Urban Sprawl - Local - Disaster - Destroyed Ecosystem - Fissures - Flooding

Jan. 2021
End of a controversial era: Johnson Utilities sold to EPCOR, changes name

April 2019
Florence town manager claims Johnson Utilities owner threatened to cut his ....
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July 2017 - Indicted developer George Johnson has long history in court
May 2017 - Ex-AZ Corp. Commissioner, owner of Johnson Utilities indicted on bribery charges

March 2009 - State agency questions utility over spill
June 2008 - Arizona Corporation Commission members pursue probe into Queen Creek sewage spills
Bambi & Kristi sued for defamation

A Developing Disaster

January 22, 2004
Page 1 - His dealings ... have sparked numerous allegations from bribery to failing to notify families that their water was toxic.

Johnson has begun a massive grading project that, although Johnson denies it, appears to be the initial stages of a 67,000-home master-planned community that has yet to be approved by any county, state or federal official.

Late last year, in a strange and apparently unprecedented move for an Arizona ranch owner, Johnson brought 5,000 domestic goats from Texas to his land -- some of it state-leased land.

Page 2 - In May of 1998, Larry Quick, president of the Sun Valley homeowners association, signed a contract to sell the wells to Johnson for $30,000.

New Times Article
"this guy ...
actually playing with a full deck?"
The day after he signed the contract, Quick stepped down as president of the association.

It turned out that three days before Quick signed the contract, Johnson had given Quick a $125,000 loan.

Quick later was hired as the planning director for the City of Florence, which is a few miles southeast of Johnson Ranch in Pinal County. He still serves in that position.

The wells Quick sold for $30,000 were later assessed at $500,000.

Page 3 - "They went out and drilled three illegal wells and began pumping without any groundwater rights at all,"....

Page 5 - ... residents feared the town council of Eagar might still support Johnson's project, despite all the problems he'd caused along the river. They were particularly concerned because the town's vice mayor, Jack McCall, worked for Johnson.

Johnson did not take well to people standing in the way of his plans.

... he placed several cages with farm animals inside along the road.

Johnson also put two burros, or jackasses, in pens along the road with signs saying: "Don't Feed Steve and Andrew."

Page 6 - The importation of the goats was definitely not, he says, designed to kill off the herd of desert bighorn sheep that was threatening his development plans.

"We're still trying to figure out why on Earth this had to happen," says Tony Herrell, manager of Ironwood Forest National Monument. "It's just about the worst scenario you could think of to seriously threaten this herd."

Within weeks of the goat exodus from Johnson's ranch, monument staff began seeing bighorn sheep with eyes matted shut from pus and infection. The sheep had been suddenly stricken with a form of pink eye common in domestic goats.

Page 6 - Even with the sick sheep and the moonscape across a critical Santa Cruz watershed and treasured archaeological sites, those opposing Johnson's plan still are concerned that, considering their past history, Pinal County officials will vote in support of the project.

A yes vote would be particularly stunning considering the U.S. military's strong opposition to the project.

"This stuff is so outrageous we'd like to see some criminal penalties applied," ....

Planned New Project 5 Times Size Of Marana
Feb. 5, 2004 - The master-planned community in southern Pinal County and its developer, Scottsdale-based Johnson International, are under scrutiny by as many as five state and federal agencies. Three have cited the builder for illegal activities on the site.


Candidate Martyn returns Johnson associates' campaign contributions
October 2008 - Developer to pay $1M more in river bulldozing case - Comments

' The developer's actions were self serving, criminal and will result in many millions
of dollars of additional work beyond the damage that has already been done.

February 2008 - Phoenix Magazine - Lifestyle -- Dissecting Arizona
December 2007 - Developer to pay $7M for blading Hohokam sites
November 2005 - EPA sues over dumping in Santa Cruz River

State of Arizona Sues Land Developer in 'moonscaping' of Desert

Mary Jo Pitzl (602) 444-8963
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 15, 2005

State officials on Monday filed a 10-count lawsuit against a housing developer, alleging "unprecedented" damage to land, archaeological ruins, waterways and wildlife in southern Arizona.

Five state agencies joined in the suit against George Johnson, owner of Scottsdale-based Johnson International. Attorney General Terry Goddard said the suit is an attempt to redress an "unprecedented despoliation of Arizona's heritage."

Those losses include:

  • Destruction of parts of seven Hohokam archaeological sites that date back more than 1,200 years.
  • Blading of about 270 acres of state trust land without permission.
  • The death of 21 desert bighorn sheep from diseases caused by Johnson's goat herd.
  • Destruction of more than 40,000 native plants on state trust lands.
  • Land clearing that resulted in the unlawful deposit of potential pollutants into Los Robles Wash and other tributaries of the Santa Cruz River.

All but one of the charges involve activities at La Osa Ranch, a tract of desert in southern Pinal County that Johnson wanted to turn into a 67,000-home development about the size of Tempe.

Johnson has since scrapped those plans and sold the land to developer Conley Wolfswinkel and the Wolfswinkel Group.

The 10th charge stems, officials say, from water-quality violations in fall 2001 at another Johnson development called South Fork, on a tributary of the Little Colorado River in Apache County.

Goddard, at an afternoon news conference, said five state agencies joined in the suit to make a powerful statement that they take the violations seriously.

"We are not talking about a few feet here and there. We are talking about moonscaping 270 acres over a period of many weeks, knocking down saguaros, filling in creeks and washes used by wildlife and destroying priceless archaeological sites," Goddard said.

"The last thing I or the Attorney General's Office wants to do is to allow a blatant violation such as this to be written off as a cost of doing business."

Johnson's attorney, Lee Stein, lamented that the state felt the need to go to court, given that Johnson and the state had been talking for a year about how to fix the problems caused by the land clearing. He said the work was accidental, although he could not immediately answer why Johnson had bulldozers rolling on land that he said was a working ranch.

Johnson has said his actions are a part of farming activities, which provides exemptions from certain state rules, including water-discharge guidelines.

But Goddard said state officials don't buy that explanation.

"It was a deliberate action in violation of a wide number of state laws," he said.

The lawsuit was welcome news to environmentalists, who objected to what they saw as Johnson's cavalier approach to land development.

"That makes my Monday!" said Jenny Neely, Southwestern representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

"It's a long time coming. Some of the scars he inflicted on the lands down there are hard to bear."

The civil suit does not seek a specific amount of compensation but asks the court to triple the damages for trespassing on state lands, seeks $70,000 to recoup the cost of treating the infected bighorn sheep, asks for a minimum of $15,750 for the 21 sheep that died due to blindness caused by the infection and asks for penalties of up to $25,000 a day for each violation of water-quality statutes.

The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

TucsonCitizen.com - Builder ravaged trust land - Developer faces host of charges
dailystar.com - State suit says developer bladed protected plants, ancient ruins

The suit was filed on behalf of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the Arizona State Museum, the State Land Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Arizona Game & Fish Commission.

2008 update
Eloy intends to annex - Pinal County has made it clear it wants its towns and cities to grab land slated for development, rather than have new homes pop up in unincorporated territory
Area History

Lennar Homes Sues County
Suit also names George Johnson - Lennar claims fraud, negligence

By Jill Jones
The News March 21 - March 27, 2005

FLORENCE- Details of a lawsuit filed last month against the Pinal County Board of Supervisors by Lennar Communities Development, Inc. include accusations of negligent misrepresentation, fraud, anticipatory breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Other defendants in the suit include Scottsdale developer George Johnson, Johnson's wife, Sonoran Utility Services, Boulevard Contracting, and the Water and Wastewater Improvement Districts formed by Pinal County.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants acted intentionally, willfully, with an "evil mind" and with a callous disregard towards Lennar. The claims relate to the defendant's capacity in relation to the formation and operation of Water Improvement District #387 and Wastewater Improvement District #387 in early 2003 by the Pinal County Board of Supervisors and Johnson subsequently receiving a 30 year renewable contract for water and wastewater services.

Johnson allegedly made false material representations and fraudulently omitted to disclose information in order to induce Lennar into petitioning into the 387 Improvement Districts. The suit further claims that Johnson knew the statements and omissions he was making to Lennar were false or misleading. Included in the alleged omissions was his partnership with Connelly Wolfswinkel, who was previously convicted of fraud in the savings and loan scandal in the mid-90's.

Lennar claims they were unaware that Johnson was fraudulently omitting relevant information of his partnership with Wolfswinkel, which he did not divulge to them until March 2004, and as a direct result has sustained damages in an unspecified amount to be proven at trial.

It is Lennar's contention that they expressed their concerns about entering into a contract with a utility provider that was also a landowner in the service area. Johnson reportedly represented to Lennar in December, 2002 that his interest was solely as a utility and that neither he nor his company owned any property in the service area.

They claim that Johnson told Lennar and the other landowners in the area that he had a good rapport with the board of supervisors and Pinal County Manager Stan Griffis and he indicated that the Pinal County Board of Supervisors would support him as the utility provider for an improvement district.

Lennar claims they later learned that Johnson fraudulently omitted to disclose that Wolfswinkel was a substantial landowner and controlled significant land holdings in the service area. It is Lennar and the other landowners' contention that at all relevant times, through affirmative conduct and statements, Johnson led them to believe that he was the sole owner of Sonoran and that he alone was responsible for the provision of services.

Lennar claims that had they known Wolfswinkel was a partner in Sonoran and/or the wastewater and water contracts, they would have never entered into an agreement or otherwise become involved with either Sonoran or Johnson.

According to Lennar, a petition for the formation of the new districts was signed on January 14, 2003, providing that "qualified electors of the proposed district" would make up the five-member board of directors. However, on February 3, 2003, Johnson reportedly advised Lennar and other landowners that new petitions needed to be signed. These new petitions reportedly removed Lennar and the other builder's ability to serve on the board of directors for the district and instead provided for the Pinal County Board of Supervisors to act as the 387 District's Board of Directors.

Lennar claims that in order to secure approval of the modified petition, Johnson made assurances and representations that he had no intention of following through on, including assurances that the treatment facilities and infrastructure would take a maximum of nine months to complete and that it would be built with his own money at his own risk.

He also reportedly agreed to reimburse Lennar and the others for all on-site improvements.

After the petitions were signed, the supervisors, acting as the board of directors for the 387 Districts, entered into a 30-year renewable wastewater treatment collection and management services agreement with Johnson's Sonoran Utilities on June 25, 2003.

Lennar claims their repeated requests to be a party to the contract negotiations between Sonoran and the Pinal County Supervisors were denied and that the contract was negotiated without Lennar and other district members' concerns being addressed. In fact, they claim, neither Lennar nor the other district members were even permitted to see the agreement prior to its execution.

When by July 2003 there had been no progress on the wastewater treatment facilities, Lennar notified the board that they intended to de-annex from the 387 Districts. They claim they received no formal response from the 387 Districts Board and that the only response they received was from Pinal County Manager Stan Griffis, who reportedly advised them that the de-annexation would not be allowed because it would impair the financial viability of Sonoran Utilities.

Johnson reportedly tried to sweeten the deal in an effort to encourage Lennar into remain in the Districts. He reportedly offered Lennar a personal guarantee of Sonoran's performance under a Master Utility Agreement along with a nine hundred dollar hookup fee (HUF) reduction per lot through Boulevard Construction (owned by Johnson), if Lennar would drop their de-annexation efforts. Lennar subsequently withdrew the de-annexation.

The Master Utility Agreement was negotiated, which included a promise for the completion of the construction of the facilities on or before May 15, 2004. A 90-day extension to complete Phase One construction was granted on January 15, 2004, with Sonoran being required to complete construction and have Phase One operational by August 15, 2004.

Shortly thereafter, Johnson reportedly advised Lennar that neither he nor his construction company, Boulevard, would abide by the agreement entered into and allegedly manifested his and Boulevard's intent not to perform as required by the Consulting Agreement.

According to Lennar, neither Sonoran nor Johnson posted a performance bond as required by the Master Utility Agreement and they failed to meet the construction schedule as set forth, resulting in the cancellation of a $3.96 million escrow.

In March, 2004 the 387 Districts and Pinal County Board of Supervisors were advised that these defaults were "serious and threatened Lennar's current investments and expenditures in Pinal County." Lennar asked that immediate action to be taken to rectify the defaults and to "remove Sonoran as the manager/operator and replace Sonoran with a competent, qualified, adequately funded operator who does not have an interest in any property located with in the district."

According to Lennar, no action was taken in response to their request and in mid-September, 2004 Lennar served the Districts and Pinal County Board of Supervisors with a Notice of Claim., which also, they say, generated no response.

Arizona Company Took 296 Trees From State Land
2 years after probe, no legal action taken
Mary Jo Pitzl - The Arizona Republic - April 1, 2005

A tract of state-owned land dotted with mature mesquite trees may have proven lucrative for a contracting company that took nearly 300 trees valued at almost a quarter million dollars from the area, state officials say.
Yet, despite a state investigative report that says the trees were illegally taken from state trust land and the resulting debris pile was moved to cover up the action, nothing has been done.

Two years ago, officials with the state Agriculture Department recommended prosecution of Agave Environmental Contracting Co. for the tree removal.

The number of trees pales in comparison to the 40,203 native plants that developer George Johnson is accused of bulldozing in Pinal County. But after Johnson's case, the matter of the 296 relocated trees is the biggest open case at the department, which is responsible for enforcing Arizona's native-plant protection law.

Nov. 2008 - Illegally bladed land vacant months later - Comments
Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans for Construction Activities

Related Pictures - The Sonoran Desert
The Desert JPEGs

100 Arizona Wildflower Blossoms

Related Article -
'Thieves are going to thieve.'

- sometimes -
cutting corners doesn't get anyone anyplace

- 2018 -
the song remains the same