COOLIDGE — A former Coolidge real estate agent, who was charged with a land scam last month in federal court, has more than $1.2 million in Superior Court judgments against her in five civil lawsuits.
Sarah Nicole Kelley, 38, was charged with 32 counts of wire fraud and money laundering by a federal grand jury in Phoenix Sept. 24. Along with her husband Brian, she also faces well above a million dollars in judgments handed down in civil court decisions in Pinal and Maricopa counties.
Sarah Kelley was a real estate sales agent and owner of Canyon Construction of Coolidge who is accused by the grand jury of swindling another woman out of $185,000 and using that money to pay off her own real estate investment instead of starting a new project with the new investor.
It was later learned that she never applied for building permits for the property, let alone actually purchasing the vacant lot in Coolidge for the investor, according to charging documents.
Since publishing of the initial story on Kelley’s federal indictment a week ago, numerous calls, texts and emails have come into PinalCentral from people claiming to be victims of Kelley’s alleged real estate deceptions. One even referred to Kelley as “the Bernie Madoff of Coolidge.”
In examining official court and government records, it was discovered that Kelley was associated with at least 27 registered limited liability companies in Arizona and Nevada. Kelley also had her Arizona real estate sales license revoked on Feb. 8, 2018, by the Arizona Department of Real Estate.
Kelley’s license was revoked after she failed to disclose two court judgments against her when she renewed her real estate license in November 2016. The judgments, leading to her revocation, involved “fraud or dishonesty, or involving the conduct of any business or transaction in real estate,” which is in violation of the state board’s licensing requirements.
In a written revocation decision, Diane Mihalsky, an administrative law judge, wrote, “Respondent testified that she got sick and could not afford to pay an attorney to defend the lawsuits. She got tired and does not believe that she was in the wrong... Respondent’s failure to disclose the two judgments on her November 2016 application to renew her license was false or misleading, furnishing additional cause to revoke... Respondent’s failure to take any responsibility for the judgments that have been entered against her show that at this time, she cannot be regulated.”
Kelley appealed the revocation decision but Judge Patricia Ann Starr agreed with the revocation on Feb. 7, 2019. The decision was reaffirmed by Arizona Real Estate Commissioner Judy Lowe on April 15.
Despite losing her real estate sales agent license, Kelley has recently been posting properties for sale on her personal Facebook page, including three advertisements on Aug. 14, one on Aug. 13 and another on July 19.
In examination of civil court cases involving real estate transactions, PinalCentral found more than $1.2 million in judgments against her, her husband Brian and the many LLCs the couple was involved with — all were related to real estate investments.
The judgments awarded were in five separate cases in Pinal and Maricopa counties.
In one Pinal County case, more than $754,000 was awarded to a California woman who was involved in investing in six properties with the Kelleys in Coolidge, Casa Grande and Eloy between June and August 2018.
The woman sued the Kelleys on 12 different counts in Pinal County Superior Court and won judgments of $754,726 against them.
In all, a total of $963,818 in judgments have been handed out against the Kelleys in Pinal County Superior Court and $246,682 in Maricopa County Superior Court decisions.
These figures do not include the $185,000 mentioned in the federal criminal case against her nor other cases appearing on court records in the Eloy Justice and Florence-Coolidge Justice courts.
List of LLCs Sarah and/or Brian Kelley are associated with, according to court documents:
CASA GRANDE -- When Roberto Flores goes to work at 7 a.m. each day, he takes three items with him — a neon yellow vest, an umbrella and a hand-held stop sign. He puts on sunblock and ensures he has plenty of water.
As a school crossing guard at one of Casa Grande’s busiest intersections, Flores is tasked with ensuring that children at Casa Grande Middle School and Saguaro Elementary School safely cross Pinal Avenue and McMurray Boulevard on their way to and from school every day.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Flores said. “But it can be tough. Sometimes drivers are impatient. They don’t always want to stop and sometimes they stop halfway through the crosswalk.”
There are 19 crossing guards in the Casa Grande Elementary School District. Every school day, twice a day, they are posted near schools to safely usher students across streets and to encourage drivers to slow down or stop for students.
Also known as “morning and afternoon assistants,” crossing guards often help the schools with other tasks as well, said CGESD Communications and Marketing Specialist Mike Cruz.
“Some will help with supervision on campus or assist in other capacities at each school such as monitoring halls or helping with events,” Cruz said. “They are stationed at each of the elementary and middle schools to provide safety crossing services at arrival and end of day dismissal.”
From setting up the reduce-speed school zone signs to performing crossing duties, each crossing guard’s shift is about an hour and a half.
On a typical day, anywhere from 40 to 60 elementary and middle school students cross the intersection at Pinal Avenue and McMurray Boulevard, before and after school.
Flores, who also works in the middle school cafeteria, has been the crossing guard at the intersection for four years.
“I love this job,” he said. “It feels wonderful seeing these kids every day on their way to school.”
Over the years, he’s come to know many of the kids. They chat with him as he escorts them across the street and they often tell him highlights of their day.
As crossing the street only takes a few seconds, each conversation is brief.
“I like hearing their stories,” Flores said. “Even when I see them at the library or in the grocery store, they always say ‘hi’ and want to talk to me.”
One day, one student brought him a Popsicle.
“It was a really hot day so I appreciated that Popsicle,” Flores said.
Crossing guards work rain or shine, whether it’s 110 degrees or a cool winter day. Flores said he doesn’t mind the hot or the cold days, but he doesn’t like the rain.
When it does rain, his umbrella comes in handy. Most days, he uses it to protect himself from the sun’s rays, but when it rains, it keeps him dry.
Pay for district crossing guards starts at $12 per hour but goes up based on experience.
After four years on the job, Flores is one of the senior crossing guards and sometimes helps train new employees.
“I tell them what to look out for. It can be dangerous,” Flores said.
Flores said neither he nor any of the children have ever been struck by a motorist while he was on duty, but there have been some near-misses.
“One time a semi-truck almost didn’t stop. I guess he didn’t see me in the road,” Flores said. “Drivers always seem to be in a hurry.”
CASA GRANDE — The city’s shiny new Community Recreation Center is drawing more attention than one local gym owner likes.
The new 55,000-square-foot center filled with new equipment, an indoor track and gym opened earlier this year on Peart Road. The center is also the home of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley.
However, 24/7 Fitness owner Bob Costanza feels that the new recreation center has an unfair advantage. The center’s operation is partially funded through taxpayer dollars, which allows membership prices to be lower than at some of the area’s private fitness clubs.
“It’s changed the market,” Costanza said.
He’s seen a few 24/7 club members cancel their memberships in order to purchase new cheaper memberships at the recreation center.
Ray Reynolds, the general manager for LA Fitness, said the new center hasn’t had a great impact on his membership numbers. His facility has lost a handful of people because of the difference in membership prices and because the new center caters more to families. LA Fitness does not allow anyone under the age of 13 to use the equipment.
However, LA Fitness also has different amenities than the new center, he said. LA Fitness has a pool, sauna, spa, locker rooms and showers as well as different fitness classes.
Mike Hazen, owner of The Box, said he had maybe 15 members check out the new center and six people leave his fitness club for the center. Hazen also isn’t worried about losing too many members to the new center. His club focuses on a specific type of fitness training that combines high-intensity interval exercise, weightlifting, calisthenics and other exercises.
Costanza said he can’t compete with prices such as $40 a month for an annual family pass for four people.
A brief survey of local fitness club websites shows that most Casa Grande clubs charge about $30 to $40 a month for an individual membership.
The cost of a membership at the new recreation center varies depending on if a person gets a day pass, a monthly pass, a six-month membership or a yearly membership. An adult individual purchasing an annual membership at the new center is charged nearly $21 a month. An annual family membership, which includes two adults and two children living in the home, costs about $42 a month. There are also discounted memberships for seniors, adult couples and youths 17 and under.
An annual membership for one person at 24/7 Fitness costs $29 a month, but there’s also a once-a-year $39 annual fee and a $49 enrollment fee. Those fees help cover the cost of purchasing new equipment and building maintenance when necessary, Costanza said.
“It’s making the market harder than it should be,” he said.
He also feels that the center wasn’t necessary to meet the community’s fitness needs. Most of the local fitness clubs are at less than 50 percent capacity, Costanza said.
Costanza said he’s dealt with new competition moving into the area before. His club is one of the oldest in the Casa Grande area. When LA Fitness moved in, he had to remodel his club in order to compete and he lost a few members.
But LA Fitness has to pay the same overhead costs, such as salaries, utilities and rent or property taxes, Costanza said. The new city recreation center doesn’t have the same operating costs and has a pool of taxpayer funds to draw from to pay the overhead costs it does have.
Costanza wishes the city would have focused more on creating space for community services, like the Boys & Girls Clubs.
“I’m not against change, but they’re not paying the same costs,” he said.
City Community Services Director Steve Hardesty stated in an email that he hasn’t heard any feedback from the center’s patrons about drawing business away from local fitness clubs.
The center’s membership fees were set after studying the fees charged by other recreation centers in cities such as Apache Junction, Maricopa, Flagstaff, Mesa and Chandler that offer similar programming, he said.
He also pointed out that the center offers more than fitness classes and equipment.
“Some of the family-oriented events we have planned or recently hosted at the recreation center include an ice cream social with crafts, Movie on the Lawn series, Senior Expo, Holiday Crafts with Santa, Zumba Party, family olympics, creative arts for people with special needs, ballet, senior chair yoga, nutrition classes, open pickleball, the Fun Van, organizational skill course and many more,” he said.
Costanza said he has passed his concerns on to the Casa Grande mayor and in the meantime, he is looking at new ways to continue to attract new members to his club.