Lord of the Lies

Page 3 of 9

No one at the Attorney General's Office would discuss its ongoing criminal investigation of Bob Owens.

But in May, an affidavit for a search warrant of Owens' home, office and a storage unit mentioned potential charges of fraudulent schemes, conducting an illegal enterprise, theft, forgery and "illegal interception of an oral communication."

The latter refers to untold hours of illegal videotaping of litigants -- lawyers and clients -- at the building owned by Owens and Thinnes.

For whatever reasons, Owens seems no closer to prosecution now than he was when the current criminal investigation against him began early this year.

If and when agent Mike Edwards does complete his investigation, the Attorney General's Office won't be handling the prosecution of the case. Several months ago, that agency declared a conflict of interest, ostensibly because an ex-Owens secretary who is a potential witness is now working in its appellate section.

Any prosecution of Owens would be done by the Pima County Attorney's Office because the Maricopa County Attorney's Office also has declared a conflict of interest for other, equally arcane reasons.

On the surface, little has changed in Bob Owens' world since publication of the New Times story about him last August.

He's still bouncing around local hot spots in his tasseled loafers and preppy outfits, gripping and grinning as if life couldn't be better.

Owens last appeared in court September 1, at a contempt hearing prompted by Tom Thinnes in a bitterly fought lawsuit over their office building.

Owens appeared unflappable, even as he admitted to Superior Court Judge Cathy Holt that he had violated her orders by illegally entering the office after working hours on the night that the first New Times story about him hit the streets.

To the contrary, Thinnes was a shadow of his former self, pathetically reduced on the witness stand during cross-examination to challenging Owens' attorney, Dichter, to take their dispute outside.

Unfortunately, Thinnes died before he could at least get the small satisfaction of having won the hearing.

Holt finally ruled November 2, holding Owens in contempt of court. The judge wrote in part that "substantial evidence at the hearing demonstrated that [Owens] has engaged in a pattern of removing and/or destroying or tampering with [Thinnes'] office records in an apparent effort to harass [Thinnes] and interfere with his legal practice."

Since publication of that first story, a host of new claims against Owens has emerged.

They include Owens' alleged 2002 theft of a Mercedes and $27,000 from a Valley woman. The thefts came in the form of payments to Owens for unnecessary, uncompleted and unapproved (by his then-employer, Thinnes) investigative services.

Another good one: The mother of a Phoenix man wanted for murder and kidnapping allegedly paid Owens up to $30,000 to help get her son back to his native Russia. Now 21, Mikhail Drachev still is a fugitive, though police last month released a new photo of him taken in Canada. It isn't certain what Owens did to assist Drachev.

Also last month, a Las Vegas man named Jay Evenson sued Owens, Thinnes and several government officials for alleged wrongdoing in an illegal videotaping at Thinnes' law offices.

Until a few years ago, Evenson owned the Bachelor's Beat, a venerable singles magazine sold at Phoenix news racks.

In 1997, a Maricopa County grand jury indicted Evenson on 15 felony counts under a newly enacted law that barred the "sale or distribution of material harmful to minors through vending machines."

The prosecution had seemed shaky and politically driven, and Evenson hired Tom Thinnes to defend him. Thinnes nearly won an acquittal at the first trial, which ended in a hung jury.

As the case proceeded to a retrial in early 2000, prosecutor Ted Campagnola brought the chief complaining witness, an elderly Phoenix man, to Thinnes' office for an interview.

Both sides agreed that audiotaping the session was fine.

The second jury convicted Evenson. The trial judge imposed a huge fine and placed him on probation.

Evenson says that he later went to Thinnes' office to pick up his file for an appeal. He says he found a videotape as he sorted through a box of his paperwork.

It showed the pretrial interview of the main prosecution witness, the elderly man who first had complained to authorities about the Bachelor's Beat.

The videotape's existence surprised Evenson, and he soon learned that it depicted more than just the interview.

At the outset, the secret camera had recorded a pre-interview conversation between prosecutor Campagnola, Thinnes and Owens in which Thinnes denigrated his client, who wasn't present.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin