Betty White is a retired homemaker, real estate agent and legal secretary. At 72, she’s lived a quiet life in Maricopa, and that’s the way she prefers it.
But at a recent town hall for City Council candidates, White found herself in the middle of a political storm.
The Glennwilde senior attended the forum at the Maricopa Library & Cultural Center because she had concerns about candidate Adam Leach, a real estate agent she hired in 2019 to sell her home. After her disappointing experience with Leach, she wanted to question him in public about the way he represented her in a real estate transaction never made. She sat waiting for the July 7 town hall to start with documentation of her claims in two envelopes.
White, however, never got the chance to question Leach, who left – for a family emergency, he said – minutes before the candidates were to be introduced to the voters in attendance and more participating online.
But White did find herself talking with Leach’s lawyer and campaign chairperson, Angel Raymond, who suddenly showed up at the town hall after Leach left and confronted White directly as she sat in the audience.
“She told me about how she would hate to write a cease-and-desist letter and that he could file a defamation lawsuit,” White said. “So, we’ve got two threats going on here….”
Hiring an agent
White’s history with Leach started in May 2019, when she was looking for a real estate agent to sell her home. She was planning a move to Palominas, Arizona, a community near Bisbee just three miles north of the Mexican border, to build a new home and live out the rest of her retirement overlooking the dramatic Coronado Mountains.
“I interviewed three agents,” White recalled. “Some friends spoke very highly of Adam. He’d sold a home for my neighbors, and they were very pleased with him.”
The personal references meant a lot to White. So much so, she decided to go with Leach to list her home before meeting him in person.
Leach came over with the contract and offered a 5% commission in what White described as an effort to beat out the other two agents.
The seven-page agreement listing the home was signed on May 17, 2019, though White said despite several requests she couldn’t get a copy of the agreement from Leach. Then, at the end of July, Leach received an offer for the home.
But White was frustrated by then.
“Before he brought me the offer, I said, ‘I’m not going to look at the offer. I’ve been asking you for two months for a copy of the listing contract, and I’m not even going to look at the offer.’”
According to White, Leach told her the prospective buyers were willing to add another $10,000 to their offer, but she held fast, reiterating she would not consider the offer until she had the listing contract in hand.
“And then he emailed it to me,” she said.
But when she started looking at the agreement, a copy of which she shared with InMaricopa, something caught her attention. In the section listing the commission percentage, White explained, she saw a number that looked to her like a hybrid of a 5 and a 6.
Normally in a residential real estate transaction, when a non-listing agent brings a buyer and the sale goes through, that agent gets half the commission. That commission can be negotiated between a seller and their agent. The contract specifies what each agent, or their broker, will collect in commission, as a percentage of the sales price.
In the space for the commission of the non-listing agent, White said she thought it read 3%, but felt that number, too, had been altered.
White brought her concerns to Leach.
“I looked at the contract and I said, ‘Adam, who did that?’ I said that I clearly remembered a 5 [percent total commission to be split by the two agents] … He looks at it and says, ‘Who did that?’ and I told him, ‘Adam, I’m going to need you to change that back.’”
White showed InMaricopa the version of the contract with the apparent 6% commission changed back to 5% and initialed by Leach. A third and final version of the agreement showed a total commission of 5% without any initials.
“I might be elderly, but I’m not completely stupid,” White said. “And I don’t have dementia.
“We agreed on 5%. If he wanted 6%, all he had to do was ask, and I would have given it to him.”
White took her concerns to The Maricopa Real Estate Company, the firm Leach was working for at the time, and talked with its broker, Steve Murray, who canceled the listing on Aug. 8.
Raymond, Leach’s attorney, wouldn’t discuss White’s assertions because she said there’s pending legal action. A search of Arizona court cases does not show any active filings involving Leach or White.
When pressed about the legal action, Raymond said there is a defamation claim pertaining to a Google review White wrote three weeks ago about her experience with Leach in 2019.
The review, which White provided to InMaricopa on paper and can be found on Leach’s Google page, contains some of the same claims in this report.
On Wednesday, Raymond said White was served by a process server with an immediate cease-and-desist letter last week on Monday or Tuesday. Raymond didn’t supply a copy of the letter, but said it requested White take down her review on Leach’s Google page.
White disputed that assertion on Thursday, saying she hasn’t been served.
InMaricopa requested a copy of the cease-and-desist order from Raymond but has yet to receive it.
Raymond advised InMaricopa to refrain from reposting or reporting anything about White’s story because her client is claiming defamation, and White could end up owing Leach money.
“What we’re attempting to do is to mitigate damages, so that way if it is found to be defamatory by a court, that she’s not winding up owing him significant amounts of money,” Raymond said in a phone interview. “Our goal is to just stop the defamatory statement piece.”
“At the end of the day, I’m just saying that you guys [InMaricopa] do have notice that what she is alleging, is in fact, defamatory and that we are trying to mitigate damages so that when it is found in a court of law to be, in fact, defamatory, this old woman doesn’t end up owing a ton of money.”
Raymond acknowledged the hurdle is higher for proving defamation of a public figure like her client, who is running for public office.
“There’s always been, and it’s not a new thing, that there’s a different standard in burden of proof for a public figure,” Raymond said. “You have to prove a willful malicious element, right? So that’s not new. That’s always been the law, especially here in Arizona.”
Raymond said by posting on Leach’s Google page, White crossed a line.
White, for her part, said truth would be her defense if she is sued for defamation over her Google review.
“If you’re going to file a defamation lawsuit, there are several things that have to be true,” White said. “And one of those things is I have to be lying. The only way he wins is if I am lying.”
White said she feels the threats of legal action are meant to intimidate her into silence.
“Cease-and-desist letters are a warning,” she said. “It’s a lawyer bully move. And then the defamation lawsuit, there’s another bully move.”
Trying to move on
White is currently filing a complaint against Leach with the Arizona Department of Real Estate, which regulates real estate brokers and salespersons, and investigates complaints against licensees.
She said she didn’t file a complaint in 2019 because Leach lived two blocks from her and she feared potential retribution. She thought talking to his boss, the broker Murray, would suffice.
“I’m a widower and I live alone,” she said.
Even if she had relisted the home with another agent, White said she never stopped thinking about a lockbox that would give any agent with the code access to her home, even Leach.
“He could come in my house,” White said. “If I’ve got it an MLS contract, I don’t care what agency it is, he could get into my house.
“This is where I feel like I’ve been the victim.”
Leach is not accused of illegally entering White’s home.
White never did sell her home. Her experience with Leach, she said, soured her plan to sell and move to Palominas.
“The damage is that I could have sold my house through another realtor, but this thing really shook me up,” she said. “It took the wind out of my sails.”
With the City Council primary election looming on Aug. 2, both White and Raymond raised the political subtext to recent events.
Raymond questioned why InMaricopa would listen to White’s claims in the first place.
“I do think that it is odd that InMaricopa is even considering running, even investigating, or even spending an iota of a moment on this, considering Adam is running against [Vincent] Manfredi, who’s made it very, very clear that he is running as a trifecta, if you will,” Raymond said. “There’s a tri-part here of him and [Henry] Wade and [Rich] Vitiello.”
Interim mayor Vincent Manfredi and councilmembers Rich Vitiello and Henry Wade are the other candidates running for the three available seats on City Council.
Raymond pointed to Manfredi’s position on the City Council and noted his current roles as interim mayor and co-owner of InMaricopa, loosely asserting the City advertises with the company because of some political connection.
“Adam is the only person that’s not in his [Manfredi’s] little trifecta that’s running against him,” Raymond said.
For her part, White said she had been content to move on from and remain silent about her experience with Leach until she found out he was running for public office.
“It’s one thing if you are out selling real estate and hopefully your broker’s watching you, but I don’t want you running my city,” she said.
Editor’s note: Vincent Manfredi is an owner of InMaricopa, and Raymond Law is an advertiser of InMaricopa.