Longform

The Dead Lawyer Made Him Do It

Page 4 of 6

Agent Edwards recently described in a court document how he discovered a November 2001 life-insurance check stub to Pfeifer while going through Owens' records after an earlier search in May 2004.

That check was for $253,028.

Edwards also saw another check from Pfeifer to Owens for $2,000, dated one week after the big insurance check was issued.

The agent tracked down Pfeifer, and heard her story: She said her husband had died in January 2001 at the age of 44, and her priest had recommended Tom Thinnes as an excellent choice to help sort out her legal and financial affairs.

Pfeifer told Edwards she'd spoken to Thinnes just once, on the phone, and he'd referred her to Bob Owens. Owens had come out to her home, and promised to help her for free because he attended the same church as she did.

Pfeifer said she'd assumed Owens was an attorney who worked with Thinnes, and still believed that to be so when Edwards visited her years after the fact. She said Owens had arranged to have the insurance check sent to him "to lower taxes" -- whatever that meant.

Owens soon started to dole out the insurance proceeds to Pfeifer in a series of cashier's checks. Pfeifer said she'd believed Owens eventually had given her the entire amount, which she said was exactly $225,000.

Agent Edwards then showed her a copy of the insurance check for $253,028. She said she'd never seen that check before, and hadn't endorsed it, though it had her name and signature on it.



Pfeifer said Owens had provided her with one cashier's check for $187,000, which she'd immediately transferred toward the purchase of a new home. She said she'd been so pleased with Owens' charitable help that she'd written him a check for $2,000.

Edwards also examined some of Owens' journals and saw a handwritten entry, "December 1. Pfeifer, Liz. $28,028."

According to Agent Edwards, "She did not know that Robert Owens kept $28,028 for himself."

Owens now faces charges of defrauding and stealing from the widow -- two out of the 15 counts in the indictment.



Steve Dichter put a different spin on the Pfeifer affair in his July 11 letter to prosecutors. He claimed that Tom Thinnes did "months of work" for Pfeifer after the insurance company first had balked at paying the benefit.

"Tom didn't work for free," Dichter wrote. "Pfeifer was not his kin. Whether Tom told her he was going to charge for the work he did or not, the facts are that when the check came in, Tom directed that Bob put it in the [firm's] Disbursement Account. Certainly, Tom told Bob that he was supposed to get paid."

In paperwork filed last Friday for a reduction of Owens' bail, Dichter said IRS officials likely will dub the so-called disbursement account the "Thomas A. Thinnes Tax Evasion Account."

"This is the account which Thinnes had Owens deposit many of the fees and retainers he received," Dichter wrote. "From that account, disbursements were made by Owens at Thinnes' instructions. Some payments paid for Thinnes' wife's credit card, some his children's educational and ordinary living expenses, some went into remodeling his Oregon summer home . . ."

Dichter neglected to point out that Owens had sole access to that disbursement account.

"In this case, Thinnes decided to keep $25,000 from the insurance proceeds and split it with Owens," Dichter argued in his motion. "The ledger shows Owens and Thinnes split the $25,000, $12,500 each, on December 2, 2002. The remaining $3,028 . . . paid for some expense."

Elizabeth Pfeifer could not be reached for comment for this story.

On the subject of alleged tax evasion, another point needs to be made: During his May 2004 search, Agent Edwards also located copies of joint tax returns filed by Bob and Terri Owens, and those accounting ledgers in Owens' handwriting.

The ledgers allegedly show the couple's true total gross income from 1997 through 2003. In 2000, for example, Owens' ledger says the couple grossed $426,409, but reported just $18,431 in income between them.

The following year -- shortly before they bought the condo at 77 East Missouri for $400,000 -- the Owenses reported $46,582 in income to the IRS.

Bob Owens' ledger said he'd grossed $500,926.

From 1997 through 2003, Owens' own ledger added up to $2.3 million in gross income. Not bad for a felon just four years out of the joint with a stay-at-home wife.


Steve Dichter is obviously taking great delight in attacking Tom Thinnes to try to save Bob Owens from a life behind bars.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin