Longform

Family Secrets

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The victory cinched Michael's reputation as one of the sport's top pound-for-pound pugilists. It also won him commercial endorsements, and years' worth of other lucrative fights.

But later in 1993, beloved family patriarch Manny Carbajal died of a heart attack, a blow from which the clan never really recovered.

Soon after that, Michael's formerly pristine reputation took a hit when he was in his front yard on Fillmore Street as one of his friends shot another to death on New Year's Eve.

Both victim and perpetrator were members of the Ninth Street Gang, and news stories linked Michael to the known gangsters.

In 1994, police arrested Michael for firing shots in the air as he left a party in Tempe. He barely escaped jail after pleading guilty to a felony that later was reduced to a misdemeanor.

Michael has stayed away from serious trouble since, and remains an honored figure around the fight game, always approachable and friendly to his fans.

He earned more than $7 million in purses during his decade as a pro, though how much of that actually went into his pocket is uncertain. In 1997, Michael told New Times that he hoped to save enough money for the long haul.

"I don't know much about money and investments," he said frankly. "I don't even like to think about it. Danny and Sally do what's best for me."

The couple also seemed to be doing what was best for them.

They bought several properties during the early 1990s, most in the downtown Phoenix area near the original homesteads on East Fillmore.

Beyond that, Danny and Sally also opened accounts with Merrill Lynch, and had accumulated almost $400,000 by 2003.

They'd moved out of the old neighborhood in 1993 into a comfortable home they'd bought in central Phoenix on East Coronado Road for about $60,000.

As Michael's career flourished in the mid-'90s, Sally decided to retire from BankOne. During that stretch, she, Michael and Danny became partners of a nonprofit in the new Ninth Street Gym, across the street from their old compound on Fillmore.

The well-appointed gym was a converted church that had opened to great fanfare.

But the facility never caught on as the Carbajals had hoped. Part of the reason may have been the demise of Danny and Sally's long marriage.

Cracks in the union rose to the surface in July 1997 when Sally filed for divorce in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Sally later admitted she'd removed about $300,000 around that time from one of the Merrill Lynch accounts. With Danny's knowledge, she said later, she'd paid about $100,000 of that money to federal and state authorities for back taxes that the couple had owed for years.

Sally also said she gave her daughters $7,000, and a divorce attorney the same amount. She apparently later returned two cashier's checks totaling $100,000 to Danny, along with $30,000 that she'd put into a checking account in her name.

Danny Carbajal later called it theft, and said last November during a deposition that his brother Michael had provided most of the funds in the couple's Merrill Lynch accounts.

"So your brother gave you money, or gave money to your wife to put into an IRA in your name?" Winsberg asked him.

"I don't know," Danny said. "You have to ask Sally that. Sally was the one that set all this up. . . . She knows that 75 percent of the retirement that I have is Michael's, not ours. Not mine."

Danny explained why nothing about the supposed arrangement had been put in writing: "We were family. Everything that we did, we did by just our word."

But Sally said in her deposition that none of the couple's money with Merrill Lynch had come from Michael. She said Michael had his own accounts with the firm, and also had put large sums of money into his mother's IRA, but not theirs.

Michael Carbajal referred questions about his finances, both past and present, to Danny.

Sally didn't follow through with her 1997 divorce petition, and a judge dismissed it a year later. She and Danny reconciled on and off for the next few years, but the schisms were too deep.

Danny blames most of their problems on Sally's alcoholism, which led to her imprisonment for four months in 2002 after a felony conviction for aggravated drunken driving.

A good friend of Sally's, Tammy Brant, said that Sally "did have problems with drinking, but she wasn't this falling-down drunk like the Carbajals want to say. And she loved those kids of hers, even with all the grief they gave her. It ate her up that they and Danny treated her like they did."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin