Longform

Catch Him If You Can

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But Owens always has been willing to dance with whoever will step out on the floor with him.

And that dance is always dirty.

"The story of Bob Owens is a lovely story of a reformed con man, but really with nothing reformed about him," says criminal defense attorney Laurie Herman, who had a memorable professional experience with Owens in the mid-1990s. "I've lost all respect for those big-shot attorneys who used him. They had to know there's slime on his trail. If you get in bed with the devil, you just might get burned."

Like the archetypal Satan preying on people during life's immoral junctures -- be they about a crime committed, debt incurred, or, in the case of many attorneys who repeatedly used him, outright greed -- Owens knew exactly when to spring and sink in his teeth.

"If you're asleep when the devil gets into bed with you," responds Thinnes, "and you kick him out when you finally wake up, does that make you guilty?"

That argument doesn't sway Craig Mehrens. "If Tom is going to take the position that he didn't know much about Bob's background and activities, that's very unfortunate because it's not true," Mehrens says. "I handed him the presentence report on Bob, which spelled it all out. Tom and Bob made lots of money together. The operative word here is greed."

Thinnes says he called county prosecutors early this year to report possible criminal wrongdoing by Owens. Citing a conflict, that agency sent the case to Attorney General Terry Goddard's office, whose investigators last May executed still-sealed search warrants on Owens' office at Edifice Lex, on his $400,000 home inside a gated community in central Phoenix, and at a storage facility.

After the search at Lex, someone draped yellow crime-scene tape across the door to Owens' office. It remained there, Thinnes says, until Owens ripped it down.

Owens' attorney, Steve Dichter, tells New Times, "We acknowledge that you have tried to reach Bob. But in light of what's going on, now isn't the time for us to make any comments."

Petra Cano has worked for almost two decades as a cashier at a west Phoenix supermarket.

"All I have ever known is work," says the single mother of two grown children. "I worked in the fields, and I've been working for Eddie Basha for 20 years. I'm a good person, but I am very naive."

One of 24 children born to migrant workers, she proudly bought her first home in 1981, a little place on West Romley Street. There, she raised her children, a boy and a girl.

On December 30, 2000, her son, Luis Pecina, was arrested on murder charges and locked up at the Madison Street Jail. Pecina heard through the jail grapevine that a lawyer named Thinnes was the best around. Luis called his mother, and asked her to set up an appointment with Tom Thinnes.

Cano soon went to Edifice Lex, but met instead with Bob Owens, who said he was Thinnes' "associate." That sounded to Cano like he was a fellow attorney. Owens said he would need $25,000 up front -- $15,000, then $10,000 -- to be followed shortly by another $75,000. He said he would appreciate the first payments in cash.

Cano didn't have that kind of money. Her biggest asset was her home, but a real estate agent told her it would take a few months to sell. The agent (this is grist for another story) said she'd give her $12,500 for the house. Cano agreed to the ridiculous deal, collected the money in a cashier's check and signed over her property. (County records show her quit-claim deed to the agent, who apparently also assumed the remaining mortgage of about $45,000, and that the agent sold the house three months later for $83,000.)

Cano says she and two male friends soon took $13,000 to Owens -- $10,000 from her house and $3,000 from a friend of her son's. She says Owens didn't provide a receipt.

Owens soon visited Luis Pecina at the jail. Later, he excitedly told his mother in a phone call that Owens thought he could beat the first-degree-murder rap, and that he might have to serve just a few years in prison. Cano says he also told her that Owens was going to watch his back for him at the jail, whatever that meant. She says Pecina told her to somehow find the other $75,000 for Owens.

Cano held a yard sale, sold most of her jewelry, and persuaded a friend to put up his business as collateral. But she never could come up with the remaining $75,000. Soon, she learned that Owens wasn't even a lawyer, and says she asked him for a receipt and accounting for the $13,000.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin