Brother's Keeper

Michael Carbajal faced a crowd of about 3,000 on a chilly afternoon in the village of Canastota, New York. It was June 2006, and Arizona's best-ever pugilist was about to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Never much of a talker, Michael spent most of his short speech paying tribute to his oldest brother, Danny — his manager in and out of the ring and his mentor for as long as he could remember.

"Danny showed me everything I know," Michael said, as reported by Arizona Republic boxing writer Norm Frauenheim. "He'd be there every morning at 5 a.m. He didn't run with me. He was on a bike or in the Jeep. But he was there."

He then spoke directly to his brother, who was seated in the audience wearing the dark glasses he often favors in public.

"You know what, Danny?" Michael said, his voice rising. "Now we're here, at the Hall of Fame! We made it!"

That tender scene seems so far away now.

So do the signposts of Michael's illustrious career, which ended in 1999 after more than a decade in the international spotlight. During that time, the brave little warrior from a downtown Phoenix barrio battled his way into the hearts of millions of fans by dint of his hardscrabble upbringing, a lion's determination, and a proud, but uniquely humble, nature.

The landmarks included the 1988 Olympic silver medal (he really was robbed of the gold), the first world title win in July 1990 over a tough Thai before an adoring throng at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the epic 1993 knockout in Las Vegas over archrival Humberto "Chiquita" Gonzalez, and, finally, the dignified manner in which he retired in July 1999, after knocking out a younger and stronger Mexican fighter in a Tijuana bullring.

These are among the most difficult days of 41-year-old Michael Carbajal's life, about as rough on him as when his beloved dad, Manny, died in 1993, or when his little brother Angel was murdered outside a Phoenix bar in 2000.

Michael has been staggered by a blow more punishing than any punch he took in 53 professional fights. It was delivered by the most unlikely person he could have imagined — his brother Danny.

Michael, who earned more than $7 million in the ring, says he is broke.

And he has become convinced that Danny, whom he once trusted more than anyone else in the world, except maybe his mother, has robbed him blind.

On October 26, Michael filed a blockbuster lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court alleging just that.

"It's just mind-boggling what has happened here," says Alan Susman, Michael's attorney. "Michael has lost just about everything. He has no money that we know of."

The whole thing seems like an episode of The Sopranos, short of the moral code about stealing from your own family.

Michael filed his suit against Danny Carbajal and Danny's daughters, Josephine and Celia Carbajal.

The suit says the trio "engaged in an intentional and malicious course of conduct to convert Michael Carbajal's assets for their own benefit. All of [their] actions were done without Michael's knowledge or consent."

The suit also alleges that "Danny Carbajal committed forgery by removing money from bank accounts at BankOne/Chase Bank, withdrawing funds from Michael's IRAs and purchasing property with Michael's money and by titling the property in [Danny's] name."

Though Michael hasn't alleged a specific dollar amount that Danny allegedly has stolen, the pleadings suggest it is in the millions of dollars.

Michael Carbajal declined to speak with New Times for this article, saying he wants to wait until Danny's November 30 sentencing on felony theft and fraud convictions. The victim in that case was Danny's late ex-wife, Sally.

When Michael does step inside the courtroom to address the judge at Danny's sentencing, those closest to him say it will be as stressful and painful as anything he's ever done.

Much of the money Danny stole from Sally came from fraudulent transfers into his name of community properties he'd jointly "owned" with her. The properties are a focus of Michael's lawsuit against his brother and nieces, and he is asking the court to order the eight parcels signed over to him, as the real and rightful owner.

Danny admitted in a November 2004 deposition, during his divorce from Sally, that those properties and financial accounts actually had been funded with Michael's money, and so he shouldn't have to owe her half of the assets.

"It was Michael's money that bought the properties?" Sally's divorce lawyer asked Danny at the time.

"Yes," Danny replied, adding that the only property he and Sally had purchased with their own money (years earlier) was their previous residence at 914 East Fillmore.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin