MESA, Ariz. - We're taking you back to the luxury townhomes in Mesa that we told you about last May and how they transformed into a compound for unlicensed sober living facilities.
FOX 10 Investigator Justin Lum has been following problems at the Canal on Baseline (COB) for several months. Police reports we’ve obtained from 2023 provide a wider scope of the complex.
COB contained several sober living organizations, housing dozens of vulnerable people and the calls for service were constant, at a rate of nearly every day last year.
Despite multiple state investigations into the property not licensed for sober living, not much has been done.
In our two-part investigation, you’ll see how sober living programs hide behind LLCs and operate unlicensed rehabs while shuffling vulnerable people between units, sometimes abandoning them with limited liability.
Costly townhomes seemingly overrun
In the darkness of night, the glow coming from the property has its charm.
For renters, the appeal is the modern, contemporary-style townhomes with a feeling of luxury at the Canal on Baseline.
But, the address, 6060 East Baseline Road, is now all too familiar with the Mesa Police Department.
Last year, officers and residents were introduced to a sober living community. The problem is, many people were heavily intoxicated, according to records obtained by FOX 10 Investigates.
This woman we met at Canal on Baseline stayed in five different sober living homes in the Valley before ending up here.
She does not want to be identified.
We asked her, "So, you’ve been staying at unlicensed sober living homes since you got off the streets?"
She replied, "Yes, and some of them haven’t been totally licensed."
She says she's been able to stay sober through it all.
‘We had high hopes’
As we drove through the complex, white vans were seen parked inside. We witnessed drop offs by one van at multiple units.
It’s a quiet night, but one thing is clear.
Throughout last year, at least 26 homes were occupied by "rehab" programs, documented by police.
There are around 90 overall townhomes on the property.
"I have children. I have 12 grandkids. That’s why I’m doing this. I can’t be around my daughter if I’m not sober to see my grandkids," an anonymous woman said.
We met another woman who wants to remain anonymous, but moved into the complex with her family, not knowing it would be used for a recovery community.
We’ll call her Amy.
"Our kids were going to be able to play outside. We had just, we had high hopes," Amy said.
‘We’re getting woken up to the violence outside’
Tenants not affiliated with sober living programs at COB have documented the issues.
"We’ve seen people bloody, we’ve seen people sleeping outside drunk. We actually helped one of the natives. He came into our home. The next day he went home with his family," Amy said.
Last year, FOX 10 spoke to that same man, a Native American from Gallup, New Mexico, who told us he was bribed with alcohol and cash to recruit others to live at COB.
What he’s describing is the sober living scheme, which targets those seeking addiction treatment so that fraudsters can bill Arizona’s Medicaid agency, AHCCCS, for behavioral health services rarely provided to members.
In many cases, bad actors allow "patients" to abuse drugs and alcohol without supervision.
Amy says she witnessed the aftermath and had to leave.
"Our kids screaming, crying in the middle of the night because we’re getting woken up to the violence outside of people fighting," she said.
We checked the Arizona Department of Health Services' (AZDHS) database only to confirm there is no licensing at 6060 East Baseline Road for any behavioral health provider.
Yet, it’s been a hub for unlicensed sober living facilities.
6060 East Baseline Road
Mesa PD says there were 237 calls for service in 2023 alone.
The leading call is for "subjects disturbing" with 54, followed by 22 calls for "noise disturbance" and another 22 for "family fight."
FOX 10 combed through dozens of police reports connected to COB. What we found were documented incidents of domestic violence, aggravated assaults and disorderly conduct.
In one report taken last October, a woman reported being abused by a man who she was living with. A witness told police they had been drinking and arguing that day.
The report reveals this unit was used by a group for recovery from substance abuse and addiction and has a "history of violent crime calls for service."
"I've seen a gentleman hit somebody in the forehead because he was not sober," the anonymous woman said.
She’s talking about an aggravated assault from October 2023.
Police located an intoxicated man who had been hit in the head with a steel baseball bat, allegedly by his girlfriend’s adult son.
The report says the group included four adults and a three-week-old baby from the Gila River tribe. They were all placed at COB for "sober living."
In another incident from last September, the officer notes "important to note that 6060 East Baseline is known to contain numerous sober living organizations, housing numerous clients within the units has generated numerous calls for service."
In July 2023, an officer responded to a unit and observed empty alcohol bottles scattered across the floor.
The woman staying there told police she thought it was funny that the unit she was in was a "sober living house and they were drunk" and when the officer asked if a manager checked on them, she answered "they were checked on every once in a while."
Last June, AZDHS tipped Mesa PD about a woman who claimed a "lot of crazy things go on" at Canal on Baseline, including the requirement "to sleep with house managers around the complex," according to a police report.
AZDHS also told Mesa PD that the woman had bounced between several unlicensed sober living homes and officials explained to her that "living in unlicensed locations" is harmful.
The woman denied being forced to have sex with anyone when she spoke to an officer.
A sober living surcharge?
We’ve confirmed Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes and her staff have been in contact with the mayor of Mesa and city officials.
But, what does the owner of Canal on Baseline have to say? New documents we’ve obtained show that some tenants were charged hundreds of bucks a month in "sober living fees."
Mary Simmons and her husband live in the area near Canal on Baseline. She says finding beer cans and liquor bottles around the canal has become normal.
Mary is one of many residents expressing concern over the unlicensed sober living community at 6060 East Baseline Road and the number of calls for service to Mesa PD last year alone.
237 calls out of 365 days.
"I think that’s a lot. Sometimes it's two in a day and we always know over holidays it will get worse," Simmons said.
We’ve combed through dozens of police reports linked to COB revealing several incidents of assaults, domestic violence and residents under the influence.
A common theme is clear: the people involved are clients of different sober living programs.
Simmons says she carries around mace if she chooses to walk in the area.
‘It’s not fair for us’
In May 2023, police investigated a stabbing incident at Canal on Baseline. The house manager at the condo told the officer the victim had been stabbed by his girlfriend.
The investigation led police to the owner of Serenity Haven Behavioral Health, who told police that the alleged victim and suspect had been going to her Scottsdale clinic for a week.
The company leased units in the complex and subleased them, according to the property manager.
Erika Sanchez says she was one of the residents in the Serenity program.
"I moved in 128, 124, 123 and 135," she said.
We asked how often people are shuffled around, and she said, "every day."
FOX 10 reached out to the owner of Serenity Haven who said she no longer has clients staying in the two remaining units she’s renting nor is she taking in any patients.
"It’s not fair for us because they get up and just leave and us not knowing what’s going on, we’re back on the streets again and a lot of people, they go right back to drugs because we’re back on the streets again," Sanchez said.
Reports of ‘alcohol parties’
Last April, Mesa Police responded to the end of a drunken fight between brothers at another sober living unit in COB. The report says there were plans to transfer one of the men to another unit in the same complex.
Sanchez also witnessed constant police activity, saying, "It’s hard thinking that you’re gonna change your life and all of a sudden you’re seeing all these cops and no one is actually getting all the care they need. It was terrifying."
In one case of a heavily intoxicated resident, police found Nathaniel Martinez in a sober living unit at COB last March, unresponsive and not breathing.
He died and the medical examiner ruled alcohol abuse as the cause of death.
Last May, police responded to a trespassing call locating a man wandering on the canal.
He said he was staying at a sober living home in Canal on Baseline, claiming staff there threw "alcohol parties" and gave tenants "marijuana and alcohol."
Last June, police found one man passed out who later admitted to drinking beer and using fentanyl that day. The police report says he was recruited at a light rail station in Tempe by a sober living program called "Flobana."
The report also says the man described Zoom classes hosted by Christian 3 Mega Clinic, a behavioral health provider that would be suspended a month later by Arizona’s Medicaid agency for fraud allegations, including paying for patient referrals.
Just last month, the state’s Medicaid agency told FOX 10 that a suspended provider accused of fraud failed to get members into alternative care after no longer being paid.
More than two dozen people at Canal on Baseline were left without housing.
‘All he cares about is money’
FOX 10 dug into eviction filings linked to Canal on Baseline. We found 13 units connected to sober living homes.
Tenants intending to run rehab facilities agreed to pay a fee of $200-$500 on top of the $2,500 rent each month.
The fee is listed as a "group, sober or transitional home surcharge."
Court records show 10 eviction filings against specific limited liability corporations, all of which initially agreed to these fees.
We first spoke to the owner of Canal on Baseline, Samir Sawhney, in the spring of last year. He first told us he wasn’t aware of unlicensed sober living facilities operating at COB until the department of health issued citations for two units at his complex.
This investigation uncovered multiple rental agreements with "sober living surcharges" dating back to December 2022.
A former tenant, unaware of the situation she was moving into, does not want to be identified, but she’s still angry.
"You’re allowing these people to go into your complex that you own to rent from you and they’re stating they have a license. Why didn’t you research? He didn’t because he didn’t care, because all he cares about is money. That’s just who Samir is," Amy said.
We reached back out to Sawhney again. He declined an on-camera interview saying he is moving onto conventional housing and that the sober living activity has cost his team headaches and the reputation of the complex.
"We have ongoing investigations, and we are aware of the situation there and continue to investigate and continue to work on that with a partnership with the city, but I think that is another example of all the results that have happened with this AHCCCS fraud," AG Mayes said.
The city of Mesa says officials lack regulatory authority over sober living homes, but Mesa is involved in newly proposed legislation to address the issue.
"Mesa lacks regulatory authority over sober living homes. We have been highly engaged with the Arizona League of Cities in drafting SB1361 and are working with all stakeholders to ensure the Arizona legislature addresses this pressing issue. Mesa is committed to the public safety of all our citizens. The Mesa Police Department continues to respond to calls from residents as they come in, and community action officers have been assigned to Canal on Baseline and the surrounding neighborhoods to proactively communicate with residents and offer solutions to ease their concerns," the city said.
We’ve also learned Samir Sawhney owns another townhome complex called Zen on 50 in Phoenix.
We obtained eviction filings connected to that property and found at least three rental agreements listing surcharges for behavioral health or sober living homes, yet the Zen on 50 address is not licensed by AZDHS for treatment.