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By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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O'Neal's high-profile agent, Lester Knispel, vigorously defended the pair in an e-mail to the ballplayer.
"They would never throw you under the bus with Shaunie," he wrote. "They are both in tears over this . . . Is it possible that Shaunie can tap into your e-mails and that is how she is picking up the information you are sending?"
On November 10, 2009, Shaunie O'Neal filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.
By then, Darling says, he had started to leak info to her from O'Neal's e-mails as divorce settlement negotiations were getting under way. He tells New Times that he simply was doing "the right thing."
"I haven't made a buck off of any of this — not a buck," Darling claims, though the evidence (and common sense) strongly suggests that money always has been his end game.
In early December 2009, O'Neal had homed in on the apparent snake in his midst — Shawn Darling.
Darling says that a barrage of virus alerts popped up on his computer screen during that time, suggesting to him that someone was trying to hack into his server.
"I knew it had to be Shaq," he says, which O'Neal's camp denies.
Darling admits he continued to surreptitiously monitor O'Neal's e-mail from his own computer — with the access he says he got after the panic over Alexis Miller's 2008 restraining order.
Now, he pored over the most recent messages, which included the December 15, 2009, e-mail from Detective Mattlin, and others from ex-"colleagues" at the Miami Beach PD.
Those e-mails, Darling says, especially the one from Mattlin, convinced him that O'Neal was devising a plot to frame him by somehow putting child porn on his computer.
The inflammatory allegation remains unproved, though the possibility that a desperate O'Neal wanted to hack into Darling's computer to see what was there cannot be ignored.
"Shaq is a smart guy in a lot of ways, very manipulative," Darling says, a description that also fits himself. "You ever hear the saying about desperate people doing desperate things?"
New Times requested an interview with Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff to discuss the O'Neal situation — it was the chief who was responsible for bringing the superstar into his agency's fold.
Ryff declined the request through spokesman Carbajal.
Carbajal and Tempe PD legal adviser Bill Amato, however, did speak about the case, and provided several requested documents under Arizona's public-records law.
Carbajal says the agency completed an administrative review of Mattlin's December 2009 e-mail to O'Neal (almost two years after the fact) and found no wrongdoing on the part of Mattlin.
Conducted by Sergeant Joey Brudnock, the review concludes with this statement:
"I found the content of the [December 2009] e-mail to be an appropriate information exchange between two police detectives. Detective Mattlin had an expectation that his e-mail would remain a private exchange between two police detectives and thus included sensitive methodologies and practices in hopes of furthering law enforcement efforts in another state."
Sergeant Brudnock's report says Shaquille O'Neal is "still currently AZPOST certified," which technically is true.
But he fails to note that O'Neal had no law enforcement authority in December 2009.
Both Carbajal and Amato say that IT personnel at the Tempe PD curiously have been unable to locate Mattlin's e-mail or the communication from O'Neal that initiated the detective's response.
Carbajal declines to comment on the possibility that the Tempe Police Department was tooled by a sports star/wanna-be cop whose personal world was in disarray.
"Shaq did a lot of good things for our agency and our community when he was here," he tells New Times. "I would categorize it as a positive relationship overall."