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Domestic violence assault yields probation

One man’s violent assault yielded a sentence of 18 months probation and 15 days in jail, despite the tearful dissent of his victim during an April 1 hearing in Judge Tim Wright’s Payson courtroom.

Vann Milton Gutier, 30, took a misdemeanor plea deal and admitted to aggravated assault with the victim bound/restrained and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Gutier, dressed in a dark suit, admitted to strangling and beating his girlfriend on Oct. 29 in Rim Country while the two were visiting from the Phoenix area.

The victim — a Phoenix lawyer — pleaded tearfully for a longer sentence.

She said Gutier not only beat, strangled and smothered her, he raped her. In ensuing months, she said he threatened to rape her twin daughters, have her killed and ruin her career. She said Gutier also stalked her.

The victim said she wasn’t consulted about the plea deal, has lived in fear since the assault and has suffered financial losses as a result.

After hearing from her, Wright added 10 days of jail time on top of the five Gutier had already completed to the recommended 18 months of probation.

“I am going to impose a term of jail,” said Wright.

The victim said prosecutors had withheld the plea deal. When she finally saw the terms, many of the paragraphs were blacked out.

“I’ve been a lawyer for 17 years in June,” the victim told the court. “This is what I protect people from ... if you advocate for victims, you’ll never know what it’s like to be one, until you are. It’s repulsive.”

She said the “response from the prosecutor’s office (followed by) the response of the judicial system, it’s almost been as bad.”

The victim asked for restitution of $10,000 for the work she has missed because of her injuries and while the case has gone on.

Defense attorney Michael Bernays called her testimony “just another example of her historic exaggeration of things that happened — and trying to make it sound worse than it is.”

During the sentencing, Gutier said he met the victim through an online dating website.

Gutier said that the victim intrigued him because “from the day we met, she told me she was a trial lawyer for family law” and he was going to court over the custody of his daughter, according to a pre-sentence report.

He also didn’t dispute her claim that he’d beaten her, drawing blood and leaving bruises.

“Defendant admitted to his conduct in the charged offense,” according to the probation report.

But no victim statement accompanied Gutier’s admittance of guilt.

“Unfortunately, victim input was not received at the time of the filing of this report,” said the probation department. However, authorities agreed the victim could add a supplemental report.

And she did.

The additional report included graphic text messages between the two. There were quotes from Gutier full of sexually explicit, threatening and demeaning language.

“I let my daddy put audio recording devices in my house,” reads one text message. “My family wants me to go to the State Bar Monday and file a complaint against you.”

The victim also included pictures of the bruises on her neck and face.

Her two-page victim statement stated Gutier had threatened friends of the victim when they came to her house to make sure she was safe.

She claimed he had assaulted a friend of hers and previous girlfriends, but provided no evidence to support her claim. It’s unclear whether court officials made any attempt to investigate the claims before sentencing.

In court, Gutier focused on his custody battle for his 3-year-old daughter with his estranged girlfriend as the reason he would like to put this whole matter behind him.

“The most important person in my life is my little girl (name redacted) ... I can’t see past my daughter right now ... I want to apologize to the court for my actions ... I do not want any more relationship with (the victim) ... I would prefer to just go on with our lives.”

In the pre-sentence report, Gutier claimed he and the victim struck a deal; Gutier would work around the victim’s house to pay for the legal work she did for him as he was unemployed at the time. The victim’s statement supported that assertion.

“I am currently going through a custody trial with (my daughter’s) mother,” he said. “Pleading guilty to this puts a significant dent on my custody case with my daughter and my relationship with my daughter.”

Gutier has a criminal history in Maricopa County, according to online court records.

In 2008, he pleaded guilty to theft and then violated his probation. In 2011, he pleaded guilty in two separate cases, one a DUI case, the other a drug paraphernalia case.

Despite Gutier’s record, when it came time for Wright and Bernays to negotiate Gutier’s jail term, the court offered Gutier numerous options.

“Mr. Bernays would you like me to break up the sentence into two five days or the whole 10 days at once?” asked Wright.

The two agreed Gutier would split the 10 days in jail in two.

“... that would give him a chance to manage his new job situation that he has trepidations about losing,” said Bernays.

The court also gave Gutier the option of picking the start dates of his jail time.

The victim expressed outrage at the handling of the case. “He threatened me and tried to sully my reputation professionally,” she said. “He told me the first time he was going to kill me — and he’s told me several times since that he’s waiting. He said he’s going to have a hit put out on me from jail ... Every night when he gets off work, I have to stay in my house because I am afraid. I shouldn’t have to be afraid.”

Salt River rafting trip a great adventure

“Three forward,” Hayden Kilgore shouted to the eight of us over the roar of the rapids in the Mild to Wild raft.

The guide on our rafting trip down the Salt River promised this early section of the river offered a preview of the Class IV rapids to come.

Everyone took several quick strokes forward with their plastic oars, which I held tightly as I pensively looked around the bend for what was coming.

We had practiced this. I was ready.

I managed to finish the first two strokes.

Then on the third something stopped me.

The front of the raft.

The raft dipped and plunged then soared skyward with such force that I felt like a rodeo cowboy attempting to ride Bushwacker and winding up face down in the dirt.

Only there was no dirt here.

Just rushing water.

I wound up in the middle of the raft.

A bit embarrassed, and a whole lot more wet, I collected myself and scooted back to my post on the front of the raft and shared a laugh with my mates.

I was clearly the oldest in our group. There was a Chandler pastor and his two teenage sons on their first rafting adventure and a Scottsdale doctor, nurse and their 12- and 8-year-old daughters on their first Arizona rafting excursion after four Colorado whitewater trips.

Maytag Rapids, named because it does indeed throw and spin you around like you’re inside both a washing machine and dryer at the same time, let me know very quickly that staying in my seat would be a big challenge. It’s one of about a dozen rapids on the trip down the Salt River.

Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours is one of four rafting companies offering guided trips on the river. They also offer half-day and multiple-day trips on the river that runs to Roosevelt Lake.

I worried I would be the only person in our crew to go swimming on our day-long 10-mile rafting trip through Arizona’s Salt River Canyon. But I didn’t.

I chose a position in front of the raft to get the best possible view of what was coming. And what a view it was as we passed spring flowers and eagle nesting sites in the sides of sheer cliff walls.

And I couldn’t have picked a better time.

The heavy snow Arizona received over the winter has made for some of the best whitewater rafting in recent memory.

The river is higher than it’s been in years and business is booming for rafting companies on the Salt River.

You must get a permit to take a private trip down the river. You don’t need a permit if you schedule a guided trip like I did. You have until mid-May this year to make the trip, but need to schedule it early to guarantee a seat.

On the day I went the flow was almost 3,000 cubic feet per second, well above the normal flow rate.

Weekdays are slower than weekends, but that wasn’t the case on the Monday I went during the final week of spring training baseball. It was also the final day of spring break vacation for many schools in the state.

“Business is good,” said one Mild to Wild employee. “It’s all hands on deck for three or four weeks during spring break. They’ll send some guides down from Durango if it gets real busy.”

The season lasts from February through April or mid-May, depending on the flow. This year the season should run well into May.

“Sometimes we close in April if it’s not a good snowpack,” one guide said. ”At some point, the river just gets too low to go rafting. It’s basically a spring season. We’re just riding on that runoff.”

The river was brown, heavy with silt from the snowmelt. One veteran guide predicted the rapids would remain strong throughout April, but that the river would begin to clear.

“It’ll still be a good flow with a spectacular view of all the rocks in the river,” said Joe Spillyards on the bus ride back to our vehicles.

My full-day trip consisted of arriving by 10 a.m. in the parking lot just north of the Salt River Canyon Bridge on U.S. Route 60 and arriving back at my car at about 4 p.m.

After about 20 minutes of instruction on how to sit in the raft, paddle, not to fall into the river and what to do if you do fall in, we were off.

Durango, Colo.-based Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours offers rafting trips in Colorado throughout the summer months. Most of the guides on the Salt River head back to Durango at the end of the Arizona season for the summer season there.

Raft guides hold wilderness first responder certifications and are swift water rescue technicians. They’re also pretty good cooks, as we found out when we stopped for a grilled steak lunch about halfway into our 10-mile trip. You spend about 90 minutes on the river on the first half of the trip.

The second half of the trip was quicker and featured more Class IV rapids.

My favorite came just after we headed back out on the river after lunch — Exhibition Rapids. Once again I was knocked back into the raft and soaked even more. But this time, I was not alone. The raft spun in the churning water, thrilling everyone. It left us all smiling and laughing.

I was back in my Jeep Cherokee by about 4 p.m., six hours after arriving for instructions and picking up my wet suit, wet shoes, helmet, optional jacket and personal flotation device.

I recommend bringing a towel and dry change of clothes — and an adventurous nature.

I certainly wouldn’t have lasted the required eight seconds on a bull to record a score, but I did manage to hang on and stay in the raft for the entire trip.

This was as much fun as I can ever remember having.

I’ll be back.

And, maybe I’ll finally look into checking that Grand Canyon rafting trip off my bucket list.

This was the perfect experience to give me just a taste of what that might be like.

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Belle McDaniel named to SV council

Belle McDaniel, 29, is Star Valley’s newest council member.

The council selected her from among six residents who sought to fill Gary Coon’s seat after he was named mayor.

Coon became mayor after Ronnie McDaniel died. Ronnie was Belle’s grandfather.

Payson Justice of the Peace Dorothy Little will swear Belle into office at the town’s April 16 meeting.

“I love this town and feel extremely blessed to get to live here,” she wrote the council in her letter of interest.

“I am a hard working, team-oriented individual who is prepared for the challenges associated with solving issues and helping keep a town operating smoothly and efficiently ... I value leadership, teamwork, honesty and ethics,” she said. “My strong desire to contribute to the success of Star Valley and continue the legacy of dedication that my grandfather had for this town will help me to accomplish my goals.”

Also seeking the appointment were Dennis Dueker, Ted Durst, Vern Leis, Irving “Scott” Popke and Pat Woolsey.

The hopefuls introduced themselves to the council and said why they wanted a seat at the table.

Dueker has lived in the area for six years and runs Dueker Ranch and manages the Payson Airport.

He grew up in Mesa and spent several years in Southern California. He said he wanted to make sure Star Valley has controlled and planned growth and kept water a priority.

Durst has owned property in Star Valley for more than 20 years and has made his home in the community since 2003.

He said his concern is that so many people don’t realize Star Valley is actually a town, not just a pass through with a gas station. He said he’d like to see Star Valley actually recognized as a town by visitors.

Leis is a former member of the Star Valley Town Council.

He said he helped the town accomplish some of its best work — the community park and the community garden. He offered to help the council continue its efforts to providing what’s best for residents while remaining financially secure.

Popke ran in the last council election and received 17 percent of the vote. He has made his home in the community for 12 years.

He said he liked the town’s slower pace and the fact that people actually know their neighbors.

Woolsey has lived in Star Valley since 1985. She said she felt growth would benefit the town, but that it should take place in such a way that Star Valley stays a safe and happy community.

After their comments, the council expressed appreciation that so many residents wanted to serve.

Councilor George Binney said Belle had his vote. He said he had spoken to several people and all expressed their support for her.

When Coon called for nominations, Councilor Bobby Davis nominated Popke, but only two of the councilors cast their votes for him — Davis and Andy McKinney. Councilor Ray Armington nominated Pat Woolsey, but Armington’s was the only vote in support of her.

McKinney nominated Belle and the vote was unanimous.

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APS finally discloses massive political spending

Under new pressure by the Arizona Corporation Commission, Arizona Public Service this week confirmed it spent $10.7 million in 2014 to elect members of the commission and other statewide offices.

The ACC has been resisting Commissioner Bob Burns’ effort to reveal the information for years.

Democrat Sandra Kennedy was elected in 2018 on a platform calling for APS to reveal its campaign spending, until now hidden behind a network of unrevealed groups.

Republican Boyd Dunn joined Kennedy and Burns in forcing the disclosure. The two Republicans who benefited from the 2014 spending — Doug Little and Tom Forese — are no longer on the commission.

APS released 300 pages of documents detailing its political spending, hoping to put an end to years of criticism.

The private utility with 2.7 million customers in 11 Arizona counties said it decided to comply with Kennedy’s subpoena and disclose information beyond what’s required by the law. It has previously resisted Commissioner Burns subpoena, which was not backed by a majority of the five-member commission.

“The commissioners have asked us to provide information that goes beyond what current law requires. Today, we are voluntarily providing that information with the hope of putting the past behind us, so that together we can turn our full attention to serving customers with clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power Arizona’s future,” said APS Vice President of Regulation Barbara Lockwood in a letter from the company released with the trove of documents.

The law allows corporations to spend as much as they like without disclosure, so long as they set up a “social welfare” front group, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. So-called “dark money” expenditures now dominate most state and many federal races. The $10.7 million APS spent dwarfed all other spending on the Corporation Commission race.

APS parent company Pinnacle West has previously disclosed spending $4.2 million on the 2016 election.

The company didn’t spend much on candidates in the 2018 election. However, Pinnacle West spent $38 million to defeat Proposition 127, which would have required the state’s utilities to by 2030 get half their energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.

A group funded by a California billionaire spent at least $23.2 million on behalf of the measure and Pinnacle West provided $38 million of the $40 million spent to defeat it. A citizens group is making another effort to put on the ballot a measure that would require corporations and special interest groups to disclose their political spending.

The group had gathered enough signatures before the last election to get the measure on the ballot, but a judge threw out a large number of the petitions on technical grounds.

APS officials said all of the spending went through the parent company, Pinnacle West. The company said it did not include the expenditures in its operating costs, on which its rates are based.

Commissioner Burns had originally sought the disclosures to ensure the money spent on lobbying and campaigns wasn’t included in the budget base used to calculate the rate increase.

The company also disclosed its marketing and lobbying costs. It spends between $350,000 and $700,000 annually to lobby the Arizona Legislature. APS and Pinnacle West combined also spend between $8 million and $14 million annually since 2013 on marketing.

This presumably includes ads in local newspapers, including the Roundup. For instance, APS was a primary sponsor of an eight-part series on wildfires produced by the Roundup and the White Mountain Independent.

The company also disclosed its contributions to charity, which total about $10 million to $13 million annually.

After the 2016 election, the Corporation Commission was dominated by members who benefited from the spending who approved a rate increase and a complicated new rate structure. A group of customers is currently seeking to roll back the rate increase on the grounds the promised 4.5 percent average has turned out to be far higher for many customers due to the new rules on the time of day customers use electricity.

The disclosures listed the front groups APS/Pinnacle West used to disguise the political spending, including the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, Save our Future Now, the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association and others.

The 2014 spending including $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association to support the election of Gov. Doug Ducey and $425,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association to support the election of Mark Brnovich.

APS and Pinnacle West were also facing scrutiny from the United States Attorney’s Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning former commissioner Gary Pierce. The company apparently made political contributions to help Pierce’s son, Justin, in his unsuccessful run for Arizona secretary of state. Pierce was also accused of taking money from a water company for a favorable ruling through a contract paid to his wife. Pierce and the water company went to trial, but the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. The Arizona Capitol Times this week reported the contents of grand jury subpoenas related to those issues, but APS officials said those documents were actually released several years ago.

Since 2014, APS has agreed to disclose its spending — but not until after the election at hand. Candidates must disclose donations as they come in, with several reporting dates before the election.

Lockwood wrote, “APS is providing this information today voluntarily in the spirit of putting behind us any further debate regarding political spending, and with the hope that we can focus on the future to further the energy and economic goals of the state. We look forward to working with the Arizona Corporation Commission and each on the important energy policy matters before us.”