Dial's Dirty Laundry

Last March, Eve Edwards took advantage of what she sensed was a grand opportunity.

She knew her ex-boyfriend, Jerry Ingalls, was immersed in a legal battle with his ex-wife--a top Dial Corporation executive named Joan Potter.

Edwards also knew Ingalls had been talking about suing Dial for allegedly conspiring with Potter to hide assets during his bitter divorce.

A few weeks earlier, Edwards had stolen a box of documents from Ingalls' home in Payson. The papers included copies of strategy memos Ingalls had faxed to his Phoenix lawyer--what is known in the legal trade as privileged attorney-client communication.

Edwards told her best friend that she'd also secretly been recording Ingalls' phone calls, and had taken at least one tape to Dial.

"Eve told me, 'I'll find out what all this stuff is worth to them [Dial Corp],'" the friend recalls.

On March 15, Edwards marched into the Dial Tower on North Central Avenue in Phoenix. She showed security personnel the purloined paperwork. And she told them that Ingalls had threatened to kill Joan Potter and company chieftain John Teets.

A guard took the materials from Edwards and signed a receipt for them.
The episode set into motion a stunning chain of events at Arizona's largest publicly owned firm, a Fortune 500 company with more than $3billion in annual revenue.

Until now, most of these events have been wrapped in a mantle of executive secrecy. Some details remain hidden. But during two months of research, New Times examined records in four states, conducted 23 interviews and reviewed private papers and tapes.

Those sources document a tale full of corporate intrigue and arrogance.
Among the highlights of the Dial soap opera:
* With the approval of its chief executive officer, John Teets, the company became enmeshed in an unorthodox business dealing that involved Potter, a high-end house and corporate funds. The dealing occurred while Potter's divorce from Jerry Ingalls was pending; it violated a judicial order and deprived Ingalls of thousands of dollars due as his share of community assets.

* As Ingalls was investigating his wife's hidden finances, Edwards delivered documents she had stolen from him to Dial. Within days, many sources say, Potter disappeared from Dial headquarters. Within months, the 46year-old Potter--the most powerful female executive in Dial history--retired. Three well-placed sources say Dial Corp paid Potter about $5 million when she retired, an extraordinary sum even for an executive of her stature.

* Within weeks after Potter retired a wealthy woman, Dial's board of directors stripped Teets of two high positions at the company. That ended a reign during which he had exercised almost total control.

The sudden retirement of Joan Potter has fueled rumors both in and out of Dial's Central Avenue headquarters.

By several accounts, Potter left Dial suddenly last spring--within days after Eve Edwards approached the firm. But John Teets didn't make her departure official until a terse internal memo dated July 26:

"Joan Ingalls [Potter], vice president of Human Resources, has elected early retirement effective July 31."

A Dial spokesman says Potter decided to retire after the company earlier this year "downsized" the human-resources unit. That explanation strikes many inside and outside Dial as spurious.

Potter was in apparent good health, and had been grossing about $500,000 a year since 1993. She worked directly for Teets, which meant she wielded great power at Dial. It was said that, when Potter spoke, it was as if Teets himself was speaking. Some believed she might even run Dial someday.

She was a key adviser to Dial's Executive Compensation Committee. The committee sets the annual pay packages of the firm's top-echelon employees--including Teets.

Buzz about Potter's mysterious departure has run rampant in Arizona's business community for months. It has ranged from rumors about a Teets-Potter romantic relationship gone sour to speculation that Dial bought her silence with a lucrative package after Potter threatened to file a lawsuit of an unspecified nature.

"I know the rumor [about an alleged affair] has been all over town, and it's just ridiculous," scoffs Dial spokesman William Peltier, speaking on behalf of Teets and the company. "I think Joan just wanted to get out and do something else."

Potter declined to respond to questions posed by New Times in two letters and several phone calls. Instead, Potter's attorney wrote December 1:

"[Potter] has asked us to inform you that there was no 'romance' between John Teets and her, that her relationship with Mr. Teets was solely professional, and that she will be very much offended if New Times prints an inaccurate story that invades her privacy and places her in a false light."

A few weeks after Potter's retirement, longtime Dial executive Andrew Patti replaced Teets as company president and chief operating officer. Teets still serves as chairman and chief executive officer, but most observers agree his wings have been clipped.