The Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to halt the construction at two Scottsdale Unified schools due to concerns about legal violations and the hiring of an unlicensed architecture firm.
The request asks a judge to stop construction at Hohokam and Cheyenne elementary schools, void the contracts between Scottsdale Unified School District and Hunt & Caraway Architects, and order the firm to repay the district for “any money and property acquired by any unlawful means.”
Construction at Cheyenne on a new gym and science labs is nearly complete, while Construction at Hohokam has not begun. The AG's office said later Thursday that it had agreed to accommodate a request by the district to allow construction on the gym to continue so an upcoming graduation could be held there.
The civil complaint lists Scottsdale Unified, Hunt & Caraway and its former president Brian Robichaux as defendants. The Attorney General’s Office also has a “similar criminal investigation” which is ongoing, according to spokeswoman Mia Garcia.
Robichaux was convicted of a felony for stealing public funds in the 1990s and did not hold an architecture license.
An employee of Hunt & Caraway said the firm's current president, Tamara Caraway, was unavailable for comment. Robichaux is no longer with the firm.
The filing comes one day after the Scottsdale Unified School District voted to place Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell on paid administrative leave. The district has been under mounting public pressure, including a large rally last week.
Robichaux was on the district’s committee to select construction companies for the school projects. The lawsuit claims Robichaux "unlawfully influenced" the selection process in a phone call with another committee member prior to an April 25 meeting on the subject.
In the call, Robichaux told the unnamed member of the “Construction Manager at Risk” committee that he “would like to see” CORE Construction, Inc. receive the top bid for Hohokam Elementary and Chasse Building Team receive the top bid for Cheyenne.
At the meeting, the CMAR committee voted to award those contracts to CORE and Chasse. At least one member of the committee was influenced by Robichaux, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also alleges that the district violated state purchasing law by using Robichaux on the committee in the first place because he did not hold an architecture license. The contracts awarded as a result of that arrangement violate state law, the filing asserts.
"Defendants knew or should have known" that Robichaux was unlicensed and using him would violate state law, according to the complaint.
CBS 5/3TV reported in January that emails showed Dr. Birdwell asked Robichaux for help finding and furnishing a home for her personal use in 2012 and 2013. The AG's lawsuit does not name Dr. Birdwell.
A spokeswoman for SUSD said the district would not comment on pending litigation.
An attorney hired by the district said Hunt & Caraway appears to have overbilled the district by "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
“This is so stupid," said Scottsdale resident Dan Drake Thursday. "The Attorney General has had to do what the district should have done. The district’s governing board should have done this months ago."
Drake has been closely following the months-long controversies surrounding the district. “When these issues were brought up, [the board] had the ability and the authority to stop construction.”
"I think to some extent teachers are relieved that there is action being taken," said Julie Cieniawski, the president of the Scottsdale Education Association. "It's a distraction for teachers, it creates undue stress and duress in the workplace, and our jobs are hard enough working with our students."
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