Catch Him If You Can

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Like any good con, Owens' shtick probably had grains of truth. As it was the mid-1980s and mandatory drug testing wasn't yet commonplace, paramedics may have been snorting cocaine on the job.

Proving anything was another matter.

It turned out, for example, that no one named Stangles or anyone close to that name had died in Maricopa County on or about the date that Owens had mentioned.

The deal had been contingent on Owens introducing a major drug dealer to undercover officers, or providing other equivalent information.

That hadn't happened. But Owens still was eligible for probation. What really hurt him before sentencing was that he continued to commit audacious crimes even after his plea bargain.

Incredibly, under the circumstances, Owens had found work after his release as a financial representative with a Mesa firm. He was responsible for enrolling people for loans and collecting unpaid accounts, which gave new meaning to the old saw about the fox in the henhouse.

During his interview, Owens told a manager that he had recently spent a year in Austria as a ski instructor, and before that had been a flight paramedic for Air Evac.

Obviously a quick study, Owens soon submitted two loan applications totaling $5,000. But the manager discovered that he had dummied up the paperwork. More homework revealed that he had also forged a signature on another loan for $2,500 using the name of a dead person, and deposited that sum into his own bank account.

When confronted that September, Owens wrote out a confession for the company, claiming he had stolen the money "in order to pay for funeral expenses. My father-in-law passed away last week."

But there was no father-in-law, and no funeral, only a rip-off.

The company fired Owens.

A week or so later, someone noticed that hundreds of confidential "account cards" were missing. Soon, a delinquent customer who worked at a hospital phoned to say Owens had called her at work, and said he was coming by to pick up her payment in cash.

He never did collect.

With his December 1986 sentencing still a few months off, Owens soon found yet another job around money, with ITT Financial in Mesa.

The woman who interviewed him for the position later told Judge Ted Noyes that Owens "seemed to be a very clean-cut, very knowledgeable young man who was seeking a financial career. He seemed to have a relatively active life."

Owens hired on at ITT as a loan officer.

Then, about a month into his tenure, he phoned in to say he wouldn't be coming into work that day. He said his sister had been in a car crash and wasn't expected to live, and that he was standing vigil.

Actually, Owens was calling from jail. That day, Judge Noyes had ordered him into custody until sentencing.

While Owens was away, an office manager looked at a loan application processed by Owens for which a $2,000 check had been cut. Most of the required information -- credit reports, a driver's license and the like -- was missing.

That's because the applicant didn't exist.

The manager then ordered a copy of the check that ITT had made out to its customer. Bob Owens' signature was on it.

But prosecutors declined to file new charges, and Owens' sentencing went as scheduled that December 19.

Owens told the judge that day, "Only I know what's going to happen in the future. I'm not asking to get out of anything."

But probation officer Billie Grobe painted a far different picture of the defendant.

"By all appearances," she wrote, "the defendant is the picture of a young and upwardly mobile junior executive, both respectful and successful. Digging deeper, it does not take long to see it is merely a carefully constructed faade of success and respectability -- there is no substance there."

She concluded, "Mr. Owens has demonstrated an ability to manipulate situations and individuals for his benefit and personal gain, with no thought for those he has victimized. He further demonstrated a lack of conscience in perpetrating crimes against the elderly, the sick and, in the case of the fraudulent loans, the deceased."

The judge agreed, telling Owens, "You can't be trusted, and will steal from everybody that you come in contact with, and will lie to anybody that you do come into contact with."

He then sentenced Owens to consecutive 10-year terms at the Department of Corrections.

Owens muttered "Oh Jesus!" twice before sheriff's deputies led him off in handcuffs.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin