Longform

Lord of the Lies

Page 2 of 9

Their bond deepened despite constant warnings to Thinnes about Owens from family, friends and colleagues.

Thinnes abruptly ended their relationship last December after learning of yet another Owens scam, the alleged theft of a Cadillac Escalade and other property from Scottsdale couple John and Carol Rizzo.

The trouble for Thinnes was that it had happened on his watch, as the couple -- then under indictment for major income-tax evasion -- originally had gone to him for legal help.

Thinnes' letters to the State Bar of Arizona show how much he feared the effect that Owens' actions might have on his own license to practice law. (He needn't have worried: The Bar summarily dismissed the Rizzo complaint and all other Owens-related complaints against Thinnes, the late Mike Vaughn and Larry Debus.)

During the final months of his life, Tom Thinnes was obsessed with his hatred of Owens. Those closest to him are convinced that the stress led to his fatal stroke at age 64.

On September 15, the day after his death, Thinnes' sons returned to the storage facility, wanting to make sure they hadn't missed seeing the safe. But the same key that had opened the lock less than 24 hours earlier didn't work this time.

Perplexed, the brothers asked the facility's manager for help. She told them it was a different lock on the door. The manager sawed off the lock to allow entrance to the unit. The men again sorted through the clutter, but never did find the missing safe.

Later, they scanned a computer printout of the day's activities at the facility. It showed that someone -- not them -- had entered the facility using Tom Thinnes' pass code at 8:55 a.m. and had left 35 minutes later.

A few days later, the brothers asked to see a security videotape made September 15 from cameras mounted in and around the building. One of the cameras is at the end of the corridor that houses Unit 64.

The tape showed two men in ball caps carting boxes out of Thinnes' storage locker between 9 and 9:30 a.m.

Ben Thinnes says he soon informed Mike Edwards, an agent for the Attorney General's Office, about the break-in. For months, Edwards has been investigating Owens' alleged criminal escapades.

The agent collected the videotapes from the storage facility's manager, and made still photos of the alleged thieves. Nayeli Bueno, a former secretary for Thinnes and Owens, says Edwards asked her if she could identify the men.



She says she recognized them instantly.

"It was Bob Owens and his friend Don Stevens," Bueno says. "I'm 100 percent sure. I know who they are. There is no doubt in my mind."

Ben Thinnes says he also reviewed the photographs at the AG's Office, and is sure Owens was one of the burglars (he doesn't know Don Stevens).

Owens did have a legitimate reason to be at the facility, as he rents his own space on the second floor. But he had no reason to have used Tom Thinnes' pass code, and no reason to have been anywhere near Unit 64 -- which is at the end of a hallway that leads nowhere.

Owens and his alleged accomplice, Stevens, have a long, quirky history. The two lived in the same apartment in 1986 when Maricopa County sheriff's deputies arrested Owens on suspicion of theft and other felonies. The deputies found hundreds of stolen items at the residence, though Owens later tried to shift the blame to Stevens (who never was charged).

No matter. The men apparently resumed their friendship upon Owens' release from prison in 1993 after serving just six years of his 20-year sentence.

Just last year, Owens invoked his "best friend's" name after apparently promising the mother of his young, illegitimate daughter that he'd marry her.

He did so because of a little hitch:

Owens was -- and still is -- married to a corrections officer he met while he was incarcerated.

According to an e-mail that Tom Thinnes sent to a friend earlier this year, here's how Owens avoided a bigamist's walk down the aisle:

"Owens told her that Don had died, so he had no best man. Don was here in the office last month so apparently his death was slightly exaggerated. The poor, dumb broad even went to the golf course and spread ashes that Owens said belonged to Don."

Owens' attorney, Steve Dichter, declined to comment about this or other allegations raised in this story. Stevens couldn't be reached for comment.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin