NAVAJO COUNTY — A little over two years ago a civil lawsuit was filed against Harvey Leon Palmer and his wife, Gloria Ann Palmer, by the Navajo County Attorney’s Office regarding the embezzlement of over $800,000 from the Silver Creek Irrigation District (SCID). As of April 9, the matter has come to a close with a Stipulated Judgment and Order for Forfeiture issued by the Superior Court of the State of Arizona for Navajo County.
In March of 2017 it was first reported that Harvey Leon Palmer, a bookkeeper for the Silver Creek Irrigation District (SCID) for 42 years and former town manager of Taylor, allegedly revealed to authorities that he took more than $800,000 from the district between 2011 and 2016 and gave those funds to Margaret “Peggy” Rogers, a woman he had a sexual relationship with. Palmer died Feb. 8, 2018, with no criminal charges having been filed against him.
A 20-page civil lawsuit, however, was filed early in 2017 by the Navajo County Attorney’s Office accusing Palmer and his wife, Gloria Ann Palmer, of multiple racketeering counts. Under the Arizona Racketeering Act the Palmer’s real property at 818 East Bullduck in Taylor, along with U.S. currency from two bank accounts in their names at the National Bank of Arizona totaling $27,627 were seized Jan. 26, 2017, by a Notice of Forfeiture and Seizure Warrant.
Palmer had told investigators that he “loaned” the $800,000 to Rogers who needed it for “a diabetic study” and hoped to earn a better interest rate than what the bank offered. He also told them she never repaid any of the loans he made to her with irrigation district money. Rogers allegedly spent the money at a number of casinos in Arizona and surrounding states.
With Leon Palmer’s death, Gloria Ann Palmer became the representative of his estate. She and her husband had entered into a Land and Home Purchase Agreement with Shawn Palmer, their son, and his wife, Dicie, in August of 2004. Under the terms of the agreement, Shawn Palmer was to purchase the real property from his parents for $75,000, which he paid in August 2013. In the agreement the parents were to remain in the home on the property until their passing. However, prior to the seizure of the real property, no deed was ever executed or recorded with the Navajo County Recorder’s Office transferring legal title to Shawn Palmer or his wife.
The Stipulated Judgment and Order for Forfeiture resolves all issues in this civil suit without the need for a trial. The judgment and order acknowledges Leon Palmer’s misappropriation of funds from SCID between 2011 and 2016 and that he engaged in certain racketeering offenses including fraudulent schemes and artifices, theft, forgery and money laundering against SCID. It also acknowledges that Leon Palmer loaned $100,000 of monies belonging to he and his wife to Rogers, and that Gloria Palmer had knowledge of at least $15,000 of the $100,000 to Rogers, and that she was aware of the SCID money given to Rogers by her husband. Gloria Palmer demanded and received $15,000 from Peggy Rogers which she deposited in their joint bank account. Additionally, the judgment and order states that some or all of those actions against SCID are punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and are acts of conspiracy which would be chargeable and indictable.
The court concluded that the misappropriated monies that Leon Palmer turned into cash and gave to Margaret “Peggy” Rogers, which she used for a gambling habit and other things, are not likely to be recovered from Mrs. Rogers for the taxpayers of SCID. In order to pay restitution to SCID, the real property and currency seized for forfeiture from Leon and Gloria Palmer is considered as the the substitute assets.
With no transfer or recording of a deed for the real property of Leon and Gloria Ann Palmer in Taylor by Shawn and Dicie Palmer, those items remain as substitute assets for restitution to SCID. Shawn and Dicie Palmer will be allowed to purchase the real property from the State for $175,000 within 30 days of the filing of the judgment. Once the $175,000 is received by the State, they will prepare a release of the property from the racketeering lien and Shawn and Dicie Palmer will become owners of the property. Should they fail to pay the money within the time frame, they will forfeit any interest in the property including the fixtures on the property, and it will revert to the state.
The state is also waiving the remaining monies that were misappropriated from Leon or Gloria Palmer or the estate of Harvey Leon Palmer. All monies collected by the state in this matter will go directly to SCID.
When asked about the settlement, County Attorney Brad Carlyon stated, “When the terms of the settlement agreement have been fulfilled, the monies received by my office will be utilized to repay the Silver Creek Irrigation District for its loss. While sufficient assets were not available to make the district whole, I believe the resolution that we have reached with the Palmers is a positive for the Silver Creek Irrigation District and its taxpayers and property owners. Civil asset forfeiture is an important law enforcement tool, and without it, providing a financial remedy for the district would not have been possible in this case.”
Criminal charges in the Silver Creek Irrigation District cases against Margaret “Peggy” Rogers and her husband, Russell Rogers are still pending. Both of their cases are set to come before Judge Ralph Hatch this week, on April 24. “Peggy” Rogers is expected to accept a plea agreement and Russell Rogers is expected to request a trial.
CONCHO – At one time Concho was Arizona’s state capitol due to its prosperous farms. Though it may not be the state capitol today, the community is attracting many individuals with dreams and plans of changing the area’s economy through a return to farming and more. One such individual is Robert Lansford who has a lofty dream for his 40 acre property next to Red Rock Lavender Farm. Lansford recently received approval from the Apache County Board of Supervisors to rezone his Unit 2 of the Rancho Alegre Subdivision from agricultural to commercial for Lansford Vineyards.
Lansford’s vineyard is already established, having harvested its first full crop last year. In Arizona a vineyard is exempt from zoning, but with the change from residential to light commercial, Lansford will be able to add amusement or entertainment establishments.
The vineyard will also be a venue for weddings and the plan includes having a historical area featuring information on St. Johns and the tribes of the area. Lansford has plans for a conference center, a waterfall, a canopy for wine tasting, 15-car electric train for tours around the vineyard as well as a storage facility, two steel buildings, a crushing facility, a new well and another house for guest workers.
Lansford, who owns Lansford Roofing in California, bought 40 acres from Mike Teeple of Red Rock Lavender Farms around 2004 with the plan of eventually moving to Concho. In 2006 he built a house on the property. “Mike talked about a vineyard and I said I am into it, and we tried it on mine,” explained Lansford.
With a lot of hard work and trials with the grapes in 2014 and 2015, Lansford still had a bit of a set back and lost 25 percent of his crop. Things turned around for the positive in 2018 and he actually harvested his first full crop.
“Right now the buds are just about to break and watering will begin in the next couple of weeks,” said Lansford. “The vines are still two to three years old and need pruning. Last year was the first time of right pruning. I just re-did all the water lines and put in 3-inch pipe around the vineyard.”
Just like his 20-year roofing business, Lansford is putting in the sweat equity to ensure his venture is a success. He drives 600 miles each way from California to Concho and back every two weeks so that he can be hands-on as things proceed towards his 2020 goal. “I know that Mile Marker 9 when I double back,” said Lansford. “It is eight hours.”
He is also confident that the he has finally found the right vineyard manager and contractor. He has also put in many hours learning about viticulture. He has four classes under his belt and is working on the fifth. So far he has had classes on geography of all vines, sommeliers (wine stewards who specialize in all aspects of wine); a detailed business course, and a basic hands-on pruning and fertilization class at Wilson Creek which is a premiere family-owned winery in the heart of wine country in Temecula Valley. “They are good instructors,” said Lansford.
Lansford has 30,000 vines in the ground which include Malbec and Pino Nior. He pointed out that in Argentina Malbec grows well at 6,000 feet elevation; Concho’s elevation is 5,942. Malbec vines also do well with hot days and cold nights. He is adding three white varieties that include Moscato and Riesling. The Arizona wine circle is continuing to develop within the State of Arizona and at the 6,000 foot elevation.
Asked if there would be competition between his vineyard and that at Red Rock Farms, Lansford replied, “Yes and no. I hope we will both be sold out.”
The hope that Lansford Vineyards will become an Arizona tourist destination meets some of the goals of the Concho Community Plan which discusses the need for economic development and tourism. The one caveat placed on the new zoning for the winery is that “the majority of the Lansford’s project must be completed within three years or it reverts back to the Agricultural General Zone.”
Lansford still owns Lansford Roofing in Pasadena and is not sure if he will continue with ownership or if he will sell out. He and his wife Karina and their three children, however, will be moving to Concho and making Concho their home.