The Dead Lawyer Made Him Do It

Finally in jail, courthouse scam king Bob Owens plucks his defense from the grave

According to Agent Edwards, "She did not know that Robert Owens kept $28,028 for himself."

Owens now faces charges of defrauding and stealing from the widow -- two out of the 15 counts in the indictment.

Steve Dichter put a different spin on the Pfeifer affair in his July 11 letter to prosecutors. He claimed that Tom Thinnes did "months of work" for Pfeifer after the insurance company first had balked at paying the benefit.

Bob Owens at the 4th Avenue Jail courtroom with attorney Jennifer Healey, shortly after his surrender last week.
Peter Scanlon
Bob Owens at the 4th Avenue Jail courtroom with attorney Jennifer Healey, shortly after his surrender last week.
Mike Edwards (left), a special agent with the Attorney General's Office, shakes hands with Owens' attorney Steve Dichter at last week's initial appearance.
Peter Scanlon
Mike Edwards (left), a special agent with the Attorney General's Office, shakes hands with Owens' attorney Steve Dichter at last week's initial appearance.

"Tom didn't work for free," Dichter wrote. "Pfeifer was not his kin. Whether Tom told her he was going to charge for the work he did or not, the facts are that when the check came in, Tom directed that Bob put it in the [firm's] Disbursement Account. Certainly, Tom told Bob that he was supposed to get paid."

In paperwork filed last Friday for a reduction of Owens' bail, Dichter said IRS officials likely will dub the so-called disbursement account the "Thomas A. Thinnes Tax Evasion Account."

"This is the account which Thinnes had Owens deposit many of the fees and retainers he received," Dichter wrote. "From that account, disbursements were made by Owens at Thinnes' instructions. Some payments paid for Thinnes' wife's credit card, some his children's educational and ordinary living expenses, some went into remodeling his Oregon summer home . . ."

Dichter neglected to point out that Owens had sole access to that disbursement account.

"In this case, Thinnes decided to keep $25,000 from the insurance proceeds and split it with Owens," Dichter argued in his motion. "The ledger shows Owens and Thinnes split the $25,000, $12,500 each, on December 2, 2002. The remaining $3,028 . . . paid for some expense."

Elizabeth Pfeifer could not be reached for comment for this story.

On the subject of alleged tax evasion, another point needs to be made: During his May 2004 search, Agent Edwards also located copies of joint tax returns filed by Bob and Terri Owens, and those accounting ledgers in Owens' handwriting.

The ledgers allegedly show the couple's true total gross income from 1997 through 2003. In 2000, for example, Owens' ledger says the couple grossed $426,409, but reported just $18,431 in income between them.

The following year -- shortly before they bought the condo at 77 East Missouri for $400,000 -- the Owenses reported $46,582 in income to the IRS.

Bob Owens' ledger said he'd grossed $500,926.

From 1997 through 2003, Owens' own ledger added up to $2.3 million in gross income. Not bad for a felon just four years out of the joint with a stay-at-home wife.

Steve Dichter is obviously taking great delight in attacking Tom Thinnes to try to save Bob Owens from a life behind bars.

"I knew [Thinnes] for 30 years as a prosecutor and defense lawyer," he wrote in his July 11 letter to Brad Astrowsky, "and . . . there was never a moment that I believed a word he ever said."

Thinnes was no slouch -- even Dichter admits that. Nor is Dichter, a former white-collar prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's Office and current member of the governing board of the State Bar of Arizona.

The two feisty lawyers last confronted each other during a contentious hearing at the Old Courthouse last September 1.

The civil case at hand was Thinnes vs. Owens, in which a judge was asked to resolve disputes between the men over the potential sale of the law-office building that the two men then owned. (The building finally was sold last month for $600,000 -- half to Owens, half to the Thinnes Estate.)

Thinnes got so steamed during Dichter's cross-examination of him that he twice challenged his adversary from the witness stand to take their differences "outside."

To be kind, it was not Thinnes' brightest courtroom moment.

Two weeks later, he died.

The judge later held Bob Owens in contempt of court, concluding that "substantial evidence at the hearing demonstrated that [Owens] has engaged in a pattern of removing and/or destroying or tampering with [Thinnes'] office records in an apparent effort to harass [Thinnes] and interfere with his legal practice."

As the county's grand jury investigation moved forward, Dichter asked prosecutors months ago to allow Owens to testify. He withdrew the request two weeks ago.

"With Thinnes having been the main source of underlying information to [Agent] Edwards," Dichter wrote in his July 11 letter, "it was formerly viewed as essential that Owens directly rebut Thinnes' accusations. Now, however, with homage to Gore Vidal's reaction to the death of Truman Capote hanging in the air (when asked for reaction, Vidal termed Capote's death 'a good career move'), the need for any sort of a rebuttal of that type has passed, along with anything Thinnes may have had to say."

Dichter also implied in his letter that Thinnes and New Times somehow had conspired to get Bob Owens.

"You and your agent [Edwards] have been sold a major bill of goods by both the dead and the living," Dichter wrote, adding that an "ancient Chinese aphorism holds that the faintest of ink is more powerful than the strongest of recollections . . ."

One problem for Owens is that the ink used to describe his wrongdoings is indelibly etched into the public record.

Certainly, not everyone subscribes to Steve Dichter's position that, in his words, Tom Thinnes was a "craven and dishonest" man.

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