- and not always on official newspaper business.

"He . . . called frequently to lodge complaints against people in the community, neighbors, mostly, about zoning issues," she says. Sometimes he wrote about the people, too, as was the case with Joan Dodd, Tom Augherton's mother-in-law, who was working with a development very close to his former residence. (He does not disclose that they were neighbors.)

Liz and Michael Weideman decided to drop by the Sonoran News one day to meet Sorchych. He was pleasant but arrogant, Liz recalls, and when they told him about the path, he said he had no problem with it. Sorchych even brought over some raw elk legs for Liz's dogs to chew on. An odd Welcome Wagon, but Cave Creek is odd, she figured.

Shortly thereafter, a police officer came to the house and issued Liz Weideman a criminal misdemeanor charge. She says town and county officials told her Sorchych was behind it.

Sorchych says he learned about the path before he moved into his new home, and it has nothing to do with Liz Weideman and her wheelchair. The ramp is an "unapproved assault on that wash," Sorchych says. "That's not what Cave Creek is about."

In any event, now the Weidemans can't finish the path. They can't sell the house because as it is, the path is too dangerous. It would cost $40,000 to fill the dirt back in, Weideman says, and she doesn't have the money. Her legal bills have topped $25,000.

"This is a nightmare, what he's done to me. I've lost half the hair on my head from stress. That's why I'm wearing a hat. I've got a bald spot," Liz Weideman says. "Could a newspaperman really have that much pull?"

Oh, yes, say the Sonoran News enemies who have rallied behind Liz Weideman and against Don Sorchych. Roberta Toombs (the spitter) and her life/business partner Lester Rechlin, have taken up Weideman's cause. They have a longtime grudge against Sorchych because they say he pushed to limit their business -- arts and crafts festivals in Cave Creek. Rechlin actually came to blows with the Cave Creek town manager over the Weideman matter at a recent meeting. (There's been no resolution as to who started the fisticuffs.)

And Noel Hebets, the development attorney with the peyote nickname, is behind Weideman, as well. Hebets says the moniker is born from his friendship with Leo Mercado, a well-known peyoteist in southern Arizona. Hebets insists he's never used peyote illegally, and says he actually met Mercado on an aloe vera purchase. ("Recreational use," Hebets says. "Better than anything in a jar or tube.")

Hebets represents Continental Mountain, a large proposed development that Sorchych really hates. He's been a frequent target lately.

Not everybody feels as though they have allies in the fight against Sorchych. David Phelps, a handyman with a penchant for local politics and a reputation as an environmentalist, was elected to the council when Buffenstein was recalled. Like Augherton, Phelps had a good relationship with Sorchych before he took office. But as soon as Phelps attended a meeting with developers -- just to listen, he insists, he didn't even take a sweet roll -- Sorchych pounced. Soon Sorchych was comparing him to slippery Bill Clinton, accusing him of colluding with Augherton, voting with Augherton in exchange for a job in government. Phelps declined to run for another term.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.