Former Marana mayor's ad sales led to garage door business venture - The Explorer: Import

Former Marana mayor's ad sales led to garage door business venture

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Posted: Tuesday, October 4, 2005 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:50 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

September 28, 2005 - Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series examining a racketeering lawsuit filed against Yellow Pages publisher Dex Media Inc. and how several sources close to the case claim former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. has engaged in some of the same unethical behavior detailed in the lawsuit.

Inserted between the pages of Dex Media's last Tucson directory, most Yellow Pages browsers will notice a thick, glossy, full-page advertisement for A&A Garage, complete with its own pullout tab.

Leafing through the pages, the odds are that anyone in need of a garage door repair contractor will also notice the company's prime-placed "triple truck" ads spanning three pages, starting on Page 501 under the heading of "Garage Doors & Openers."

Needless to say, A&A Garage appears to have one of the best ad campaigns in the book.

According to internal Dex Media records, these advertising accounts were commissioned and sold by former Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr., who happens to own the business, and whom several Dex employees claim knows all the tricks of the trade when it comes to the Yellow Pages.

Sutton, a sales representative in Dex Media's Tucson sales office, 6400 E. Grant Road, ventured into the garage door repair industry this past year after selling these ads, and similar garage door repair ads, to multi-state businessman Peter Stephens, whose high-dollar advertisements have appeared in nearly every directory from Tucson to Phoenix and from Salt Lake City to Denver.

Stephens owns the Arizona corporation A AAA All State Overhead Garage Door Inc., which he operates under multiple aliases in several states. Sutton purchased the Tucson and Salt Lake City markets of Stephens' operation last year, setting up a call center for A&A Garage inside a small Continental Ranch business office in Marana where his employees work in shifts, dispatching waves of incoming calls to offsite technicians.

Sutton, who said he always kept an eye out for potential business ventures but "stayed away from most things" as a politician to avoid potentially negative associations, admitted he hadn't known much about the garage door repair industry until he began handling Stephens' account. After seeing a potential to make a profit, Sutton said he approached Stephens with the idea of buying out a portion of his markets and operating under the alias A&A Garage Door Service Co.

"When I got this big client, I ended up knowing him pretty well and knew he was doing pretty well," Sutton said. "That just looked like a great opportunity … so I just told him I wouldn't go into any of his areas but I really wanted to do the business. It's not like he had to give me his blessing or anything, but I didn't want him to be surprised by it."

In the process, Sutton inherited the same advertising campaign that he helped Stephens place in the Yellow Pages.

Several Dex employees, who were granted anonymity for this story, claim records of the accounts Sutton handled for Stephens, copies of which were obtained by the EXPLORER, show significant evidence of violations of company policy and contain multiple examples of trickery and account manipulation that inflated his commissions and performance scores at the expense of other employees. Meanwhile, Stephens regularly received large discounts on his ads and, in some cases, had his billing stopped completely while ads with active telephone numbers remained in the Yellow Pages, according to several Dex sources.

"He completely manipulated the system and made a lot of money off of it," said one source in Tucson. "He knew exactly how to work the system to boost up his numbers. He was a pro at it, there's no doubt. But the key here is that management was aware of it, very, very aware."

In at least one case, several employees claim, Sutton blatantly violated company policy to get a large garage door ad placed ahead of other senior advertisers through a trick known as "heading jumping," one of the major cardinal sins at the Yellow Pages. The violation in question happened when a two-page color ad for A AAA All State was placed in the last Phoenix Metro directory under the heading of "Garage Builders & Kits." By doing this, the ad subsequently jumped ahead of other paying customers' ads, which fell alphabetically under the heading of "Garage Doors & Openers."

In a May 2 internal e-mail message, Dex Media Staff Manager John Fischer, who declined to comment when contacted by the EXPLORER, alerted employees in the Phoenix and Mesa sales offices to avoid company standards violations, specifically mentioning "heading jumping" and noting that it had been a problem under the heading of "Garage Builders & Kits."

Because Yellow Pages ads tend to generate more revenue for advertisers when they're closer to the front of a heading, Dex employees claim several advertisers were outraged and some may even have been given billing adjustments resulting in a revenue loss for the company.

"That's a major violation - heading jumping - and people have been dismissed for that," said one source. "Those people under Garage Doors, many of them to get the first position have been paying big display advertising charges for a long time."

Sutton downplayed the allegations that he played any tricks that may have disadvantaged regular paying customers, saying that Stephens also took out a three-page ad under the heading of "Garage Doors & Openers."

"The guy spends a lot of money, you know, so that was an opportunity," he said. "Now, if you look through most of the books, Precision Garage Door and other places are doing the same thing."

Many of the tricks Sutton allegedly played with his accounts are almost identical to those detailed in a racketeering lawsuit filed last week against Dex Media and the union representing its sales employees, IBEW Local 1269, which alleges a host of corruption is occurring inside the company's Phoenix sales office ("Cooking the books," Sept. 21).

Through elaborate and systematic violations of company policies and collective bargaining agreements, certain sales representatives in Phoenix, who are union agents, have routinely engaged in unethical conduct to improperly enrich themselves under the watchful eye of company officials and at the expense of other sales employees, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 19 in U.S. District Court by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

After spending several months reviewing company records and interviewing employees in Phoenix, Mesa and Tucson, the nonprofit foundation filed the 25-page complaint on behalf of five Arizona employees who claim they have been routinely victimized by the alleged behavior. The plaintiffs claim undue compensation and extraordinary income given to allegedly corrupt union workers came at the expense of rank-and-file sales employees and violated federal laws.

Sutton and the Tucson sales office are not mentioned in the lawsuit, which focuses around allegations of compulsory unionism. However, several sources close to the case claim company officials in Tucson have permitted certain sales reps, including Sutton, who is not a union official, to engage in some of the same acts alleged in the complaint.

Sources with knowledge of Sutton's records consider him a skilled pro at manipulating his advertising accounts to his own benefit, even rivaling the same behavior allegedly happening in Phoenix.

Sources familiar with the account manipulation say it's best described as a "shell game" played with telephone numbers, in which sales reps juggle accounts from phone number to phone number in an effort to trick the accounting system into paying out a higher rate of commission into their pockets. In the meantime, by disconnecting phone numbers and reconnecting them at opportune times, sales reps can take advantage of weaknesses in the system to give their customers large discounts on premium ads, retroactive billing adjustments and, in some cases, stop the billing completely, several sources claim.

"Unless you engage in fraud and account manipulation, you don't really know what it is you're seeing until you really get involved in looking at it," said one source who has personally worked with the accounts of several employees believed to be engaging in fraud. "Bobby Sutton, from all the fraud that I've seen from a variety of sources, his was the sloppiest. His made absolutely no attempt to cover it up."

Dex records of the advertising accounts that Sutton handled for Stephens, reviewed by the EXPLORER, contain massive lists of phone numbers that were routinely disconnected, shuffled around, and later shown reconnected, giving Stephens thousands of dollars in billing adjustments. In the process, according to a review of these records by several Dex sources, Sutton was able to receive thousands of dollars in undue compensation while inflating his scores on the company's Sales Performance Evaluation System.

"What Sutton does on his garage door account, since he's put ads all over the state, he will time them, because we're commissioned on an ad as soon as we sell it, not when it delivers and not when a customer pays," said one source. "So, he submits these accounts very strategically as one quarter of the SPE is rolling off. If that was a high quarter, then he'll put new ads in and keep the most current quarter real high as well. He knows how it's rolling off and what's rolling off and what he needs to put on to keep the numbers so high."

When contacted by the EXPLORER, several other Dex employees indicated they were well aware of the alleged problems and, without being prompted, named Sutton as one of several employees in the Tucson office improperly enriching themselves through account manipulation.

Sutton denied the allegations, saying "that's hard to do" and people who think they can try it "don't usually end up staying around that long." When asked to explain the seemingly messy garage door accounts, Sutton simply said Stephens' billing had been stopped because he was having some problems with his account.

"Pete's had a lot of problems. Anytime there's an error, anything goes wrong with an ad, they'd stop (the billing) and Pete bills in front of the country a couple hundred thousand dollars a month. He was up to like 80 (thousand dollars a month) with us, but anytime there's an omission, or something's done wrong, or it prints wrong, or a book is left out, we're still a fallible company," Sutton said. "I think just because he has so much (advertising) all over the place, your percentages are things are going to go wrong with those more than most, but I think he's pretty current now."

According to a Dex Media price chart, the three-page ads Sutton helped Stephens place in the last Phoenix Metro directory, alone, regularly cost more than $18,000 per month, though Dex records show he was given a 25-percent discount "per director approval." Dex records indicate that Stephens' account, on this particular ad, was retroactively adjusted from a current monthly billing of $13,329.75 to zero dollars after several phone numbers were shown disconnected in 2004.

Employees say it's likely Sutton still received thousands of dollars in commissions on the ad, even if Stephens' billing was stopped and the company wasn't collecting revenue. It's through a pattern of behavior like this that sources say they don't think Dex Media's sale figures are being accurately reported.

Dex Media policies suggest that the company is aware that such acts are capable of happening, stating that sales reps must "never create or submit unauthorized/fraudulent or misleading customer order activity or inappropriately manipulate customer records for personal gain or compensation rewards."

Company policies also state that employees who suspect a violation of law or company policy must report it to company management. Several sources interviewed for this story said they went that route, which did not remedy the situation but, instead, resulted in subsequent harassment and disciplinary action taken against them.

"The story goes on and on and on, because look what we're dealing with here. Look what we're screwing up for some people. Look what we're exposing," said one source.

"It might sound naive, but I had no clue what was going on in the office, and the extent to which it was going on, and when I started finding out about it, I went to management and told them that I was becoming aware of certain situations that were not only affecting my performance on the SPE, but other people," said another source. "And basically what management told me was that I better keep my mouth shut … They weren't concerned about the cheating going on because they were all aware of it anyway, which I eventually came to find out."

Sources claim detailed notations and remarks in Sutton's accounts, initialed by cautious credit department employees, suggest that those workers were protecting themselves when noting that they were being overridden on the accounts, which were regularly on credit watch or credit restriction, but were still processed per management approval. The notation "This account is not to be adjusted without talking to Rick Bozanich or Kevin McCaw" also shows up regularly in the frequently adjusted accounts. Attempts to reach both Dex credit officials were unsuccessful.

Depending on when he began operating, Sutton may or may not have been handling his own account while he owned A&A Garage, though Sutton told the EXPLORER he opened the business a year ago. It was company policy that dictated Sutton give up the account when he bought the company, but Dex records indicate Sutton was still handling the account as recently as November for ads going in the January directory.

"I've never had my own account. That's one thing they don't allow," Sutton said, adding that he also had to give up Stephens' account. "I don't have that account anymore, either, because now that I'm in the industry, I'm not supposed to handle customers within my own industry. So, I don't have any garage door companies anymore."

According to Arizona Corporation Commission records, Sutton went into business with his Continental Ranch neighbor Myron Hicks in March 2004, forming the Arizona partnership SH Partners, which is the parent corporation to A&A Garage. Hicks, who has worked as vice president of investments for the Tucson branch of Prudential Securities and was previously employed with Morgan Stanley, did not return phone calls for this story.

In addition to SH Partners, Sutton and Hicks also formed SHF Partners in June 2004 with Jill Fulton of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, hoping to operate a garage door repair business on the East Coast. Sutton said the idea quickly failed because he had a hard time finding technicians.

According to Arizona Registrar of Contractors records, Sutton did not obtain a contractors license for garage door repairing until April 15, exactly one week before he was indicted by the federal government. In the meantime, the A&A Garage ads that appeared in the Yellow Pages in January featured Stephens' license number. State records show that Sutton was denied a contractors license in January and that Tucson resident Shannon Schwitters, another money partner in A&A Garage, was the qualifying party for the license.

Sutton established A&A Garage at the Continental Ranch business park, 7620 N. Hartman Lane, but state records show that he uses a mailing address at The UPS Store at the nearby Fry's shopping center on Silverbell Road. A business manager at A&A Garage said the business operated at another location before moving into the current office in August 2004 but the company still has an offsite storage facility.

According to Dex records, Sutton's advertising accounts for A&A Garage were improperly packaged with Tortolita Self Storage, a once-controversial commercial storage company in Marana's Dove Mountain community that was developed by Northwest Holdings Inc.

Arizona Corporation Commission records show that Sutton's business partner Hicks is a principal shareholder in Northwest Holdings, which, despite opposition from several Dove Mountain residents, received unanimous approval from Sutton and Marana council members in May 2001 to erect the storage units.

When contacted for this story, Sutton said Tortolita Self Storage and A&A Garage had no affiliations and he couldn't offer an explanation for the mix-up in the account.

"That was just a mistake in packaging or something like that - one of the phone numbers or something," he said. "They had my stuff connected to it and we got it solved right away, you know, just kind of disassociated it back, but that was kind of an anomaly."

'Unfair and deceptive' business practices

Several Dex sources claim the ads Sutton sold to Stephens, including the ads he inherited when he took over A&A Garage, are graphically designed to deceive customers into thinking they're seeing ads for multiple companies, which would be a violation of Dex policies.

According to company policies, ads that jeopardize consumer or advertiser confidence in Dex Media are prohibited, including ads that are misleading and feature content in which "the company's name is not obvious."

The ads for both garage door companies use almost identical ad copy and graphic elements, with the exception that different business names have been graphically inserted on the sides of trucks and different lists of phone numbers are buried within the ads.

In the last Phoenix Metro book, for example, a three-page ad for A AAA All State shows seven different telephone numbers buried within the three pages, while the company's trucks on alternate pages feature logos with alternate company names like "Affordable Garage Door Services."

However, on each of the three pages, it's still the same ad for the same garage door business. The only clear sign that the seemingly different businesses are actually one in the same is a small notation at the bottom of the first page, which reads: "See the following two pages for additional information."

Someone in need of garage door repairs could easily conclude that these are different businesses and might call several of the numbers seeking different bids, sources claim. However, all of the numbers appear to connect to phones that ring at the same call center in Chicago, where operators answer "garage door service" without saying the company name. Through this marketing scheme, sources claim a consumer could easily think they have just checked the prices of multiple companies and found them to be competitive.

The ads in the last Tucson directory for A&A Garage are almost identical, featuring alternate business names like "Affordable Garage Door Services" and "Garage Door Service Co." The ads, which feature the logos of several unaffiliated companies such as Sears, claim the business is "Rated #1 in Customer Service" and suggest it has received endorsements from Good Housekeeping.

In 2004, the state of Georgia's Office of Consumer Affairs investigated and uncovered evidence of "unfair and deceptive" advertising and business practices at Stephens' "AAA All State Door Company," which the state found also operated under the names America's Choice Overhead Door Co., America's Alliance Overhead Door Corp., and Overhead Garage Door Services Inc.

The investigation was initiated based on a consumer complaint involving a company originally identified as "America's Choice Discount Garage Door Service." The consumer told investigators he dialed a local telephone number after seeing a Yellow Pages ad for garage door repairs and was quoted $147 as a total charge for labor, parts and extended warranty. However, after a technician completed the repair job, the customer received a bill totaling $617.

After an investigation, the state found that the directory ads:

-Deceptively induced consumers with low misrepresented charges and failed to honor the advertised price guarantees.

-Misrepresented the identity of the business the consumer would contact in response to the ad and confused the consumer as to the business name by advertising in one name and billing in another name.

-Misrepresented affiliations with merchant companies, including Sears, and falsely claimed that the business had received a high rating from at least two consumer-product rating groups, including Good Housekeeping.

-Misrepresented that the business was incorporated in Georgia and that the business advertised was a local business.

-Failed to disclose the non-local address for the forwarded telephone numbers and willfully violated the terms of a 2001 Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.

The investigation revealed that Stephens' telephone lines were programmed to forward all incoming calls to BellSouth switching centers, where the lines were forwarded to undisclosed locations out of state. The business was required to develop and implement new employee training procedures in Georgia, as well as new marketing guidelines. An Assurance of Voluntary Compliance was entered incorporating the modified business practices and assessing a $20,000 civil penalty with consumer restitution.

According to postings on a consumer watchdog Web site, www.ripoffreport.com, customers in several states claim they were ripped off by Stephens' garage door companies, which promised them one rate and then charged another. In addition to poor customer service, claims mentioned on the Web site suggest technicians purposely broke parts when repairing garage door mechanisms. Several attempts made by the EXPLORER to reach Stephens at his businesses were unsuccessful.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Stephens' Phoenix operation has received 16 consumer complaints since February 2003, the majority of which were related to customer service or billing issues. According to the bureau, the complaints were either resolved or the company made a good faith effort to resolve them. By comparison, Kaiser Garage Doors of Tucson has had three complaints in the last three years.

According to the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, Sutton's A&A Garage has received one complaint since its file opened three months ago but it has no outstanding complaints with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. The lone complaint dealt with either a warranty or guarantee issue that was "assumed resolved."

The Arizona Attorney General's Office has the authority to bring actions alleging consumer fraud violations, which include deception, false statements, false pretenses, false promises or misrepresentations made by a seller or advertiser. But because the state's complaint process is confidential, any complaints or investigations against A&A Garage or A AAA All State are unknown.

Several Dex employees claim the advertisements Sutton sold to Stephens violated the company's group ad policies because Stephens was supposedly dispatching incoming calls to unaffiliated garage door repair businesses that, as a result, had no reason to advertise with Dex.

"We've got recordings of like five or six different garage door companies that have answered within the numbers that we've called," said one source. "One guy said, 'This is Acme Garage Door,' and I said, 'Oh, well, what does your technician look like? I don't know if you were Acme or not.' And he said, 'No, I think you're describing Preferred Garage Door Co.' And I go, 'Are you affiliated?' And he says, 'No, no. They just got the call. We didn't get that call. They come in on rotation.'"

Despite rumors that A&A Garage might also be a boiler room call center that dispatches calls to unaffiliated technicians, Sutton said his new business venture is completely legitimate, with its own employees, its own technicians and its own trucks. However, while Sutton told the EXPLORER he has taken over Stephens' operation in two markets, Tucson and Salt Lake City, an employee at the Marana call center indicated A&A Garage also arranges and dispatches calls to technicians in several other cities, including Albuquerque.

Following in Stephens' footsteps, Sutton can only hope his high-dollar advertising campaign pays off.

"You know, it's tough but that's the marketing scheme that works. You go get as many people to call as you can, you provide good service, and hopefully it turns around for you," he said. "And to be honest, it's not going great yet, but we're a new business and it's going pretty well."

Sutton's Dex accounts raise ethical questions

A host of Marana businesses, including some that had business before the town while Bobby Sutton Jr. was mayor, were also his advertising clients at Dex Media Inc., a review of internal company records shows.

The records suggest that Sutton, a sales representative in the company's Tucson sales office, 6400 E. Grant Road, was able to receive commissions from picking up advertising accounts with businesses opening in Marana and that he had at least one account with a firm that had a substantial financial arrangement with the town while he was mayor.

Among Sutton's client list is the Hochuli & Benavidez law firm of Tucson, which he regularly sold ads to while he was mayor. During his time in office, the firm was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to provide legal services to Marana while Sutton received commissions from selling ads to the firm.

Attorney Dan Hochuli, who also is listed in state records as the statutory agent for Sutton's personal business, A&A Garage, was regularly contracted to serve as Marana's town attorney and was paid well over $1 million while Sutton was mayor, according to town records.

"It's just the course of business," Sutton said, adding that he didn't think it crossed any ethical boundaries. "I deal with a number of businesses in Marana, businesses that I've had to do dealings with, and, you know, it's always up to the customer, too. If they feel uncomfortable or anything they can always choose another rep."

Sutton, a native of New Orleans, was elected to Marana's town council in 1995 and served as vice mayor before becoming the town's first directly elected mayor in 1999. He resigned from office earlier this year, shortly after being indicted by the federal government on charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion.

The charges followed a lengthy FBI investigation that began in 2002 and allege that Sutton and his close acquaintance, Marana businessman Rick Westfall, conspired to extort large sums of money and a contract for Westfall worth as much as $60,000 a month from Waste Management Inc., the nation's largest trash hauling firm.

After three years of investigation, delays and rejected plea bargains, a federal grand jury returned the indictment April 22, alleging that Sutton threatened to use his political power to shut down the firm's Ina Road operation in Marana unless Westfall was given a lucrative contract, regardless of whether there was any work available. Both men pleaded not guilty to all charges in May.

During the FBI probe, federal investigators also questioned several sources regarding the relationship between Sutton and Westfall and how his trucking company kept getting contracts with the town. A previous investigation by the EXPLORER showed that between April 2000 and March 2002, Westfall's trucking business was paid $103,522 for hauling materials at Marana's airport without having to go through the bidding process mandated by state and town regulations.

Sutton's indictment shocked many in the greater Tucson area, including Marana residents who have grown to know the 35-year-old community leader as their children's Little League baseball coach, a committed husband and father of three.

However, several sources inside Dex Media have approached the EXPLORER since April with a glaringly different perspective, claiming the charges of conspiracy and attempted extortion leveled against their co-worker are indicative of a larger pattern of unethical behavior. Several sources inside the company claim Sutton's business practices at Dex Media, where he is still employed, have regularly breached company policies and crossed ethical boundaries while company officials looked the other way.

Sources interviewed for this story, including several current and former Dex employees in both Tucson and Phoenix, were granted anonymity based on reasonable fears that they could lose their jobs or jeopardize their personal safety if their names are revealed. Through anonymous sources, the EXPLORER obtained copies of Sutton's account records, which several Dex sources consider evidence of company-permitted fraud.

"Bobby did whatever he wanted and got away with it continuously. We used to call Bobby the 'Teflon Don,'" said one source in Tucson, referring to the nickname given to the late Mafia boss John Gotti, who was notorious for evading the law. "Things just roll off of him. He never gets caught. He never gets in trouble. He gets away with everything and he has for years in the office."

Sutton said he acquired Hochuli's advertising account one year after voluntarily assisting another Dex sales representative on it without getting paid. The decision to move the account to him was then authorized by company managers, Sutton said, adding that he even made sure it was OK with Hochuli, whom he said "didn't seem uncomfortable with it."

Hochuli did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.

"If he had any pressure, he could have got out any time," Sutton said. "But, I mean, he's an old advertising guy himself so he understands. I just make recommendations and he buys what he wants to buy … it's not like we turned the screws to him or anything."

Dex Media policies state that the personal interests of employees should never appear to conflict with the interests of the company. "Employees should never seek to benefit directly or indirectly from any business activity involving the company," the policy reads, though it's unknown whether Sutton's practices ever breached that code or Arizona laws, which prohibit public officials from using their official position to gain anything of value they wouldn't ordinarily accrue in the performance of their official duties.

Sutton said he never felt any of his accounts raised any ethical questions and the company was well aware he was receiving commissions from selling advertisements to businesses in Marana and Hochuli's firm.

"There's never any quid pro quo. And, I mean, you can speculate from any situation that something was going on and I can't keep people from doing that," he said. "I had to do my job. That's the first thing is making a living, and providing for my family, and I was doing that before I got on with Marana."

Getting the jump on new advertisers

Several Dex employees claim company officials in Tucson, including Sales Director Laurie Wallner, often gave Sutton preferential treatment and permitted certain behavior of him that would not be tolerated of other employees, including the ability to cherry pick businesses coming into Marana.

While he was mayor, Sutton was granted unfettered access to new advertising accounts that were not assigned to the sales department, several employees claim, and the advantage Sutton had in knowing which businesses were going to open in Marana was a benefit not available to them. Until he resigned as mayor, the town's Web site listed Sutton as an advertising executive at Dex, which several employees claim was an unfair advantage that marketed him to businesses in Marana.

"What's really surprising about this whole situation is that the company is aware of it and has supported it. Bobby Sutton and Laurie Wallner, they're good buddies," said one source in Tucson. "Bobby has gotten all the prime accounts. Laurie Wallner gave him everything. They're not supposed to work that way. They're supposed to be on a rotation. He got everything handed to him on a silver platter."

Wallner is one of several company officials who declined to comment when contacted for this story, instead referring all comments to corporate officials in Denver, who told the EXPLORER that allegations against Dex Media are unfounded.

Dex records show that Sutton, with management approval, was allowed to pick up incoming Marana businesses on the owners' cell phones before they established a business phone line. By doing so, Sutton received commissions on new advertising orders that did not go out on rotation to his co-workers, though they likely would have once the actual business lines were established.

In the spring of 2003, for example, Dex records show that Sutton picked up Bedroxx Bowl on a "finders keepers" basis by claiming the account on the cell phone number of bowling alley co-owner Tony Delheim before the business opened. A few months later, in July 2003, Sutton, in his capacity as mayor, helped Delheim stage a ribbon cutting for the grand opening of the now-popular Marana establishment.

Delheim is a relative of Dana Delheim, co-owner of the former New West night club, which was shut down and turned into Bedroxx Bowl after the state revoked its liquor license.

"I probably have 20 percent of my accounts that come in on cell numbers and then you roll the main number into it. But that's just a part of doing business - nothing no one else doesn't do," Sutton said. "Any of those, you know, if there's ways to pick it up, I actually picked up the main number as well. But knowing they were coming in, I did work with them."

While Dex sales representatives ordinarily retain their same customers year after year, company policy dictates that new advertisers are assigned to sales reps based on a computerized rotation list ensuring "integrity and fairness in the assignment of new customers."

Sales reps are allowed to claim new accounts on a "finders keepers" basis if they're potential advertisers that Dex normally wouldn't notice to pick up. However, Bedroxx Bowl would have gone out on rotation once it established a business line if Sutton hadn't used his knowledge of its opening to nab the account, several employees claim.

"The finders keepers rule only applies to residential customers that weren't going to get a business phone and maybe like contractors and landscapers, never for a business facility that would have a business phone installed," said one source. "That would have gone out on to rotation to the reps."

Peter Pusateri, business manager for Local 1269 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union representing Dex sales employees, said it wouldn't be inappropriate for a sales rep to pick up an account on a cell phone number, but he was uncertain of the ethics behind a public official using his inside knowledge of a business opening in his town to pick up an account at the expense of his co-workers.

"If this guy, part of his thing as a city official is he's steering to himself, as a salesperson, businesses before they become business telephones, I don't know anything about that," Pusateri said. "I can't categorically say it's right or wrong … If he did it, he didn't do it as an official in the union, he did it as a rank and file member and who knows what they do.

"The union would never take a position that this kind of stuff isn't possible," Pusateri added. "As a matter of fact, we have to be due diligent in seeing to it that the contract is enforced, that the assigning procedures are enforced … so anything is possible, but to do it, to do it is tough. And to do it requires a lot of intervention and a lot of people sticking their necks out for people they may or may not even know."

Several sources say Sutton has gotten away with certain conduct because of his close relationship with Wallner. One example of Wallner's alleged favoritism toward Sutton, which some sources cited, is a company-produced golf guide that Sutton was given the green light to sell directory advertising for in recent years.

"That's all new money. That's going to help his performance tremendously. I think we should all get a piece of that pie," said one source, recounting her thoughts when she first heard the news. "He made a lot of money off that and I have examples of where he put significant dollars to boost his performance using the golf guide."

Several employees said they ordinarily might not take the work ethics of a co-worker so personal, but any preferential treatment given to Sutton has directly and adversely affected them. That's because the company's Sales Performance Evaluation System has been set up so that sales reps are evaluated, rewarded and disciplined based on how they rank against the top performers in the office, which includes Sutton.

"The way the evaluation system is written, if you're unsatisfactory in ratings for four consecutive quarters of the year, you're dismissed. It's a 24-month roll period the evaluation system works on, so if someone's been engaging in ongoing fraud forever and ever, imagine what it does to those people who don't engage in fraud?" said one source. "They're the ones who get tagged."

Very shortly after he was indicted in April, Sutton's attorney Michael Piccarreta filed a motion in federal court to have the arraignment delayed so Sutton could make the trip to Canada to receive Dex Media's prestigious President's Circle of Excellence Award, which his co-workers say he regularly receives.

"These Circle trips are amazing. They really go all out. They treat you like a king and a queen," said one source in Tucson who has received the award. "They go to different places every year. A couple years ago it was down in Mexico. They've gone to London. They put you up in five-star hotels. You come back after all the parties and you get a gift in your room every single night.

"You get to choose from all kinds of activities. I got to go sailing, which I had never done before. God, it's thousands of dollars. You get to bring your spouse. Then they have a big award night where it's like black tie, everybody dresses up. I got a gold diamond ring. They really do it up nice, there's no doubt about it."

On the same day Sutton was indicted by the federal government, Wallner left a companywide voicemail message telling Dex employees they should all support Sutton and "treat him like the family member that he is to all of us."

"One of our team members is facing a challenge today. Bobby Sutton is dealing with that challenge with both courage and dignity," states part of the 75-second message, which was recorded and replayed to the EXPLORER. "I am proud of Bobby Sutton for the work that he does here at Dex and the work that he does for his community. He serves the town of Marana with pride, dignity and integrity, and he will face this challenge with courage, I am sure."

"That's a rather unusual stance for a corporation like Dex. I can't imagine that she cleared it," said Jordan Ziprin, an attorney who handled a large-scale federal probe that uncovered a host of unethical behavior happening inside the Phoenix sales office 10 years ago, back when he was deputy regional attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

The company, U.S. West Direct, chose to settle the case out of court for hundreds of thousands of dollars and agreed to several remedial provisions, though several sources claim the same unethical behavior is ongoing at Dex Media.

Ziprin, who has since retired from the NLRB, came out of retirement in recent years to privately represent employees in both Phoenix and Tucson who have disputes against Dex, including a Tucson employee who was fired after supposedly not getting a fair shake when compared to employees like Sutton.

In a previous interview, Ziprin said he had considered writing the Arizona Attorney General's Office about possible conflicts of interest regarding Sutton's accounts.

"What I heard about Sutton, even before this indictment, was unbelievable. Selling advertising to customers who do business with the town, that's a clear conflict of interest," he said, adding that he also thinks there are other issues in Marana that need a closer look from state regulators. "There's been a lot going on over the years with no bidding of contracts and things. I don't understand why the state's just let that go."

Sutton's peers on the Marana Town Council reacted quickly following his indictment in April to adopt a resolution that allows the town to pay his legal fees pending his acquittal. According to the town's legal department, Sutton's bills would be paid dating back to 2002 when he retained his attorney, Piccarreta, a past state bar president and a lawyer for more than 30 years.

Piccarreta, who is admittedly one of the higher-priced criminal defense attorneys in Arizona, is also one of Sutton's advertising clients in the Yellow Pages, Dex records show. Sutton regularly receives commissions on the premium ads he sells to the Piccarreta & Davis law firm in Tucson.

"I've had Piccarreta for years. I had him for seven or eight years, long before I even got to use him as an attorney," Sutton said. "But I have a right to do that."

Provisions in Marana's Town Code, which town officials used to justify their decision to pay Sutton's legal fees, suggest that legal counsel should be "appointed by the town," though Sutton has been allowed to personally retain Piccarreta because of the nature of the case.

When contacted by the EXPLORER, Piccarreta was quick to point out that the ads negotiated between his firm and Sutton fall under the personal injury heading in the Yellow Pages, which he said he isn't involved with. However, the ads do feature Piccarreta's name, personal photo and a detailed list of his career accomplishments while marketing him as a criminal defense attorney.

"Over the years, my only role with the Yellow Pages was to say I don't want it, but I was always outvoted by the other divisional office," he said. "Everyone knows my view on it is that I don't want to be in Yellow Pages."

According to Dex records, also listed among Sutton's client list is Tucson attorney Paul Gattone, who ironically is representing Marana residents in their fight against the Marana Town Council's decision to annex and rezone property along Cortaro Road for the controversial Willow Ridge project.

Sutton has strongly supported the project and voted in its favor last year to approve a rezoning that allows one house per 6,000 square feet, and some commercial development, on land previously zoned for one house per 144,000 square feet. Residents have filed lawsuits in state and federal court, claiming the development poses a threat to the natural desert and that the town did not follow proper procedures when annexing the property.

When residents brought a referendum on the rezoning last year, developers throughout Marana pulled out the stops to raise almost $70,000 to squash their action, including a large contribution from Hochuli. Even after the rezoning received voter approval, Sutton personally expressed disappointment at a council meeting that it hadn't passed by a wider margin.

Gattone, the attorney representing the residents, said he contacted Dex Media last year to have a listing placed under the attorney subheading of "Civil Rights" in the January 2005 Tucson directory.

"They said, 'Your account will be directed to Bobby Sutton,'" he said, adding that he thought it was "kind of weird" but he placed the order anyway. "He actually called me at the time and I said, 'Fine, that's what I want.'"

With litigation against the town pending, Gattone said he waited for the Tucson directory to hit the shelves in January but, to his dismay, his listing had not been placed. More ironically, Westfall's attorney in the Waste Management matter, Stephen Weiss, is the only attorney listed under the heading.

"Needless to say, I was kind of upset and maybe just a little bit suspicious," Gattone said, adding that he wondered if outside circumstances came into play. "But just a couple of months ago, he called me again - because that's what his job is - and he just clarified with me what the ad was going to be for this year and that I'm getting the listing for free because they left them out last time.

"So, when he called, he wasn't calling in connection with the litigation, he was calling in connection with my Yellow Pages listing," he added, pointing out the awkwardness of the situation. "I won't say that it wasn't a little weird, but certainly there are restrictions on talking to represented defendants when you're an attorney."

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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