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Famed boxer Michael Carbajal, Arpaio group in land-rights feud

A land dispute has thrust one of Phoenix’s most notorious boxing heroes into a legal battle with a non-profit organization affiliated with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The dispute between former world champion boxer Michael Carbajal and the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation has brought new focus to a feud that has torn at Michael and his former trainer and brother, Danny, who was released from state prison in July following a 41/2-year sentence for theft and fraud.

Danny signed a document in December giving the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation title to a pair of lots near the corner of 10th and Fillmore streets near downtown Phoenix. The Youth Assistance Foundation is a long-standing non-profit that receives proceeds from the sale of Arpaio’s pink underwear, among other endeavors, and is run by a board without members of the sheriff’s staff.

The Youth Assistance Foundation was looking for a new place to house its boxing club, said Tom Harper, a director with the non-profit group, and discovered the property near 10th Street and Fillmore Street might be available.

Harper would not elaborate on how Danny came to be known to the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation, saying that revealing the connection could jeopardize attorney-client privilege.

When Danny offered to transfer the land to the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation, the group jumped at the opportunity, Harper said.

“They’re going to lose that facility,” Harper said of Carbajal’s gym. “The YAF being aware of that fact was in the process of looking for a new location for the boxing team to work out at when we heard that building may be available.”

But an attorney for Michael said in court documents that the land was not available, and in any event, was not Danny’s to sign over to anyone.

The land is owned by Carbajal’s Ninth Street Gym Inc., according to the Maricopa County Assessor, and the most recent deed dates from 1992 when a Phoenix couple conveyed the property to the gym.

Each brother is affiliated with a company of the same name: Danny’s Ninth Street Gym was administratively dissolved in 2001 by the Arizona Corporation Commission for not filing annual reports, and the Internal Revenue Service revoked its status as a tax-exempt organization in 2010.

Michael’s Ninth Street Gym was established in 2007 and is listed as a non-profit with the Arizona Corporation Commission, though the federal government has no record of Michael’s tax-exempt status.

The property has had tax liens filed against it every year since 2006. Harper purchased a 2007 tax lien on the property earlier this year to prevent the property from going into foreclosure.

Harper claims that Danny, as an affiliate of the original Ninth Street Gym, was authorized to discharge the land as a way to liquidate the remaining assets of his former non-profit, which are statutorily required to go to the state, a church or another charitable organization, such as the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation.

David Derickson, an attorney for Michael, said the land became Michael’s in 2007 when he established his own version of the Ninth Street Gym, and that the opportunity to challenge Michael’s claim to the land expired three years later, in 2010.

“It’s just ridiculous. Danny’s a criminal, he’s on probation right now, he signed this thing over to the SYAF without any legitimate authority,” Derickson said. “The law in Arizona and elsewhere is fairly clear, even if there’s a question about whether Michael had an entitlement to the property. He held it for more than three years in an open and notorious way. He had the corporation incorporated in his name. He ran it and has, therefore, ownership of it.”

The land dispute is the most recent legal battle between the two brothers and their family members.

Danny was sentenced to more than four years in prison for theft and fraud charges after prosecutors alleged he unlawfully transferred property that was jointly held by Danny and his deceased wife, Celia, who was shot to death in 2003.

Michael sued Danny and other members of his brother’s family in civil court in 2007 alleging fraud, theft and forgery. Court documents indicate that Michael admitted to misrepresenting his property ownership in the early 1990s in order to avoid paying higher child support. The records also include mention of $800,000 missing from an account set up for the boxer’s mother, and Michael’s attempts to claim entitlement to the missing money.

That lawsuit was resolved in late December with members of the Carbajal clan signing over titles to Michael for properties located along Fillmore Street.

Three weeks before those deeds were signed, Danny signed the title to the gym over to the Sheriff’s Youth Assistance Foundation.

Attorneys from Harper’s former firm have represented Danny’s family members in that dispute and others in recent years, but he said he had no involvement in the matter.

The Youth Assistance Foundation is a non-profit group that has existed since the 1980s and sponsors a boxing team, the sheriff’s “explorers” program for teens interested in law enforcement and provides college scholarships.

The group operates independently from the Sheriff’s Office, but is a beneficiary of the pink underwear Arpaio has made famous, with proceeds from the sale of the souvenir underwear going to the foundation’s bottom line.

The foundation made about $78,000 in merchandise sales in 2010, according to IRS records, and most of that likely came from the sale of souvenir underwear, said the sheriff’s Deputy Chief Brian Sands, who coordinates the office’s activity with posses and other community groups involved with the Sheriff’s Office.

Arpaio was unaware of the foundation’s dispute with Carbajal, and no one with the Sheriff’s Office has been involved with the foundation’s decision to pursue the property, Sands said.

“There’s clear lines right now and there has been for a long time about who handles all that and the business particularly. It’s completely run by (the YAF),” Sands said. “Nobody in the Sheriff’s Office knows anything about that nor do they have any interest in Michael Carbajal and what happens to his building over there. The last thing they’d want to do is kick somebody off their property wrongfully.”








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