Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman plotted to kill Councilwoman Linda Abbott years ago because he blamed her for his 1993 defeat in a council race, the mayor's estranged wife told Maricopa County sheriff's investigators.
Berman went so far as scouting out Abbott's jogging patterns with plans to run her over with his truck, Michelle Berman is quoted as saying in a police report released Friday morning.
Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman and his estranged wife Michelle. PHOTO FROM WWW.MAYORBERMAN.COM
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He backed out at the last minute after waiting for Abbott to pass by, according to Michelle Berman's statement to police.
Her statement to sheriff's investigators does not give a time frame for the incident. Michelle Berman did say she was not with the mayor at the time, but that he told her about the plot later.
The mayor has not been arrested or charged, but the investigation has been turned over to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for review.
The allegation is the latest twist in an investigation into claims from Berman's wife that she was physically and verbally abused by the mayor.
Neither Steve Berman nor Abbott could be immediately reached for comment.
In an interview with investigators, Berman denied the accusations, saying Abbott is his "best friend" on the council.
Berman's lawyer, Melvin McDonald, said in a written statement to deputies that all of the charges leveled by Michelle Berman to investigators are "outrageous and driven by her long-term and verifiable addiction to prescription painkillers."
Michelle Berman acknowledged to the Tribune this week that she was once addicted to prescription medications but has not used those drugs for three years.
The sheriff's office launched the investigation last week after Michelle Berman contacted a counselor with the Gilbert Police Department saying that Berman had threatened to kill her and harm her father. Gilbert police turned the allegations over to the sheriff's office to avoid a conflict of interest.
Berman told investigators that he's never threatened to kill Michelle, but he acknowledged that he had told Michelle he would "like to kick (her father's) ass."
Berman denied ever hitting his wife. But Michelle told MCSO that the mayor punched her in the back the night before he was leaving on a trip for Ireland in May. She said he had also punched a hole in the wall that night. He acknowledged punching the hole in the wall to investigators.
"I put a hole in the wall, I didn't touch her, but it's my wall," he said.
Berman was a council member from 1987 to 1993, when he was defeated in his re-election bid. Berman is serving his third term as mayor.
Abbott served on the council from 1991 to 1995. She was elected again to the council in 2007.
Michelle Berman's statement to sheriff's investigators does not explain why Berman would blame Abbott for his loss.
Steve Berman "confessed to Michelle that Steve had planned on killing a Gilbert Town Council member, Linda Abbott, because Steve blamed Abbott for losing the election about ten or twelve years ago," the sheriff's report says. "Michelle stated that Steve planned on killing Mrs. Abbott by running over Abbott with his truck. Michelle stated that Steve had gone to the trouble to find out where Abbott goes jogging. Michelle stated that Steve went to an area where Abbott should pass by on her routine and Steve was waited (sic) for her. Steven told Michelle that he changed his mind at the last minute and did not go through with it."
Berman, who turned 60 on Tuesday and is in the final year of his second four-year term as Gilbert mayor.
Michelle Berman is Steve's fourth wife, and divorce records going back more than 20 years show a pattern of acrimony and abuse.
His third wife, Dawn Berman Schackner, filed for divorce in 1996 after about 10 years of marriage, which produced a daughter, Elizabeth.
Schackner and Berman fought bitterly over money, and Berman sought alimony but didn't get it.
Though their divorce became final in May 1997, they were still arguing in court about money and custody matters more than five years later.
Schackner alleged that Berman failed to pay his share of medical bills for Elizabeth. Berman accused Schackner of keeping Elizabeth from seeing him, and demanded that the child appear at his 2001 swearing in ceremony.
Schackner filed two orders of protection against Berman alleging threats of violence, though the second, in April 2001, was denied and the first, in March 1999, was dismissed weeks later.
Though acrimonious, the court records don't indicate physical violence during his marriage to Schackner.
But that's not the case with wife No. 2.
Christine Berman married Steve when she was five months pregnant with the couple's son, Steve Jr. She also had a daughter, whom Berman adopted when she was about 6 years old. He later had the adoption reversed on the advice of a court psychologist.
But Christine Berman moved out and filed for divorce less than three years after their 1981 marriage.
In court documents, she sought custody of the children, saying she feared for her safety and that of her children due to Berman's "violent temper and repeated acts of mental and physical abuse and harassment."
In response to Berman's resistance to paying alimony, Commissioner Joel Glynn found in 1985 that Christine Berman had been unable to work, in part, because of "injuries sustained by an assault from respondent/husband."
Berman also balked at paying child support, but offered to let his wife and children share the survival meals he had stockpiled at his home, according to court records.
Psychologist Phillip Esplin, in a court-ordered family study, noted "long-standing tension in the family, coupled with episodic violence."
"Both of the youngsters, in my opinion, are at substantial risk for future maladaptation as the result of chronic conflict between their parents," Esplin wrote.
In August 1995, Berman admitted to slapping his then 13-year-old son in the face during an argument.
According to a 2001 Tribune article, a psychological report during his divorce with Schackner alleged that he also hit one of her daughters and that problems stemming from a "possible mood disorder were obtained from several sources."
A Gilbert police report on the incident with Berman's son said he didn't mean to hurt his son and was undergoing anger management counseling, according to the Tribune story. The court also ordered counseling for father and son.
But Berman was apologetic about hitting his son.
"The fact is, I"m extremely ashamed that I did it. I was sorry I did it when I did it," he told the Tribune in 2001.
But he also said the police report was wrong.
"I was going through a number of counseling classes with my son because my son was having a bunch of problems," Berman said in the 2001 article. "But I simply wasn't having any anger management problems."
Berman also said the court reports were in error and denied ever harming his second wife, other than one incident where he accidentally ran over her foot.
"She walked up to the car window screaming and raising hell? at me. I basically put the car in reverse and backed out and the next thing I know she's screaming like hell,"? he said in 2001. "It's not like I got her in my headlights and ran her down."
Berman's son, now 26, lives in his father's Gilbert home, along with 20-year-old daughter Elizabeth.