Bryan Ott The Villages
Bryan Ott, seen by the lake in The Villages of Rancho El Dorado, moved to the city three months ago. "I’m a new homeowner here …." he said. "For me to be treated that way, what are they thinking?" Photo by Bob McGovern

Bryan Ott has lived in Maricopa for less than four months.

The Navy veteran and his wife moved here from a town outside of Seattle due to her job transfer, buying one of the nearly 2,000 homes in The Villages at Rancho El Dorado. A great-grandfather, he retired earlier this year.

An operations specialist in combat search and rescue for an amphibious assault team, he served multiple tours of duty from the late 1970s through the 1990s, including Iran (at the time of the 1979 Revolution), Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya.

In The Villages, frontline workers locked out of pool, clubhouse

An ordained minister, he has served as a Veterans of Foreign Wars chaplain and conducted weddings and funerals. He’s also held elected office in Washington State, serving on the Pierce County Regional Council as well as the Milton city council.

A former board member of a homeowners’ association in Washington State, he didn’t think much about living in another HOA community, not that he had much choice if he wanted to live in one of Maricopa’s 18 residential developments.

Last week, however, two incidents changed his mind about the organization he sends $86 every month in fees, even though he said he decided not to press charges in the later incident.

“The way this is being run here is … I’m just appalled,” Ott said of the Villages HOA, which is managed by Associated Asset Management of Tempe.

“It’s almost like I live in a little communist area.”

A CLUBHOUSE INCIDENT

The trouble began last Tuesday night for Ott. When other neighbors told him they couldn’t attend a financial committee meeting of the HOA board at 6 p.m. at the Villages clubhouse, he agreed to drop in. When he got there, he said, board president Antonio “Tony” Crisostomo and one other board member was in attendance. Ott was the lone resident.

“They’re trying to have a meeting,” said Ott, who knows a bit about Roberts Rules of Order from his experience in government. “I said, ‘We need a quorum, gentlemen.’” The board members said they would wait a bit to see if other board members showed up, according to Ott. Shortly thereafter, when Crisostomo said they were going to have a discussion anyway, Ott spoke up again.

“I said, ‘Gentlemen, I don’t feel right about this. You can’t, there’s no quorum here, you can’t discuss anything. I mean this is not up for debate here.’”

With that, the meeting was adjourned.

“Wednesday comes around and I get wind that they were trying to meet, that Tony was back up at the clubhouse,” Ott said

Ott said he and other residents suspected there might be a clandestine board meeting taking place, so he rode his bike up to the clubhouse, arriving around 4:45 p.m.

“I waited outside just a little bit, saw (Chrisostomo’s) car and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go in there. I decided to go ahead and go in.”

As he tried to get into the clubhouse entrance, Diane Zavala, the HOA community manager, immediately rushed at him, Ott said.

“I had my phone and before I could even comprehend what was happening – she was just so angry at me –  she said ‘You can’t film in here, this is private property.’”

A security guard for The Villages was in the office and moved between Ott and Zavala, he said.

“At this point, I’m really not saying a whole lot. I’m just trying to comprehend everything. And Tony’s in the back. He comes walking up from the clubhouse into the main office area. All of sudden, Diane growls and she grabs my phone. I wasn’t prepared for it, so she got it. And she says, ‘I’m holding on to this. I’m calling the police. You are not allowed on this property. This is private property. I want you out of here.’

“At this point I’m like, OK, I see what’s happening. I want my phone and I started getting mad, not to the point that I’m going berserk or anything, but I said, ‘That’s my phone. I want my phone back before I go anywhere.’”

Zavala told him she was keeping the phone and that the police were on their way.

At that point, Chrisostomo was just standing there, watching, Ott recalled.

“I said, ‘What the hell are you doing just standing there, letting this happen?’ And he said, ‘It’s all your fault, you deserve this.’”

POLICE LOOK AT VIDEO

At that point, Ott was able to grab his phone back. “I knew I needed to get out of there before things started getting way out of hand,” he said.

InMaricopa.com visited the HOA office at the clubhouse on Friday afternoon to get comment about the incident from Zavala and Chrisostomo, but neither was at the office. A request was made with – and contact information provided to – an administrative assistant for the manager and president to respond. Neither did.

Ott said he then left the office and was standing outside with the security guard when the door was locked from inside. Ott realized, that with police apparently responding, he had left his ID at home. He biked home, grabbed his ID, and told his wife, “We’ve got to get back up there.”

He had his wife drive him back to the clubhouse about 10 minutes later, but the police had left. Ott said he asked the security guard to call the police back to the clubhouse.

Ott said he was concerned that police might have been told that he threatened somebody and then fled the clubhouse. About 35-40 minutes later, police returned. One officer told him that because of his “conduct,” he was not going to be allowed to use the amenities, he said.

Eventually another officer, one who had responded earlier, returned. She told Ott that police had responded to a call from a woman who reported an “irate individual” and said she was feeling threatened. She also told Ott that police were about to respond to his home when they were summoned to another call.

As Ott was talking with the officer, a resident nearby wondered aloud if there was a surveillance camera set up in the office.

“Sure enough, there was video in the front office of everything,” he said.

He said the officer took about 20-30 minutes to review the video. Ott said that when the officer exited the office, she told him she was surprised by what she had seen on the video. According to Ott, she told him: “You didn’t go in there the way they described it. You were calm, cool and collected the whole time …. You raised your voice but you had your phone taken away.”

Ott said the officer asked him if he wanted to press charges, but he declined.

Ricardo Alvarado, spokesman for the Maricopa Police Department, would only say the incident was classified as a “disturbance call with no charges filed” when asked for details of the incident.

‘A PSEUDO GERALDO RIVERA’

While neither Zavala nor Chrisostomo sought to be heard for this story, Chrisostomo did write an animated, 1,100-plus-word letter to residents on Friday regarding the incident with Ott.

In it, Chrisostomo said he “can absolutely attest to how a man’s angry rants on social media manifested themselves in his purposeful, physical presence at the HOA office.”

“A male resident, prior military, burst into the HOA office foyer and marched through it directly into the meeting room,” the letter continued. “He was holding his phone while filming and narrating what he saw, perhaps a pseudo Geraldo Rivera working on an expose.”

Chrisostomo claimed that when Ott “shoved the phone nearly into (Zavala’s) face in the doorway, she deftly snatched the phone from his hand, much like a skilled pickpocket. He reentered the foyer as the security guard intervened; no more than 4 to 5 seconds later, the community manager gave the phone back. He snatched it from her hand, charging back at her.”

“Another, laughable rumor was that the community manager, a diminutive woman, manhandled this angry dad-bod male by shoving him out the door, wrenching the phone away from him, and deleting the video he was filming. The video disproves this visually and time-wise,” the letter claims.

Chrisostomo wrote that Zavala’s reputation has been impugned by the incident. The letter tells residents that Ott’s actions also affect them, saying that to ensure a “safe, working environment within the HOA office” they will have to knock on the office door to be admitted.

The letter ends: “As you can see, he is a perpetrator. I’ll close with the catch phrase of the famous radio host, Paul Harvey, by saying that I had a duty to provide you with ‘the rest of the story.’ Even as of today, this resident continues to be seen hanging around outside in the vicinity of the HOA clubhouse area.”

Ott was, in fact, in the vicinity of the clubhouse on Friday. He was asked by InMaricopa.com to stand for a photo to illustrate this story. By mutual agreement, the photo was taken as Ott stood on the opposite side of the lake from the clubhouse, about 300 feet from the door to the HOA office. After the photo was taken, he rode his bike home.

He denies capturing any video in the office.

‘THIS NEEDS TO STOP’

On Thursday afternoon, Ott had said he could sleep the night before. “I’m still upset about it. I’m a new homeowner here … For me to be treated that way, what are they thinking? I’m just amazed ….”

Ott said he believed Chrisostomo needs to step down as president and Zavala should be removed as community manager. “This needs to stop,” he said.

Chrisostomo knows he intends to run against him for board president when Chrisostomo’s term is up in March, Ott said.

Ott also said he was told later that before he entered the clubhouse on Friday afternoon, the HOA had been delivered a letter from a lawyer representing several residents of The Villages, including Ott, about the waiver that residents were asked to sign to gain use of the swimming pools, clubhouse and tennis courts. Another resident confirmed the late-Friday delivery of the letter.

Keycard access to amenities was cut off by the HOA for all residents. To gain access, they had to sign a two-page waiver, called a “Health Screening Confirmation and Waiver and Release of Liability for Access to Common Areas.” The first part asked residents to acknowledge that no members of the household had any COVID-19 symptoms, were under quarantine after testing positive for the virus, or had tested positive, had close contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus, or traveled internationally or on a cruise.

Residents are then asked to assume all risks associated with COVID-19 and agree to hold the HOA harmless for all claims of liability related to the virus in exchange for being permitted to use common areas in the development.

Last Monday, InMaricopa.com told the story of Heather Walter and her husband, Ryan. They are Villages residents and hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The couple, who have four young daughters, signed the waiver, but was told that because they had not gone two weeks without exposure to the virus, the family could not use the pools and other amenities.

When they asked the HOA to waive or reduce their homeowner fees of $285 per quarter until they could use the amenities again, they were told no, according to Heather Walter.

On Friday, the HOA sent out a newsletter that included responses to a dozen “rampant rumors” in the community, some of which concerned the waiver.