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Is the check in the mail?

Some former Tate’s employees have been working without pay

On Wednesday, the cars that remained on the lot at Tate’s Auto in Show Low were loaded up onto semi-trailers and taken away.

It was another step in what has become a business closure fraught with difficulty for former employees and some customers of the shuttered auto dealership.

Tate’s Auto Center Of Gallup, Inc. the corporation associated with three Tate’s automotive enterprises, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March in the Tucson branch of the US Bankruptcy Court, District of Arizona. The filing comes on the heels of a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission against a total of four Tate companies and general manager Richard Berry and his mother, Linda Tate, president. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona in August of last year, alleging that the defendants took part in “a range of illegal activities including falsifying consumer’s income and downpayment information on vehicle financing applications and misrepresenting important financial terms in vehicle advertisements,” according to an FTC press release.

Tate’s has also been involved in high-stakes litigation in a federal court in Texas with a consumer lending company that Berry said was pressuring him to write as many sub-prime auto loans as possible, but then abruptly stopped its lending, leaving Tate’s with car lots filled with hundreds of vehicles it couldn’t sell because it couldn’t get financing for its customers. (Sub-prime loans are extended to people with poor or no credit history who are deemed at high risk of default.)

Tucson Chief Bankruptcy Court Judge Brenda M. Whinery ordered the dealerships abruptly closed on April 25 as part of the bankruptcy proceeding. Tate’s Auto had dealerships in Holbrook, Winslow, Gallup and Show Low.

With the sudden closure, 100 people lost their jobs and customers were left to wonder about the title and licensing of recently purchased vehicles, or awaiting liens to be cleared for cars traded in, among other things.

“It’s bad enough jobs were lost, some employees may have to move to find work but can’t because they need their final paycheck to do that,” said a former employee in an an email to the Independent.

“The judge did not think through the unintended consequences, in my opinion,” said former co-owner and general manager Rick Berry in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “The truth is, it has been pulled completely out of our control,” he added.

Berry said that all of the assets of the company were frozen with the April 25 order, making it difficult to complete the tasks the company found necessary for the shutdown of the business in an orderly manner.

That left many people in limbo.

Paperwork and payment of state tax and registration fees on cars purchased in the days before the closure was left unprocessed, meaning customers may not be able to drive the cars they just purchased.

Customer’s cars that were in service bays under repair were locked up unfinished, sometimes leaving customers without transportation, unable to access their vehicles, Berry confirmed. He said he was unsure how many vehicles might still be held in service bays.

A report in the Navajo Times on May 9 said that the Navajo Human Rights Commission had received a number of calls from Tate’s customers who were unable to access their vehicles.

Berry said that a “handful” of former Tate’s employees had been working without pay since the closure trying to solve these problems. He said that the employees that continue to work are struggling financially and some have departed for other jobs.

“They’ve been coming in doing all the legwork. They are coming in under the impression they will be paid,” he explained.

Berry said that the issue is with Ford Motor Credit, the company that financed the dealership’s purchase of new inventory. The sudden closure was ordered by the judge at the request of Ford Motor Credit, Berry said.

Berry said that in the weeks since the closure, his attorneys had been working on a deal with Ford Motor Credit in order to get employees paid for the work they have done since the dealership closed, but it was ultimately rejected.

Attorney’s for Tate’s have requested a hearing before the judge on the issue of employee pay and other problems caused by the sudden closure. That hearing has been scheduled for May 22.


In the story entitled "Is the check in the mail?" that appeared in the May 17 edition on the White Mountain Independent, there was an error.

“Unfortunately, Ford Motor Credit didn’t cooperate … it’s a slow process,” Berry commented in frustration.

Berry said that his attorneys are working on selling the former dealership’s properties, and that he felt confident that some deals would be closed within 30 days.

Photo courtesy of Jerold Altaha  

In honor of National Police Week, members of the Whiteriver Police Department and other tribal officials and staff participated in a 21-mile walk/run relay on Wednesday in honor of Officer Tenny Gatewood Jr., who was killed in the line of duty in 1999. From the left: Tribal Councilman Arnold Beach, Tribal Vice Chairman Jerome Kasey III, Grant Realbird, Lt. Steven Kane carried the flag, Aaron James, and Noah Kane.

APS says it can convert Cholla unit to biomass

Converting a coal-burning power plant to biomass could produced 84 megawatts of electricity annually by 2022 – likely saving a faltering effort to thin a million acres of forest in the next 20 years, according to a just-completed study by Arizona Public Service.

The massive utility said if the Arizona Corporation Commission gives the go-ahead and requires utilities to buy at least 90 megawatts of biomass power annually, it could start on getting permits for the conversion from coal to biomass at Unit 1 at the Cholla Power Plant in Joseph City immediately.

Cholla’s Unit 1 could begin generating electricity from biomass as early as 2022, according to the study.

Federal clean air regulations have forced the scheduled closure of the four coal-burning units at Cholla, built in 1962. One unit shut down in 2015. The other three are slated to shut down before 2025. If the Corporation Commission approves, APS would convert the 116-MW, coal-burning Unit 1 into an 84-MW biomass plant.

Converting the plant would take far less time than building a new biomass plant from scratch, the APS report concluded. APS already has permits for groundwater wells needed to operate the plant. It will therefore take only about 32 months to get the necessary added permits and overhaul the plant, according to an estimate by the consultants.

The plant would have some advantages in the complicated APS power generation system, since its output can be increased or decreased as need arises. Some sources can’t respond quickly to peak demand.

Local officials who have spent the last decade supporting the 4-Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) greeted the announcement with joy. The largest forest restoration effort in the nation’s history has united local officials, environmentalists and loggers in an effort to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires by dramatically thinning tree densities across northern Arizona. However, the project has lagged years behind schedule for lack of a market for millions of tons of wood scraps. The conversion would cost at least $135 to $205 million, concluded the APS report. The utility company would then seek to recover the investment by raising rates.

The study assumed a capital cost of $205 million to convert the 84 MW unit at Cholla to biomass by 2022. The plant would likely run at 75 percent capacity, producing power that would cost $115 per megawatt hour. The plant would burn 578,000 ‘wet’ tons of biomass annually. That works out to 53 tons of dried wood chips every hour. That would provide a market for biomass generated from thinning 30,000 acres annually.

The power plant would provide 32 permanent jobs and 800 to 600 temporary construction jobs. The harvest of the biomass by an outside contractor would provide another 105 direct jobs.

The APS study concluded, “The addition by 2022 of a 62 MW bioelectricity capacity (83 MW at 75% capacity factor) in northern Arizona can be the game-changing development that uncorks the biomass bottleneck and enables 4FRI landscape scale implementation, combined with the recruitment of reliable investor(s)/contractor(s) to ramp up from the current 15,000 acres (mostly on the East side) to the target 50,000 acres across the 4FRI entire footprint.”

A host of local officials and forest advocates have urged the Corporation Commission to adopt the so-called REST Rule that would make such a conversion possible, while also protecting Novo Power, a smaller, 29-megawatt biomass burning power plant in Snowflake. The proposal includes creating a energy “carve out,” which means the carbon released by the power plant wouldn’t count as a greenhouse gas under state and federal rules. The carbon produced by burning coal essentially releases gases stored in the earth for millions of years. By contrast, the carbon released from the wood scraps would have been released anyway due to wildfires or decomposition.

The biomass also releases fewer other harmful pollutants than coal. However, the plant would need to get state and federal permits based on the possible contribution to things like the regional haze that frequently obscures visibility at the Grand Canyon and other national monuments.

Joe Miller, with the Rim Country chapter of Trout Unlimited, urged the ACC to adopt the rule to create “a well-defined market for forest biomass and therefore critical to the long-term success of the broad forest restoration initiatives in Arizona.”

4FRI aims to protect thousands of miles of streams from the effects of catastrophic wildfires in the thick, overgrown forests.

He noted that 70 percent of the thinning projects actually completed in the past decade have been in the White Mountains, thanks to existing Novo Power biomass burning plant.

“This has made it clear to us that the only way our forests can be saved is through the expedited, safe removal of many of the smaller diameter trees and also their biomass by-products.”

The Town Manager of Pinetop Lakeside Keith Johnson added his plea for the new rules in a letter to the Corporation Commission. He noted that the Wallow and Rodeo Chedeski fires have already consumed a million acres of forest and threatened the survival of his community.

“Recently, we watched with horror the effects of the Camp Fire in California with the loss of 85 lives and more than $16.5 billion. The communities of the White Mountains have been spared, so far, a similar fate and our future hangs in the balance as you debate the importance of approving the generation of 90 MW of Forest Biomass Electricity for the next 20 years.”

The conversion of the coal-burning Cholla to biomass offers an array of advantages – both for forest restoration efforts and for APS. However, many key questions remain unanswered.

The most critical questions have to do with the economics of transporting the millions of tons of wood scraps to the power plants.

The existing 29-megawatt Novo Power plant is close to projects in the White Mountains. The proposed Cholla plant in Joseph City, just off I-40 between Holbrook and Winslow. Both plants remain a long way from the forests on the west side of the 4FRI footprint.

The APS report underscored that the company was not in the business of harvesting or transporting biomass and would rely on outside contractors to provide the million tons of green biomass produced by thinning 50,000 acres annually – the 4FRI’s target pace.

Backers hope the Corporation Commission will make a decision on whether to both approve the biomass burning rule and give the go-ahead on the conversion of Cholla sometime in the next month.

Jaramillo trial underway for 2012 murder

APACHE COUNTY — After a years-long delay, Gabriel Ross Jaramillo’s murder trial is underway in the Apache County Superior Court. Jaramillo was arrested by Gila County authorities for the alleged murder of Steven Long, a co-worker from Round Valley. The body was found near Big Lake Aug. 24, 2012. Because of charges brought by Gila County (explained below) the Apache County Attorney’s Office waited until 2018 to charge Jaramillo with first degree murder, burglary, theft of a vehicle, concealing a corpse and tampering with evidence.

About five days after the body was found in August, 2012, Jaramillo was on the loose in Gila County where he had fled. When Gila County deputies tried to arrest him, Jaramillo took off in a vehicle and allegedly fired gunshots at officers during a high speed chase near Tonto Basin. When he was finally taken into custody, he was charged in Gila County for his actions during the police chase. In April 2013, a Gila County jury acquitted him of three counts of attempted murder (allegedly firing at three deputies) but the jury found him guilty of aggravated assault and unlawful flight and he was sent to prison for five years. He was released from prison on August 24, 2018 and has been in the Apache County Jail ever since, awaiting his trial on the Apache County charges.

Jaramillo’s trial began last week in the Apache County Superior Court with jury selection.

On Wednesday, the defendant, 64, was smartly dressed in a dark blue suit and seated next to his attorney, Dirk LeGate. At the prosecutor’s table (the one next to the jury box) sat prosecutors Garrett Whiting and a Ms. Robertson. Also seated there, in a spot usually reserved for the lead investigating officer, sat Eagar Police Chief Mike Sweetser.

Superior Court Judge Michael Latham is presiding over the trial. The jury in this case consists of nine men and six women. Only twelve jurors will reach a verdict; the other three are alternate jurors who are available if one of the other jurors is absent because of illness or other unforeseen events. The three alternate jurors will be selected by lot at the beginning of their deliberations; the alternates will not take part in the deliberations unless they are called to. The victim’s mother was also present with the victim’s advocate.

Sergeant Steve Jones of the Eagar Police Department testified on Wednesday. He testified that he went to the victim’s home after the body was found and believes that the murder happened in the master bedroom because of blood splatter there and drops of blood in the living room. Jones also said that he found a roll of duct tape which is significant, he says, because the electrical cord the body was tied with had duct tape on it. Jones also found a desk in the home with open drawers as if someone had rifled through them, but it was hard to say if anything was missing.

Investigators found a .22 caliber rifle in a riverbed near the body. It was alternatively described as a Marlin or Glenbridge. When defense counsel asked why the two names, Jones answered that both names are used to describe the same gun.

Jones attended the autopsy performed in Tucson — the cause of death was confirmed to be a gunshot wound. From the corpse, medical staff took hair samples, fingernail clippings, scrapings from under fingernails, fingerprints, swabs for DNA, a t-shirt and underpants. The swabs were analyzed by the DPS lab. At the time of the autopsy, it still wasn’t clear who the deceased was. Each item of evidence was sealed in boxes or envelopes and handed to Jones on the witness stand, where he opened them with a pen knife. The judge admitted the items in evidence.

In Arizona, jurors are allowed to ask a witness questions by sending a note to the judge who reviews the questions with the attorneys. One jury question asked about a beer can found near the body, whether anyone had dusted it for fingerprints. Jones didn’t know.

Also testifying was James Baine, a commercial contractor whose hobby is collecting mushrooms. Baine said that a very prized type grows in a certain area near Big Lake and he goes there every August to hunt for them — he’s been doing that for over 40 years, he said. In August, 2012, Baines, his dog and a friend went to the spot and Baines knew right away that none were growing, but he was curious about a tree where about a dozen buzzards were perched.

He and his dog went to investigate and discovered the body. The face was sunken into the wet ground, the hands and feet were tied with cord “very tightly” and he could see “a hole” in its left side, Baine said. The body was on a fairly steep slope and neither he nor his dog got closer to it than ten feet.

Baine and his friend could not get phone reception, so they drove to Sunrise Lake hotel where they called 911. The police kept them there for about four hours, then they all headed to the body at around midnight. It was “deep forest, said Baines, very dark with thick underbrush. It took awhile to locate the body, but an officer found it. Whoever had hid it, said Baines, found a very good place to do it.

As of press time, the prosecution was still presenting its case. It is unknown whether Jaramillo will testify when witnesses for the defense are called.