Prominent Mesa attorney David Udall offered money to the Riverview at Dobson referendum leaders in exchange for them halting their petition drive.
The Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens) say in a court filing that Udall — who is representing the Riverview developers — told the group’s president, David Molina, in November that he would assist the group in paying legal fees for a utility rate lawsuit appeal and provide other assistance for its political activities if Molina dropped the effort to place the issue on the ballot.
Molina did not accept the offer. Meanwhile, on the same day as the meeting with Udall, former Mesa lawmaker Jeff Groscost gave $19,000 to the organization. That Nov. 16 donation later paid for the referendum drive that kicked into gear that week and extended until the signatures were filed Dec. 1.
A special election has been set for May 17.
Udall said Monday that at the time, he was meeting with many people to gain support for the project.
Udall said he was perplexed by the group’s opposition — the group had taken out paperwork to launch the drive four days earlier — and said he figured their opposition had to be about money.
"I offered to make a contribution on behalf of our side for (Valley Business Owners) to use however they saw fit," said Udall, recipient of the 2004 Mesa Man of the Year award.
Molina said Udall initiated the conversation and the specific offer for assistance was in context with recent events. Twelve days earlier, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that Mesa was justified in rejecting the signatures gathered by Molina’s group to force a vote on the City Council’s utility rate increase. Molina’s group has since appealed the decision and the case is pending.
Udall said in the end he was right — it was about money — and the anti-Riverview group turned to the highest bidder.
"They have turned their back on Mesa and went with Tempe," Udall said, citing last week’s $90,000 contribution from Dan Harkins, who is building a theater complex at the competing Tempe Marketplace.
Vestar Development’s David Larcher released a statement Monday denying any involvement in the Riverview election.
"In response to recent news articles, Vestar denies the inaccurate speculation of some that it has been financing the opposition to the Riverview project," Larcher said.
If Propositions 300, 301 and 302 are approved by Mesa voters, the Riverview at Dobson project at Loop 202 and Dobson Road is expected to include a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, 16-screen Cinemark movie theater, "big-box" retailers including a likely Wal-Mart Supercenter, auto dealerships and a business park.
The court document that included the information about Udall and Groscost was filed by the Molina group Friday as part of the discovery process in a defamation lawsuit, which was filed Nov. 24 by Riverview developers Kimco Developers and De Rito Partners Development against Molina and group treasurer Jan Hibbard.
Hibbard said she did not meet with Udall but was uncomfortable with what transpired.
"It made me and other people uncomfortable," Hibbard said. "When someone offers to give assistance so we do not get involved, it starts putting up red flags."
Hibbard said she would not typically release details of such a meeting — and did not at the time — but the judge in the defamation lawsuit required the discovery process to proceed, thus requiring disclosure of the meeting.
"If we were running a normal campaign and they weren’t suing us, this never would have come to light," Hibbard said.