Water War Brings RICO Suit in Arizona

     PHOENIX (CN) – A conservation group claims that when it found water under its land it was conspired against by a “large, powerful, unlawful, racketeering enterprise” that used political influence and violence to illegally grab its property “under the guise of cattle ranching.”
     Lead plaintiff Desert Plants Conservancy claims in Federal Court that the defendants schemed “to defraud and financially devastate plaintiffs and regain/gain valuable properties owned by plaintiffs” after they learned that the plaintiffs’ property value had increased by “tens of millions of dollars” because water was discovered there.
     The land is near Picacho Peak in Pinal County, a well-known landmark along Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix.
     Defendants include a long list of individuals and two law firms: The Keating Law Firm; and Mesch, Clark and Rothschild.
     The Conservancy says it bought the land from by the defendant Robert W. Walker family, and that a 2005 court ruling found that with the sale of the property, the defendants’ use of the property to drive cattle was limited to an easement.
     After that ruling, the Conservancy says, the plaintiffs invested more than $3 million in developing the 1,100 acres “as a sustainable farming, nursery, and other businesses operation to carry out several humanitarian service projects and start several commercial projects that were interrelated.”
     The plaintiffs also drilled three wells that “exposed a large water resource containing 16.3 billion of gallons of pumpable water available beneath the 1,100 acres in an underground lake locked in rock.”
     After the Walkers learned of the increased value of the property, the Conservancy says, the Walkers filed their first motion for judgment, and filed multiple “groundless” complaints with state and county agencies, trying to “shut down or at least severely impact their [the plaintiffs’] operations, impede their ability to do business with contractors and/or employees, and cause their businesses and grant applications to fail, particularly given the previous threats by members and persons acting on their behalf that they would use any resources against Conservancy and that they controlled the county and judges.”
     In December 2008, the defendants said they would put cattle on the property, but in a telephonic hearing with the appellate court claimed it was “too late to put cattle out,” according to the complaint.
     As a result, the court sanctioned the plaintiffs for “a frivolous action,” and branded them “as dilatory and subsequently used that word repeatedly to describe Conservancy in order to justify its numerous adverse rulings against Conservancy,” the complaint states.
     The Conservancy says that on April 6 and 7, 2010 “there were two separate shooting incidents by unknown persons who plaintiffs believe were acting under the direction of the enterprise and who shot at plaintiffs’ contractors.”
     After a hearing on April 8, defendant Joseph Parsons followed the plaintiffs’ then-lawyer outside the Pinal County Courthouse and told him that the defendants “knew where he lived and gave detailed information about his wife and children” to ensure that the lawyer “would withdraw from representation,” according to the complaint.
     On April 11 or April 12, the plaintiffs say the defendants were “involved in arson fires” on plaintiff Loraine Kesselring’s 30 acres, causing all “the habitable living dwellings plus other equipment and supplies” to be burned to the ground.
     When her contractors inspected the property, “unknown persons began shooting at them, causing them to flee from the property,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiffs are the Desert Plants Conservancy, Marie Pierron, AWD Ranch, Niles Lipin, Kessel Farm, and Loraine Kesselring.
     The defendants are Joseph M. Parsons, Clay H. Parsons, The Estate of Robert W. Walker, The Robert W. Walker Trust, Gary R. and Georgia A. Walker, Eve F. Walker, Albert E. Yendes Jr., Geoffrey K. Brimhall, Louie W. Puroll, Melvin C. Cohen, Paul A. Loucks, Kevin R. Keating, The Keating Law Firm, and Mesch, Clark & Rothschild, P.C.
     The plaintiffs seek damages treble and punitive damages for state and federal RICO claims and civil rights violations.
     They are represented by Denise O’Rourke.

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