By Michael Kiefer| The Republic
eorge Harry Johnson is as hard and thorny as the desert lots he’s been peddling for more than 40 years. His skin is baked brown and his hair burned yellow-white from 85 years under the Arizona sun, but he’s as resilient as a mesquite tree. Johnson is a cutthroat businessman, a throwback to the sue-or-be-sued olden days of land development and water rights when there was no business deal that couldn’t spawn a whirling dust devil of lawsuits and counter suits.
The proof is in the state and federal court dockets, where Johnson’s name makes regular appearances. Whether you sue him claiming he hasn’t delivered clean water from his utilities or alleging he’s reneging on a business deal, he’ll sue you right back.
He was fined millions of dollars for flouting environmental laws, flagrantly blading desert riparian areas, drilling wells without a permit, diverting waterways, and even infecting a herd of endangered bighorn sheep, according to court and regulatory records. He still turned a profit on the land.
And Johnson has had dealings on Arizona’s darker side as far back as 1970.