At the same time a building-permit item was unexpectedly pulled from the agenda of the Aug. 8 Nogales City Council meeting, the man who sought the permit, 75-year-old Alfredo Puchi, Jr., found himself sitting in the county jail.
The item was listed on the meeting agenda as an application for a special permit to build a cemetery and crematorium at 1060 W. Mariposa Ranch Road. The property, west of Nogales High School, was once owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson – until Puchi bought it at auction. He later offered in June 2010 to sell it to the city for the development of a new cemetery.
Halfway through the Aug. 8 meeting, Mayor Arturo Garino announced that the item was being pulled, but did not provide an explanation. Afterward, City Attorney Jose Machado told the NI that the city was no longer certain that Puchi owned the land.
"We've received information which leads us to believe that there may be a problem with the property involved in this application and until that is clarified we decided to pull the matter from consideration," Machado said.
The owner of the property was listed as Alfredo Puchi, Jr., but the information the city received put that in question, he said.
Puchi was unable to attend the city council meeting because he began a 30-day jail sentence on Aug. 2, charged with contempt of court for "failure to comply with the Court's order regarding his failure to execute deeds to the properties to Robert F. Kuhn and Donald E. Gabriel as ordered by the Court's ruling of November 2011," according to court documents.
According to Machado, the information that the city received came in the form of two Superior Court judgments against Puchi. "Basically, these are money judgments against Mr. Puchi," he said.
One of the judgments, dated March 6, 2012 and signed by Judge Anna Montoya-Paez, awarded $102,999 in lawyer's fees to Robert Kuhn, of the Law Office of Robert F. Kuhn, P.L.L.C. in Tucson, and an additional $68,840 to Donald E. Gabriel, a lawyer from the same firm.
The other judgment casts doubt on whether Puchi owns the property for which he is trying to get a permit. That judgment, dated Aug. 2, 2012, the same day that Puchi was put in jail, ordered Puchi Properties Inc. and Mariposa Enterprises, Inc. to transfer ownership of one property to Robert F. Kuhn, PLLC and another property to Donald E. Gabriel.
"This other judgment actually conveys property from Puchi's enterprises to someone else. We're just not sure if that property being conveyed pursuant to these judgments is this property or a portion of this property, or how it affects it at this point," said Machado.
In addition, the judgment granted a $30,000 sanction against Puchi's companies, as well as $3,500 for the survey of the land, $345 for expert witness fees, and $5,262 for escrow and title costs.
According to Kuhn, the problem arose when Puchi tried to use part of the property as a parking space for the planned cemetery. "The owners of that land wouldn't be able to develop their other lands the way they intended," he said.
A prolonged court dispute ensued, culminating with Puchi being put in jail.
Puchi spoke with the NI, via a video-visitation system, at the county jail. He said that he felt that he shouldn't have been put in jail because of a property dispute. "This is not a criminal offense," he said.
After being sentenced to 30 days in jail, he had asked the judge to allow him to serve his time on the weekends so that he could work during the week, which also would have let him attend City Council meetings, but his motion was denied, he said.
He also objected to the $30,000 fine levied against him. "That's equivalent to two years' pay for most people here," he said.
Once released from jail, Puchi said, he plans to attend next month's City Council meeting and see about getting the special permit.