By Amy Silverman
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By Weston Phippen
Michael Carbajal, Phoenix's greatest boxing champion, sat on his front porch on East Fillmore Street, watching the world go by.
He looked healthier and sounded better than he has in years. Though his battle with alcoholism has been no secret, the champ, now 40, says he's been off the sauce for months and hopes to keep it that way.
It was one day before he was to square off against his most unlikely of opponents, his big brother, former trainer/manager, financial guru, and best friend Danny.
Danny was scheduled to appear for sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court after pleading guilty to three felonies stemming from his theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement accounts and properties from his late ex-wife, Sally. ("Family Secrets," June 23, 2005, and "Brother's Keeper," November 1, 2007).
The couple's adult daughters, Josephine and Celia, conspired with Danny in the theft and earlier pleaded guilty to lesser felonies. Neither served jail time.
As Michael sipped a Gatorade on his porch and quietly contemplated aloud what he was going to tell the judge, Danny drove by.
He didn't look over at Michael and slowed down only briefly when he reached Carbajal's Ninth Street Gym, a converted church about 100 yards down and across the street.
The gym once seemed to symbolize the alleged unity of this gritty Latino clan.
"He don't scare me no more," Michael said of his 57-year-old brother. "He done what he done."
Michael said he was planning to ask Judge Andrew Klein to sentence Danny to the maximum prison term of more than 10 years behind bars.
That once would have seemed unthinkable to those who knew how tight the brothers used to be, how Danny had molded Michael from a scrawny street kid into a beloved five-time world champion and Hall of Famer.
But greed wound up driving Danny Carbajal more than teaching his little brother how to throw a nasty left hook.
Michael, who earned at least $7 million in the ring, says he's broke and financially dependent on his girlfriend of more than a year, Laura Hall.
According to court records, Phoenix police now are investigating Danny and others for stealing Michael's money, and for embezzling more than $1 million in IRA funds from the Carbajal family's unsuspecting matriarch, Mary.
Danny also remains the prime suspect in the unsolved February 25, 2005 shooting murders of ex-wife Sally and her boyfriend Gerry Best.
The murders occurred in Phoenix three days before Danny was to do battle with Sally at a divorce trial that would have revealed his financial scams.
Judge Klein's courtroom was packed on the morning of February 21.
Wearing his usual dark glasses, Danny sat with his attorney and awaited his legal fate.
Deputy County Attorney Annielaurie Van Wie asked the judge to impose a five-year prison sentence, the average term.
"Michael made the Carbajal name in this community," she said, gesturing at those in attendance supporting a probation term for Danny. "Without Michael, Danny would not be the community icon that all these people think he is . . . Now he knows his brother is in dire straits, and he turns his back on his brother."
Former boxer Ruben Castillo, who had flown in from California for the sentencing, told Judge Klein that "Michael trusted in Danny more than he trusts anyone in the world. I don't know this Danny Carbajal . . . this malicious, devastating person he has come to be. He taught his kids how to steal. You don't teach your kids to do that."
Usually a man of few words, Michael spoke passionately for several minutes.
"I would have given him anything. Anything!" Michael said, as he pleaded with Judge Klein to allow him to turn and address Danny directly.
The judge told Michael that he could speak to Danny, who was sitting a few feet away, but could not look at him.
"All I said to you, Danny, was, 'Take [financial] care of my mother, first of all, and take care of my kids first of all,'" Michael said.
Michael told Judge Klein that their late father, Manuel, warned him in the early 1990s that Danny had been stealing from him, but he didn't want to believe it.
Michael balled up his fists and kind of danced around the speaker's podium, not unlike when he used to try to dodge opponents' punches.
He said he had asked Danny several times to explain where his money and real estate assets had gone.
"I have no assets," Michael said. "He left me broke, with nothing, Judge! Just like he left Sally.
"I don't got nothing! All that hard work! I want you to feel this, Danny. My kids, Danny! Oh, I wish I could look at you. You're my brother, and I love you. But I don't love what you did. Judge, he deserves the max. He don't care about nobody but himself and his kids. He's vicious.
"To this day, I'm the same person as I always was," he said. "I'm gonna rise again. And I'm not gonna let you destroy me, Danny!"
Danny Carbajal's defense attorney, Mark Berardoni, told the judge about the "groundswell" of support for Danny, including letters from "community leaders" like Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.
Berardoni also noted that Danny suffers from diabetes and that his health is deteriorating.
Danny's two daughters were among about a dozen supporters who urged the judge to impose probation.
His youngest daughter, Celia, called her uncle Michael "a belligerent drunk" who is incapable of caring for himself, financially or otherwise. She suggested that whatever Danny had done was for the greater good.
As for her slain mother, Celia said, "I loved my mom to death, and I just miss her."
Celia's older sister, Josephine, blamed their mother's alcoholism for the subsequent intra-familial thefts.
"I'm not only my dad's daughter, but I'm his best friend," Josephine said, adding that she had decided to break the law on her own, not because Danny had told her to.
Danny Carbajal spoke briefly.
"I'm here because I broke the law," he told the judge, "and I apologize for that."
Judge Klein spoke about Danny's positive qualities but said his story, unfortunately, didn't stop there.
Klein said the facts of the case were "very disturbing," a family tragedy that included "greed and a pattern of wrongdoing spread out over three years . . . a sophisticated scheme."
Speaking slowly, the judge referred to Sally's homicide, saying it had "inexplicably" occurred shortly before her ugly divorce trial with Danny was set to start.
Klein told Danny he couldn't consider Sally's murder for this sentencing because "you have not been charged with that crime."
But the judge's powerful words hung heavy over the courtroom as a Phoenix homicide detective took notes in the back row.
Finally, he ordered Danny to serve 54 months in prison, six months less than the five years requested by prosecutor Van Wie. He must serve at least 3 1/2 years before he is eligible for parole.
As his two daughters looked on, Danny Carabajal was handcuffed and taken into custody by sheriff's deputies.