PHOENIX - A city worker who took a loan from a developer when the developer had a zoning case before the city is being investigated by police.
The $1,100 loan to Gregory Coleman, an aide to a City Council member, violated Phoenix's ethics policy, leading to Coleman being fired Tuesday.
Coleman, who handled constituent services for Council member Michael Nowakowski, had in April asked developer Warren Pitman for the loan after a meeting held to establish a youth council in Nowakowski's district.
The 50-year-old Coleman said he needed the money for a car payment and that the loan had nothing to do with city business.
Pitman wrote Coleman a check with the understanding that the money would be paid back in two weeks, according to a city investigator's report.
When Pitman wrote the check, he had already initiated an effort to rezone a portion of the Bougainvillea Golf Club in Laveen - which Pitman owns and where the meeting was held - to allow for commercial development on the site.
Coleman, who said he has known Pitman for about a year and helped the developer get appointed to the Laveen Village Planning Committee, said he was unaware Pitman had business before the city when he asked for the loan.
"I didn't know - I learned that afterward," Coleman said. "Any loans that were made between Warren and I, that's personal."
But Pitman said that when Coleman asked him for the money, the zoning case was very much on his mind.
"I felt very awkward and more afraid to say 'no' for fear of him possibly sabotaging the case," Pitman said in an e-mail.
Members of Phoenix's boards and commissions are subject to removal if they violate the city's ethics code. Mayor Phil Gordon said he will ask the city attorney to review the situation to see if Pitman's actions warrant an ethics investigation.
Pitman met with Nowakowski chief of staff Ruben Gallego on July 1 to disclose the loan, nearly three months after he gave Coleman the money. He said he was moved to act by an ethics course taken by all new appointees to city boards and commissions.
Gallego informed the personnel and legal departments about the loans, and an investigation was launched.
Police are looking into whether Coleman accepted any other favors from constituents during the six months he worked in Nowakowski's office, officials said.
Coleman said he didn't get gifts or favors from constituents, and did nothing illegal.
Coleman, an ordained minister whose future plans include ministry, said he hoped the incident would be remembered as an honest mistake.
Coleman volunteered on Nowakowski's campaign last year and was hired as an aide in January after Nowakowski's victory over Laura Pastor.
Coleman, known around City Hall for his close ties to the city's African-American and faith communities, made about $36,000 a year in his job with the city.
Pitman told officials that he made several attempts to get Coleman to repay him but never got his money. A check Coleman wrote to him bounced, and to date the $1,100 hasn't been repaid.
Pitman also said that last December, he bought $1,000 worth of ribs for Coleman for a family reunion with the understanding that he would be repaid. Coleman never repaid him, he said.
Coleman denies accepting ribs from Pitman. Pitman said he did buy ribs for Coleman with the understanding he would be paid back.
Nowakowski said Coleman was a good worker and would remain a friend.
Nowakowski pledged during the campaign to be an honest and open leader. "That's why we acted so quickly - it's about honesty, integrity, and making sure that government's fair for everyone," Nowakowski said.