Authors Articles byMason Callejas

Mason Callejas

Mason Callejas
407 Articles 1 COMMENTS

Michael and Tina Careccia lived in Thunderbird Farms south of Maricopa before the were killed in June 2015. The trial of Jose Valenzuela has yet to begin.

After more than two years, a Maricopa double-murder case is set to go to trial in 2018. Jose Ignacio Valenzuela Jr., 40, who lived on Papago Road in the Thunderbird Farms area, is accused of killing two of his neighbors – Tina and Michael Careccia.

The husband and wife were found shot to death and buried on Valenzuela’s property. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  The trial date of Jan. 23 was vacated in December, and Valenzuela’s next hearing date is set for Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. for a status review or a trial setting.

A timeline based on law enforcement and court records

June 21, 2015: Father’s Day, the Careccias held a family gathering, which Valenzuela attended. The couple was last seen by family members around 9 p.m. Michael Careccia’s phone made several calls to Valenzuela between 9 and 11 p.m.

June 22, 2015: The Careccias did not show up for work. A family member filed a missing person’s report with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office at 7:16 p.m., and the search for Tina, 42, and Michael, 44, began. The Carreccias’ car was found on North Ralston Road at 10:09 p.m. Blood traces, later determined to be Michael Careccia’s, were found inside the vehicle.

In subsequent days, investigators and volunteers combed the area near their home on Mayer Boulevard in the unincorporated community of Thunderbird Farms, roughly three miles south of Maricopa. Valenzuela was initially questioned by investigators about the June 21 phone calls. PCSO also questioned Valenzuela’s roommate, Felix Nuñez.

June 24, 2015: A $3,000 reward is offered for information about the missing couple. The case began to draw statewide and national media interest.

June 30, 2015: After being tight-lipped about the search, PCSO announced the department’s belief that foul play was involved.

July 1, 2015: Valenzuela was formally questioned as a “person of interest.” At 3 p.m., Careccia family members held a press conference. At 3:15 p.m., a search warrant was served on Valenzuela’s property at 50669 W. Papapgo Road, two blocks north of the Careccias’ home, and a .22 revolver was recovered from the house. PCSO forensic teams began digging in the yard.

July 2, 2015: At around 2 a.m., the bodies of Tina and Michael Careccia were found buried in a six-foot grave next to the house. Valenzuela was arrested.

July 8, 2015: Formal charges of two counts of first-degree murder were filed against Valenzuela after a grand jury indictment. Public Defender James Mannato became Valenzuela’s attorney. Local attorney Kent Volkmer was appointed guardian of Valenzuela’s son.

July 17, 2015: Valenzuela pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense. His bond was set at $2 million.

Aug. 28, 2015: A report by the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office found the Careccias both died from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner’s report also indicated the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamines and alcohol.

Jan. 15, 2016: The state filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

March 7, 2016: The case was remanded to a grand jury when it was determined certain information presented to the first grand jury was not submitted into evidence.

April 6, 2016: A second indictment was handed down.

May 25, 2016: The state again filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

July 29, 2016: A trial date of Jan. 23, 2018, was set for Valenzuela.

Aug. 30, 2016: Volkmer defeated County Attorney Lando Voyles in the Republican primary election. He was unopposed in the general election.

Jan. 3, 2017: Volkmer was sworn into office and subsequently recused himself and PCAO from the prosecution of the case.

Feb. 27, 2017: Navajo County attorney Gary Husk was appointed by the state to be special prosecutor.

Dec. 21, 2017: After a settlement conference, Judge Kevin White vacated the trial date and set a new hearing for Jan. 31.

Jonah Honie

A man was arrested Dec. 29 on multiple charges related to drug possession and driving with an open container of alcohol after an officer stopped the man for allegedly flicking a cigarette butt out of the window of a vehicle he was driving.

Maricopa Police arrested Jonah Lewis Honie, 22, Friday night after an officer investigating the alleged littering incident found an open container of alcohol in the suspect’s vehicle and methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia on his person.

At around 11 p.m. the officer spotted Honie allegedly toss the butt in the area of John Wayne Parkway and Rancho El Dorado, the report says.

During the traffic stop, the officer noticed an open bottle of Southern Comfort on the floorboard of the back seat. The bottle was allegedly within reach of the driver, prompting Honie’s arrest, the report says.

During a search, a small “jewelry box” containing nine “small individually wrapped plastic ziploc [sic] style bags,” containing a substance later positively identified as methamphetamine, was allegedly found in Honie’s front pocket.

A small digital scale with white and brown residue was also allegedly found in Honie’s back pocket.

During a post-Miranda interview, Honie allegedly admitted “he intended to sell the baggies of methamphetamine to provide for his four children.”

He was booked into Pinal County Jail and later released.

In all, he was charged with littering, possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, possession of a dangerous drug for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia.

If convicted Honie could face up to five years in prison. 

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Late afternoon on State Route 347. Photo by Mason Callejas

Mostly calm and slightly cloudy winter skies mean moderately cool temperatures this weekend for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. With highs in the low 70s, lows hanging around 50 and winds staying below 10 mph, it could be a good weekend for a winter hike.

Today looks to be sunny and mostly clear and calm with a high around 72 and a low near 46.

Friday will likely be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 72 and a low near 48.

Saturday should be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 72 and low near 49.

Sunday look to be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 50.

Monday will likely be mostly cloudy and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 51.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

As Maricopa firefighters check Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church for fire, MPD prepares a drone to fly over the building to look for smoke or flames. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Police Department used one of its newest bits of technology to assist the fire department in investigating a small fire at a church Tuesday.

First responders received reports of a small fire at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church around 9 a.m. Tuesday and were on scene within minutes.

MFMD on scene to contain the fire at the church. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Fire/Medical fire investigator Jason Nelson said firefighters were able to keep the blaze contained to a small closet. MPD spokesperson Ricardo Alvarado said the department deployed their drone in an attempt to help locate possible hotspots or areas where fire may be hidden from sight.

The drone, equipped with a state of the art forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR) system, flew over the building for more than half an hour using both its FLIR camera and full-spectrum camera to look for any latent fire.

Alvarado said the drone did not detect any areas of possible concern, indicating the fire was likely contained. The church’s sprinkler system was effective in stopping the spread of any flames.

Church secretary Patti Coutre said via social media, there was “no major damage, however church will remain closed until the insurance releases it and it is cleaned up.”

A woman did receive minor burns to her hands as a result of the fire, Nelson said. However, since the injuries weren’t considered serious, she chose to seek medical attention on her own.

Nelson said the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation.


MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

88 pounds of marijuana seized

Jorge Gonzalez is accused of trying to smuggle marijuana. PCSO photos

Pinal County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man near Stanfield Wednesday morning on charges of smuggling roughly 88 pounds of marijuana.

Jorge Gonzalez, 32, was arrested around 6:30 a.m. on a stretch of Highway 84 between State Route 347 and Interstate 8 after deputies attempted to stop the vehicle he was in for moving violations.

PCSO spokesperson Navideh Forgahni said deputies attempted to stop the green Ford pick-up truck after it was spotted speeding and rolling through a stop sign in the area.

As the truck pulled over, Forgahni said, six passengers, including the driver, fled into the desert.

Deputies found Gonzalez hiding under a large sheet of plywood in the bed of the truck alongside several bails of marijuana.

Customs and Border Patrol later found and arrested two of the six individuals who fled, Forgahni said.

CBP did not immediately provide the identities of those arrested.

All who fled were wearing camouflage, she said, “which is an indication of human and drug smuggling.”

Earlier this month PCSO recovered 150 pounds of marijuana in a similar traffic stop where five individuals immediately fled from the scene.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb addressed the issue in a video uploaded to social media Dec. 21, saying how, as a result of the cooler weather, this kind of crime seems to be on the rise.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spearheaded a county-wide drunk driving task force Dec. 14-17 resulting in more than 30 DUI arrests, and another 16 for various other crimes.

PCSO deputies and law enforcement from other agencies made a total of 266 contacts with drivers during the four-day period, which resulted in 14 misdemeanor DUI arrests, nine drug-related DUI arrests, two aggravated DUI arrests and one extreme DUI arrest.

These numbers indicate during the time of the taskforce, an average of 1 in 9 Pinal County drivers is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

On Dec. 15 PCSO made more than 45 contacts in Maricopa alone.

The task force also issued 39 citations county-wide for various traffic infractions and other crimes.

Law enforcement agencies all across the valley tend to increase DUI enforcement around the holidays. However, regardless of the time of year, encourages all who drink to drink responsibly and to never get behind the wheel.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Ched Bayles

A man and woman were arrested for shoplifting Saturday, just days after the man was arrested for allegedly assaulting and stealing from the same woman.

Ched Bayles, 28, and April Rarrick were arrested Dec. 16 for reportedly stealing multiple items from Fry’s grocery store, including a case of beer.

According to Maricopa Police Department reports, at around 8:50 p.m. Bayles, Rarrick and a third party, identified as Duane Antone, allegedly attempted to drive an electric shopping cart containing multiple items out of the store without paying.

The trio abandoned the cart in the parking lot and fled when an off-duty police officer attempted to stop them, according to the report.

Security camera footage allegedly shows Bayles grabbing a case of beer from the basket as he fled. Few minutes later, another off-duty officer saw Bayles riding a bike while holding the case of beer. Unaware of the incident, the officer did not attempt to contact Bayles.

Contact was eventually made with Bayles roughly half an hour later, though he was not in possession of the beer at the time, the report said. He was searched “incident to arrest” and was found to have other items in his backpack allegedly taken from Fry’s.

Rarrick was arrested around 9:15 p.m. when contact was made with her during what the report says was an “unrelated incident.”

Both were charged with theft and booked into Pinal County Jail.

Antone was not located at the time of the report. It is likely a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

Less than a week prior to this incident, on Dec. 11, Bayles was arrested when Rarrick called police to report he had allegedly slashed the tires of her bike and stole several items from her after grabbing her violently and sitting on her chest. As a result of that incident, Bayles was charged with assault, theft and criminal damage.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

In the past five months, Pinal County has experienced an over-twofold elevation in the number of gonorrhea infections, compared to the prior five-year average.

Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise across the country, according to new data published by Pinal County Health Services. The city of Maricopa and its surrounding communities are no exception.

In a Dec.13 presentation to the Pinal County Board of Supervisors, Director of Pinal County Public Health Services District Dr. Shauna McIsaac said, despite certain sexually transmitted diseases reaching their lowest historical rate in the late 20th century, certain STIs have been on the rise in recent years.

“Although 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates were at historic lows, and syphilis was close to elimination, rates of sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. have now increased three years in a row,” McIsaac said.

Pinal County Public Health Services District


In 2017 alone, from January through September, Pinal County has seen an average of more than three new cases of syphilis per month, whereas the previous five years saw an average of less than one new case of syphilis per month.

Likewise, on average, 20-30 Pinal County patients tested positive for gonorrhea in the previous five years. In 2017 that average has jumped to nearly 40 patients testing positive per month.

The cause of this influx is difficult to precisely determine, Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Section Manager Graham Briggs said. However, he added, what is clear is the demographic where these spikes are being seen – young people and men who have sex with other men, also known as MSM.

People in those demographics tend to be those individuals engaged in riskier sexual behavior, Briggs said. This has little or nothing to do with their sexuality, he said, and instead had more to do with their reported behavior, such as repeated unprotected sex with multiple partners.

“In Pinal County, while we’re seeing an increase, we don’t know if it’s just because of an increase in MSM. We’re looking at the heterosexual couple being exposed,” Briggs said.

Pinal County has also seen a recent case of syphilis in a pregnant female, Briggs said, which can pose a danger to the child, as the STI can be passed congenitally.

At any rate, according to the Center for Disease Control, Americans ages 15-24, while only accounting for 27 percent of the sexually active population, account for 50 percent of known sexually transmitted infections.

Aside from unprotected sex with multiple partners, the CDC says this increased rate in that demographic is likely caused by any combination of factors, including biology, confidentiality concerns, insufficient screenings and lack of access to healthcare.

Biologically speaking, the CDC says young women are simply more susceptible to certain health issues, including most STIs. Additionally, young people don’t often receive CDC recommended screenings for STIs like chlamydia, nor do they disclose “risk behaviors” to their physicians.

The CDC also expresses concern that most young people either lack insurance or the transportation to access preventive services provided by local health departments and Planned Parenthood.

Factors such as these increase the degree of danger associated with the less-forgiving STIs such as syphilis, which, Briggs said, can cause irreversible harm if not treated during the initial stages of infection.

“We are really good at killing syphilis bacteria,” Briggs said. “What we’re not so good at is identifying infections early in people that don’t seek medical care.”

One telltale sign of syphilis infection sometimes over looked, Briggs said, is palmar-plantar rash – reddish, swollen spots that occur in the palms and bottoms of the feet.

When caught early, syphilis and gonorrhea are easily treated with penicillin and antibiotics, respectively.

The appearance of a new antibiotic-resistant form of gonorrhea, however, also has Briggs and other officials concerned.

The CDC says there are nearly 820,000 new gonorrhea infections a year in the United States, making the prospect of a drug-resistant form of the STI all the more disheartening.

To combat STIs, the CDC suggests, multiple courses of action.

First, officials suggest abstaining from sexual activity. Second, those who engage in sexual activity, are encouraged to use protection, especially condoms, and keep their number of sexual partners to a minimum. Third, the CDC recommends biannual medical exams, which include STI screenings, and communication with sexual partners to encourage them to also receive regular screenings.

Maricopa residents can obtain low- or no-cost screening and prevention at the Maricopa office of Pinal County Health Services, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road, Suite 15, near the Maricopa Public Library.

For a full list of Pinal County Health Department location, visit their website.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

As Hanukkah comes to an end and with Christmas and Kwanzaa just around the corner, Maricopa is in store for cool, though not likely white, holidays, according to the National Weather Service.

With mostly clear skies, a light breeze, highs in the mid to upper-60s and lows dipping down into the 30s, the air should be great for those last-minute holiday gift excursions.

Today looks to be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 64 and an overnight low near 48.

Tuesday will likely also be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 66 and a low near 48.

Wednesday should be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 69 and a low near 47.

Thursday looks to be sunny and mostly clear with a light breeze gusting up to 15 mph, a high temperature around 58 and a low near 38.

Friday will likely be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 57 and low near 38.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Work crews with the Maricopa Flood Control District will be working in the Santa Rosa Wash next week to remove overgrowth and mitigate possible flood inducing obstructions in the washes.

Starting Monday, the MFCD will neutralize and remove the invasive salt cedar from a stretch of the Santa Rosa Wash located between Honeycutt and Smith-Enke roads, according to District Manager David Alley.

The salt cedar, when left unchecked, grows rapidly and can produced thick brush that can impede the flow of water in channels and washes. During the monsoon season, this means an increased chance of flooding.

To eliminate the salt cedar, crews will first spray herbicide on the plants. Once the chemical has worked its magic, they will remove the bushy stalks and root masses.

The exceptionally thirsty salt cedar was first introduced to the area as a form of erosion control in the early 1900s and quickly took over the barren landscape of the southwest, often killing off other plant species as it sucked up what little ground water they would compete for.

This is an ongoing battle for the MFCD which maintains most of the washes and floodplain around the city of Maricopa.

Ched Bayles

A Maricopa man was arrested Monday on assault charges stemming from a strange incident of alleged domestic violence where the man reportedly slashed the victims bicycle tires after pushing her to the ground and threatening her.

Ched Bayles, 28, attempted to evade police after the incident that occurred in the early morning hours of Dec. 11.

According to a Maricopa Police Department report, around 12:30 a.m. Bayles and the victim, later identified as his girlfriend, were walking with their bikes near John Wayne Parkway and Alterra Parkway when Bayles allegedly “began acting strange” and aggressively grabbed her, causing them both to fall.

Bayles then proceeded to kneel on the victim’s chest, restricting her breathing while allegedly saying “I could just hit you in the face,” according to the report.

The victim said Bayles eventually stood up and, using a camouflage folding knife, allegedly slashed the tires on both bikes.

Bayles then fled the scene prior to MPD’s arrival.

Roughly two hours later, around 2:45 a.m. Bayles was spotted in the area and, when approached by officers, attempted to flee on foot. After a short chase, Bayles was successfully arrested and booked into Pinal County Jail, charged with assault, theft and criminal damage.

Along with one of the bikes, Bayles is also accused of stealing a flashlight from his girlfriend.

The combined value of the damaged and stolen items totals around $1,175.

Bayles has an extensive history of petty crimes including shoplifting, drug and alcohol related charges and a litany of traffic citations.

If convicted, Bayles faces more than a year in jail.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

With sparse cloud cover and calm skies, Maricopa will likely again see a relatively cool weekend, according to the National Weather Service. With barely breaching the low-70s and lows hanging in the upper-30s, a light jacket or sweater could be called for this weekend if you plan to get out of the house. And while there will be partly cloudy skies on and off through out the weekend, there is zero predicted precipitation.

Today is forecast to be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 71 and an overnight low near 40.

Friday will likely be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 70 and a low near 38.

Saturday should be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 69 and a low near 40.

Sunday looks to be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 66 and a low near 38.

Monday will likely be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 65 and a low near 39.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

It looks like another cool and calm week for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. With zero percent chance of precipitation, highs in the mid-70s and lows in the upper 40s, Arizona autumn looks to be in full force this week.

Today looks to be partly sunny and clear with a high around 74 and a low near 48.

Tuesday will likely be sunny and clear with a high around 76 and a low near 49.

Wednesday should also be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 76 and a low near 48.

Thursday again looks to be sunny and clear with a high around 73 and a low near 50.

Friday will likely be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 73 and a low near 49.

Law enforcement officials are seeking information that may lead to the arrest of a suspect in a carjacking in Maricopa Tuesday night.

Maricopa Police Department spokesperson Ricardo Alvarado said the incident took place near the Tacos ‘N’ More on John Wayne Parkway.

According to the report, a woman was sitting in her car near the restaurant around 7:30 p.m. when the suspect approached wearing a Halloween mask and brandishing a handgun.

The suspect, who the woman believed to be male, then demanded her vehicle and forced her from it, Alvarado said. No injuries were reported.

The car, a gray 2016 Kia sport utility vehicle, was last seen heading north on State Route 347 and has not been located since. Investigators are following all possible leads, including surveillance footage from surrounding businesses, Alvarado said.

MPD asks anyone with information on the whereabouts of the suspect or the vehicle to contact them on their non-emergency line at 520-568-3673, or to use the MPD smartphone app or website to file an anonymous tip.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

A windy start to the weekend will likely keep things cool even after the winds die down, according to the National Weather Service. With winds gusting as high as 30 mph on Thursday and then calming on Friday, Maricopa could see temperatures as low as the mid-30s and as high as the mid-70 later in the weekend. Zero percent chance of rain is predicted.

Today looks to be sunny, clear and breezy with winds gusting 20-30 mph, a high around 62. The overnight low is expected to be near 34.

Friday will likely be sunny, mostly clear and calm with a high around 62 and a low near 37.

Saturday should be sunny, partly cloudy and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 45.

Sunday looks to be mostly sunny, clear and calm with a high around 74 and a low near 46.

Monday will likely also be mostly sunny, clear and calm with a high around 74 and a low near 46.

by -
Peggy Chapados was selected the vice mayor on the recommendation of Councilmember Marvin Brown, her predecessor in the seat. Photo by Mason Callejas

A changing of the guard took place within the Maricopa City Council Tuesday during the annual selection of the vice mayor.

The now former vice mayor, Marvin Brown, stepped aside during the council’s regular meeting while simultaneously nominating Councilmember Peggy Chapados to fill the position. She becomes the first female vice mayor of Maricopa.

During the meeting, Brown said he took pleasure in nominating someone whom seven years ago he himself appointed to the Parks, Recreation and Libraries board and now serves as “a trusted colleague” on council.

A native New Yorker who moved to Maricopa in 2006, Chapados said she is honored to have been nominated and to have the confidence of her fellow councilmembers.

“I am just excited to continue representing Maricopa as I have been for the past five years,” she said.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Chapados added she doesn’t have any plans of immediately running for another term upon the expiration of her current term in December 2018. However, she said, she may consider running in the future if the conditions are right.

For now, she said, she wants to finish what she’s started.

“I’m still involved in a lot of different committees and projects, so I want to make sure those get completed.”

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Brian French with his son Kyler, whom he adopted through the Department of Child Safety's foster program.

When it comes to giving back to the community, one Maricopa Realtor doesn’t draw a line between his personal and professional lives.

From taking on the role of a foster parent to going above and beyond to help his clients, Brian French of the Maricopa Real Estate Company tries to take a more benevolent approach to life.

“I’ve helped people move, paid for repairs, watched their kids,” French said. “I just want to help.”

It’s about building those friendships and paying it forward to the community, he said.

French, originally from Omaha, Nebraska, has been in Arizona since 2009 and Maricopa since 2010. Around that time, he was certified as a foster parent. After caring for more than a dozen children, French decided to take it one step further.

In 2011, he began to care for a 6-day-old boy who, in his short life, had already been through an incredibly traumatic circumstance. For French, that was when things started to change.

In Arizona, the Department of Child Safety will make every effort to keep a child with their family, giving parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles the chance to step up, French said.

For this young boy, that was not a possibility.

“He didn’t have anybody. [His mother] didn’t even know who the father was,” French said.

He took that as a bit of motivation and decided to adopt the boy he named Kyler. A year later, the adoption was complete, and Kyler was officially his.

French, at the time of the adoption, was married. But that soon ended. After a grueling battle, French retained full custody.

Being an athlete most of his life, French is a motivated individual with a positive mindset. He said he never let the experience hold him back from giving his son the best possible life. He has since stopped fostering, but not for a lack of trying.

“They [DCS] don’t tend to trust single men, I guess,” French said.

That means he gets to focus on Kyler and devote time to another relationship from which they are expecting a child soon. As his family grows, French’s future as a foster parent seems uncertain. But that’s OK, he said.

For now, he has the flexibility to be there for Kyler.

“I take him with me sometimes when I’m doing business or handing out flyers,” French said.

French said there are countless resources for people who want to foster children but feel like money is a factor, and he is willing to help anyone navigate the complexities of the system.

His advice for those interested in taking on a role as a foster parent but are reluctant to do so because of finances or a fear of the complex system is simple: “Don’t be.”

Maricopa residents Deborah and Carlos Weekly said French was helpful as a Realtor and a parent.

Several years ago, when in the process of facilitating the adoption of their grandchildren, Deborah said French helped the family secure a rental property when other realtors wouldn’t lift a finger, she said.

“He was really open to it,” Deborah said. “And, I found out after meeting with him, that that was because he was also a foster parent.”

Deborah and her husband developed such a bond with French they eventually used him when, approaching retirement, they decided to sell their home and downsize.

Not only is he a wealth of information and support when it came to the foster care system, she added, but his smile and positive attitude are something to behold.

“He’s got a really light and wonderful personality,” Deborah said. “When you see him he’s just a smile.”

Now, she said, they consider him and his son to be part of the family.


This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Julia Perugini with husband Charlie and their daughter Sophia with holiday fare in their Maricopa kitchen. Photo by Mason Callejas

When it comes to following your dreams, one Maricopa resident knows sometimes you have to take a chance, and that sometimes, that risk yields great rewards.

Check out Julia Perugini’s recipe for Brazilian carrot cake below.

This month, 34-year-old Julia Perugini will be featured on Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge. As part of the challenge, she will face off with three other cookie makers from across the country, to compete for a $10,000 cash prize.

Online, she has developed a sizable amount of fanfare and demand for her cookies and cakes, shipping most of her stock out of state. Thanks to social media, she has been able to market and sell her tasty treats, and she has caught the eye of several major players in the baking world, including producers at the Food Network.

The Food Network describes the series: “Host Eddie Jackson welcomes five fabulously festive cookie makers into Santa’s workshop. Judges Kimberly Bailey, Damiano Carrara and Ree Drummond are on hand to taste the creations and decide who will leave the North Pole $10,000 richer.”

Perugini’s professional life began far from the kitchen.

“Some people believe you have to pursue a job as a doctor or lawyer, or something professional,” Julia said. “So, that’s what I did.”

A native of Brazil, Julia actually holds a degree in engineering and spent several years working for mineral exploration companies in her home country, including at sites deep inside the Amazon rainforest.

Julia as a young girl in Brazil. Submitted photo

Like the United States, Brazil was hit by the economic recession of 2008, so she took a chance. Using her savings, she decided to emigrate to the United States via New York, where she hoped to learn more English.

Despite her degree, she found it hard to find work in the Big Apple, something she blamed on her not-so-refined ability to speak the language. So, she took on jobs as a nanny before embracing the skills she had honed growing up in Brazilian kitchens around her home town of Belo Horizonte.

“Originally when she started, it was because she was helping her friend plan a party,” her husband Charlie said. “And then she started doing a little bit here and there and it just kind of picked up.”

Julia and Charlie met shortly after she arrived in New York, and they were married about a year later.

Over the next six years she worked in kitchens throughout the New York area, working in all positions from a short order cook all the way up to private gigs cooking for ritzy families in the Hamptons.

Though her skills cover both the sweet and savory sides of the pallet, her true passion is sweets: “I can cook everything. There is just something about it [cookies and cupcakes] I really love.”

Julia in New York City. Submitted photo

Perugini eventually decided to go into business for herself, baking cookies and cakes. However, with such tight regulations on homebased businesses, she quickly realized New York was not the best launching pad for her dreams.

Pregnant with their daughter Sophia in 2016, Julie and Charlie decided to move someplace easier to pursue her dreams and better suited for their expanding family.

“My husband always liked Arizona and convinced me that here was the best place to live,” she said.

After briefly living in Ahwatukee, the family found the right house in Maricopa and built the business.

Photo by Mason Callejas

“I’m really proud of her,” Charlie said. “She’s basically started from nothing and its almost doubled each year [since].”

Customer Annie Smith said Julia’s Cookies were perfect for her son’s second birthday. “These were adorable and delicious. They were flawless, individually wrapped and arrived right on time. I couldn’t be happier.”

Reviewers also have noted her attention to detail, taste and professionalism.

Not long after settling into their new home, she got word she had been selected for the Christmas Cookie Challenge on the Food Network.

Several years earlier, while living in New York, she had signed up for a similar Food Network competition but never heard anything back. Then in early 2017 she got a call asking if she was interested.

Perugini’s episode will air Dec. 11, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. Arizona time.


Instagram: at juliascookiesnyc; Etsy: JuliasCookies

Julia’s Brazilian Carrot Cake

“This is the most traditional Brazilian cake,” Julia said, “it’s very soft, fluffy and delicious!”


  • 3 carrots
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 oz vegetable oil
  • 8 oz sugar
  • 9 oz all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder

Add all wet ingredients plus sugar to blender or mixer until creamy.

Add the flour and blend a little more.

Transfer to a bowl and mix in baking powder gently with a whisk.

Place in a round baking pan, or any baking pan.

Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 F

Chocolate Frosting:

  • 3.5 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 teaspoon honey

Place in a medium sized pan over medium heat mixing until all ingredients combine and are a caramel-like consistency.

Pour over the cake.


This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

by -
In 2013, Trisha Sorensen was interim city manager in Maricopa. Tuesday, the city council will decide whether to bring her in again.

To buffer the impacts of an arduous transition process, the Maricopa City Council will vote Tuesday to name an interim city manager, one who formerly held the position.

Submitted photo

During their regular scheduled meeting, council will decide whether to fill the vacancy created by departing City Manager Gregory Rose with former interim City Manager Patricia Sorensen.

Sorensen briefly took the helm in Maricopa in July of 2013 when then-manager Brenda Fischer left for Glendale. Rose was eventually chosen for the position in early 2014 despite Sorensen also being in the running.

At the time, some questioned the decision to pass on Sorensen, citing her more than 30 years of experience in state and municipal administration, most of which has been in Arizona.

She is a graduate of Arizona State University with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

If approved, Sorensen’s employment agreement would be good for six months, beginning Dec. 7 and ending June 6.

Rose will be leaving the Maricopa City Manager post this month for a similar position in University City, Missouri.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Partly cloudy and mostly calm skies are likely to make for a cool week for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures should peak in the low- to mid-70s as gentle 10-15 mph winds grace the air around the city for the last few days of autumn.

Today looks to be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 74 and a nighttime low near 42.

Tuesday will likely be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 70 and a low near 40.

Wednesday should be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 42.

Thursday looks to be sunny and breezy with a 15-mph gusting on and off, a high around 72, and a low near 39.

Friday will likely be sunny and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 38.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

A living nativity will be re-enacted every 30 minutes Dec. 9 outside Community of Hope Church.

Come December, many faithful Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus by installing a creche in front of their home or in public spaces. Typically, nativity scenes are created with scaled-down figures of the manger scene, often lit up at night.

For the past 13 years, one Maricopa church has taken that model and gone a step further.

“We bring the nativity scene to life,” Community of Hope Pastor Rusty Akers said.

In December, the Church will be holding its 14th annual Living Nativity. For one day, typically the Saturday before Christmas, volunteers assemble in an area around the church and portray the nativity scene through live action, Akers said.

Every 30 minutes, for roughly three hours, churchgoers read the gospels, telling the story of the first Christmas.

“It’s kind of come and go,” Akers said. “You don’t have to be there for one show, it’s kind of an ongoing thing.”

They sing carols, enjoy light refreshments and provide activities for the kids.

They have hay bales for attendees to sit on. And if the weather proves to be a bit chilly, they will also provide heaters.

Akers said most actors are pulled from the church’s congregation, even baby Jesus. Some years, that proves problematic.

“We use a live baby every year, so we always rely on somebody in our church to get pregnant and have a kid sometime between August and November,” Akers said, laughing.

When that plan fails, he said, they’ve had to go outside the church to find an infant stand-in.

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.


What: Living Nativity
When: Dec. 9, 5-8 p.m., every half hour
Where: Community of Hope Church, 45295 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: Free

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.



Photo by Mason Callejas

The Maricopa Public Library kicked off the 2017 holiday season with their Holiday Showcase Thursday.

Employees and volunteers greeted library goers with song and holiday snacks, also offering crafts, courier service for letters to Santa and a preview of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker. The Grinch was on hand to help with crafts and to pose for a few photos with the kids.


Photo by Mason Callejas

Making for a cool Merry Copa and a start to Masik Tas, mild temperatures are in store for Maricopa this weekend, according to the National Weather Service. With little chance of rain, daily-highs in the mid-70s and lows in the mid to high-40s, Maricopans should enjoy a cool and calm weekend for the many events occurring this weekend. See our calendar for more info.

Today looks to be mostly cloudy and calm with a high around 76 and a low near 55.

Friday (Ak-Chin Masik Tas begins) will likely also be mostly cloudy and calm with a high around 77 and a low near 51.

Saturday (Merry Copa) should be sunny, mostly clear and calm with a high around 79 and a low near 49.

Sunday, too, looks to be sunny, mostly clear and calm with a high around 79 and a low near 47.

Monday will likely see partly cloudy skies with a high around 77 and a low near 41.

This year's Masik Tas parade will be a parade of lights for the first time.

As the Ak-Chin Indian Community celebrates its 10th annual Masik Tas celebration, tribal officials remind the community the celebration is about sharing with your neighbors.

Ak-Chin Tribal Council Vice Chairman Gabriel Lopez said it’s always been a tradition to share your bounty with the community.

“What we were taught when we were younger, in any community, is that when you have a good harvest or a good hunt you always share your hunt or your harvest,” Lopez said. “And, that’s the theory behind having everything free.”

The celebration includes several major events including a concert, carnival, rodeo and parade that are free for all, including non-tribal members.

The Masik Tas celebration started 10 years ago when women decided they wanted to expand the tribe’s youth beauty pageant to include young women, Lopez said. They started adding and experimenting with different events until it finally became what it is today.

This year the public celebration will appropriately start with the Miss Ak-Chin and Junior Miss Ak-Chin beauty pageants Dec. 2, followed by the parade Dec. 3, at 7 p.m.

The parade will be a “parade of lights” this year, Lopez said.

Sporting events will also occur the first weekend – Dec. 1-3 – including tournaments for basketball and a native game similar to field hockey known as “Toka.”

Jackpot roping and other rodeo events will take place at various times Dec. 7-10.

Dec. 8, the Carnival and Fun Zone will open at 4 p.m. followed by live music from Clay Walker, Parmalee, Kasey Tyndel and a special mystery guest.

Event dates and times are tentative.

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Clay Walker is the headline entertainer for Masik Tas. Submitted photo

Works by Michael Sullivan, Jo Merrymon and Lori McDonald and many other artists will be on display and for sale at Maricopa Arts Festival, formerly known as Art on the Veranda.

One of Maricopa’s premier art expositions is taking on a new name and face this month.

Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., The Duke at Rancho El Dorado will be home to 30 of the area’s most gifted artisans and craftsmen for the Maricopa Arts Festival.

Formerly called Art on the Veranda, the festival has been one of Maricopa’s largest and most comprehensive gatherings of local artists. It will take on a slightly different form this year, festival director Kaui Wilson said.

The previous Art on the Veranda organizers took with them their nonprofit status as well as the name, Wilson said. So, this year she is using her own personal business – Kaui Wilson LLC—to facilitate event planning.

Aside from the name change, the addition of the crafts corner and adult drink specials, it’s pretty much the same as before, she said.

Maricopa Arts Festival will again include a variety of artists and media, including oil painters, glass blowers, metalsmiths, jewelry makers, and textile and fiber artists. However, there will be a stronger emphasis placed on the younger crowd.

“It’s about enrichment,” Wilson said. “It’s [also] about supporting our local artists and youth.”

Kaui Wilson is organizing this year’s Maricopa Arts Festival. Photo by Mason Callejas

Wilson said this year’s festival will include a craft corner for kids hosted by high school students to encourage artistic expression in younger people.

The festival will rely on Boy Scouts and possibly Maricopa High School’s JROTC cadets to assist with some of the heavy lifting and logistics at the event.

One of the previous organization’s figureheads moved away, sending the exposition into a bit of a rejuvenation mode. Wilson said in the wake of the transition, nobody was willing to take the wheel. Having experience organizing arts events, Wilson decided to give it a shot.

“Out of 12 people, I was the only one who thought ‘I can’t let it die,’” Wilson said. “This is the only major art thing we have here, so I decided I would bear the burden there.”

Wilson’s own Art and Sip events have taken off around Maricopa, offering aspiring artists a chance to learn the ins and outs of painting while also socializing at local venues like the 347 Grill and True Grit Tavern.

Also on Dec. 9, after the arts festival closes, Maricopa Arts Council will host a symphony, chorus and dance recital at the Maricopa Agricultural Center at 7 p.m.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

After a slight breezy start, this week looks to be mild and calm for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. With a 15-20 mph wind gusting Monday and Tuesday and partly cloudy skies, there will be a drop in temperatures.

Today is forecast to be sunny, mostly clear and breezy with winds gusting 15-20 mph, a high around 86 and an overnight low near 44.

Tuesday will likely be partly cloudy and breezy with winds gusting up to 15 mph, a high around 78 and a low near 49.

Wednesday should be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 78 and a low near 48.

Thursday looks to be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 78 and a low near 48.

Friday will likely be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 80 and a low near 47.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Another mild autumn weekend is in store for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. With calm and mostly clear skies, highs hanging in the upper-mid 80s and lows in the lower 50s, Maricopans should be comfortable for their post-turkey comas and Black Friday frenzies.

Thanksgiving Day looks to be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 88 and a nighttime low near 51.

Friday is forecast to be sunny, clear and calm with a high around 87 and a low near 51.

Saturday should also be sunny, clear and calm with a high around 87 and a low near 51.

Sunday looks to be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 86 and a low near 50.

Monday will likely be partly cloudy with a high around 84 and a low near 48.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Suspected of robbing a woman at a drive-through ATM are Kyron Davis, Amber Cruz and Tesla Acosta. PCSO photos

Three suspects have been arrested in connection with an armed robbery that took place at a Maricopa ATM Sunday.

The suspects – one male and two females – allegedly used a firearm to rob a woman withdrawing money at the Bank of America drive-through ATM located on John Wayne Parkway.

According to Maricopa Police Department records, Kyron Davis, 20, Amber Cruz, 21, and Tesla Acosta, 21, allegedly approached the woman sitting in her car at the ATM at around 12:30 a.m. Davis then allegedly pointed a gun at the victim, robbing her of $260 and a cellular phone valued at $800, according to the report from the Maricopa Police Department.

The three suspects were arrested by Chandler Police roughly two hours later after officers were able to track the phone as it “pinged” off cellular towers in the area.

According to the report, “the suspects were stopped by the Chandler Police Department for matching the description of suspects wanted for armed robbery in the City of Maricopa.”

Davis, Acosta and Cruz were all booked into the Pinal County jail on charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault, misconduct involving weapons and reckless endangerment.

Additionally, Davis was charged as a prohibited possessor of a firearm.

Depending on how the charges compound, Acosta and Cruz could face as many as 32 years in prison. Davis, as a prohibited possessor, could face as many as 34 years in prison.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

Photo by Mason Callejas

A week of moderate to warm temps and calm, mostly clear skies will precede Thanksgiving, according to the National Weather Service. The low on Monday of 51 will be overshadowed by the potential highs around 88 on Thursday.

Today is forecast to be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 78 and an overnight low near 51.

Tuesday will likely be mostly sunny and clear with high around 83 and a low near 54.

Wednesday should be sunny and clear with a high around 87 and a low near 56.

Thursday (Thanksgiving) looks to be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 88 and a low near 57.

Friday will likely be sunny and mostly clear with a high around 87 and a low near 55.

MOBILE USERS GET NEWS FIRST. Download InMaricopa for Apple and Android devices.

The Challengers Division is a unique part of Maricopa Little League.

One of Maricopa’s lesser-known baseball divisions is closing out its season with a special game Saturday.

Maricopa Little League’s 2017 Challenger Division series will end Nov. 18 in an evening “under the lights” at Pacana Park, league vice president Leslie Isetta said.

Challengers are a subdivision of Little League that allows young people facing physical or mental challenges an opportunity to get dirty and play some baseball, Isetta said.

First established in 1989, the Challenger Division is a coed division that accepts players as young as 4 and as old as 22, if they are still enrolled in school.

Maricopa Little League is not so stringent when it comes to the admission in the Challengers Division.

“We think’s it’s important for every child to have something to do, some sport to play,” Isetta said.

There really is only one sports team in Maricopa that embraces young people with special needs, she said, and the Challengers Division is it. Even in the Challengers Division, the participation is spread rather thin, she said, so most games are more like scrimmages.

Teams can have as many as 15-20 players, according to their website, and here’s how it all works.

The team is essentially split into an offense and a defense, and each player has a chance to bat.

“The side is retired when the offense has batted through the roster, or when a predetermined number of runs have been scored, or when three outs are recorded,” the website states.

Usually it’s tee-ball rules, Isetta said, but if there is someone capable of receiving a pitch, someone will throw the ball.

Players are accompanied by other, older players the league calls Challenger Buddies. Their job is to help the Challenger players on the field by showing them how to throw and where to throw it to, Isetta said.

To keep things light, the league typically doesn’t keep score, and to keep help them feel more a part of the league, they all wear the same uniforms, patches and safety gear, she said.

It’s about teaching them the basics of the sport and how to be a team player and support each other, Isetta said. But, really, it’s about inclusion.

“The whole idea is to give them an opportunity to get out there and play an actual game,” Isetta said.

Saturday at 5:30 p.m. the Challengers will meet for their last game of 2017, and this game will have a bit more jazz to it.

“We want to give them a game under the lights,” Isetta said. “Playing a game is fun, but as soon as those lights go on, for some reason it just feels a little bit more special.”

Little League Collects for F.O.R. Maricopa
Every item you donate will earn 1 raffle ticket for a chance to win a baseball-themed gift basket. Please bring donations to the Board tables set up between fields 3 and 4 at Copper Sky, during any of the games Saturday. The raffle drawing will be held after the final ballgame – Challengers Under the Lights (game begins at 5:30 p.m.).

F.O.R. Maricopa has been serving our community since 2007 and the following is a list of their most needed items:
Instant Potatoes-Boxes
Peanut Butter
Canned Fruit
Canned Tuna/Chicken or Beef
Canned Vegetables
Packaged Dinners-Hamburger/Tuna Helper
Dry Pasta/Rice/Beans
Canned Beans
Canned Tomatoes
Canned Soup
Packaged Desserts
Cleaning Products
Toilet Paper