Catch Him If You Can

When a career courthouse scam artist joins forces with a top Arizona criminal defense attorney, it ain't pretty

Around that time, Frank says, Natalie began to seem more and more distant from him. She stopped paying Mike Vaughn and, Frank says, later admitted to him that she had gone to Las Vegas with Owens when he was supposed to be looking for Cota. (Natalie told New Times in a phone message last week that she would have no comment about Robert Owens.)

"Owens was sabotaging my defense," Frank says, "to make sure I got sent away for a long time. I confronted him, and I also told Mike Vaughn, and he told me that Bob was a happily married man."

Frank fired the pair in March 1996. His wife soon filed for divorce.

Robert Shawn Owens, in all his glory.
Robert Shawn Owens, in all his glory.
Petra Cano sold her home on the cheap to raise money 
for Owens.
Jackie Mercandetti
Petra Cano sold her home on the cheap to raise money for Owens.

More than a year passed. A member of Frank's new legal team interviewed Dale Nannenga's partner at Tempe, and Frank says he was stunned to learn that "the guy knew some things that I had only told Bob Owens and Mike Vaughn, period. He had to have gotten it from Owens."

Frank learned later that Iran Tony Cota was very much alive and incarcerated at the Arizona State Prison. He says his law clerk at the time interviewed Cota at the prison, and that Cota admitted being #6 but denied knowing Chris Frank personally.

But the possibility of a life sentence if convicted at trial was too much for Frank to bear, especially when yet another of his attorneys made a tepid effort to get the critical wiretap affidavit dismissed.

He pleaded guilty and went off to prison.

In 1999, Frank sent letters to Natalie's last known mailing address after learning of his ex-mother-in-law's death. One letter was written to his ex-father-in-law, and the other a nasty one to Bob Owens. He received a return letter postmarked December 7, 1999, which he showed to New Times.

"As for Natalie, Chris, the best thing in her life was you going to prison," a man who identified himself as the ex-father-in-law wrote. "[We] were so happy for the state to take you away. Natalie got married and moved to Texas. No one gives a damn about you. Do we understand each other?"

The letter is in Owens' handwriting.

Natalie, by the way, hadn't married and moved to Texas. She was living in an apartment on North Seventh Street, where, on July 4, 1998, a "Bob and Natalie Owens" had filed a police report about a man toting a gun at the complex. The report says Owens called himself "a prosecutor with the County Attorney's Office."

Owens' hand had extended even to Natalie's divorce proceedings against Frank. Papers filed by Natalie in the case are clearly also in Owens' handwriting.

Then, in May 2001, Natalie filed for child support for her first child, born in 1992, before she knew Chris Frank. But she noted two children in her petition, the 9-year-old and another daughter with the last name of Owens. Natalie listed her employer as "Edifice Lex," the building owned by Tom Thinnes and Owens, and said she had been making $10 an hour since 1999.

Thinnes says she never worked there.

In November 2002, Natalie ordered 50 wedding invitations from a store in California. The wedding was scheduled for May 24, 2003. The invitations were to read, "A fresh new day, and it is ours. A day of happy beginnings when we, Natalie and Robert Shawn Owens pledge our love as one."

Trouble was, Owens was, and is, still married to Terri, with whom he had a child in January 2002.

Bob Owens had married Terri Daniels in November 1993 in a ceremony at the home of his attorney, Anders Rosenquist.

Owens was working part-time with Bill Gumm, an ex-sheriff's detective turned private investigator. Gumm befriended him while he was in prison.

Owens soon applied to the state for a process server's license, but failed the exam. Instead of taking the test again, he doctored a letter to make it appear that he had passed.

Thinking he was legit, attorneys Gary Rosser and Laurie Herman gave Owens work, which included serving orders of protection. Such orders only may be handed out by police officers, constables and licensed process servers.

In May 1994, according to a Phoenix police report, an unmarked car pulled up to a man named Elliott in a residential neighborhood. Elliott later told police that the driver shone a flashlight in his face, and said he worked fraud for the Phoenix PD.

He then served an order of protection on Elliott from an ex-girlfriend. Elliott secretly audio-taped most of the interaction, and later turned the cassette over to Phoenix police. The cops soon learned that the "officer" had been Bob Owens.

From a Phoenix police report: "Owens stated he worked for the Phoenix Police Department [and] also stated he worked fraud."

But an investigation into Owens was slow to develop.

Meanwhile, in late October 1994, Owens applied for and got a private investigator's license with the state police.

He listed an FBI agent, an investigator for the Attorney General's Office, an attorney, a businessman and a retired sheriff's detective as references.

Three weeks after Owens became a P.I., Phoenix police arrested him at his home on nine felony counts of tampering with public records.

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