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Judge rejects plea deal in boxing brouhaha

Joe Diaz, owner of Top Level Boxing Gym in downtown Phoenix, holds a copy of a fax that Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox sent to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in 2005 to provide background on a dispute between Diaz and boxing promoter Peter McKinn. The fax includes Wilcox’s letterhead and a stamp that reads “Joe Diaz Certified State Liar.” (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Joe Diaz, owner of Top Level Boxing Gym in downtown Phoenix, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to clear his name after his boxing license was taken away in 2005.(Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Boxing trainer Joe Diaz was supposed to reach a major milestone Sept. 24 in the five-year saga to clear his name and bring to justice those he contends wronged him — including boxing promoter Peter McKinn and Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.

But Diaz will have to wait a little longer.

McKinn showed up in court to plead guilty to felony charges of theft and solicitation to commit forgery in connection with bilking Diaz and his fighter out of $5,000 in prize money for a 2004 boxing match, but the plea deal blew up after the judge began questioning the punishment, which included three years of probation and restitution to Diaz.

McKinn’s attorney Brian Russo said the case has been assigned to a new judge and a plea deal is still likely.

But Diaz said he won’t be content unless McKinn goes to jail and is banned from boxing. He said he is planning to file a lawsuit that implicates McKinn, Wilcox, former Boxing Commission Executive Director John Montano and others in a conspiracy to take away his boxing license and his livelihood in retaliation for his dispute with McKinn.

“I will never give up,” Diaz said. “They thought I’d be bankrupt by now or retired or given up.”

In his corner, Diaz has attorney Ed Moriarity, 30-year law partner with legal icon Gerry Spence. The trouble at the Sept. 24 change of plea hearing in Judge Robert Gottsfield’s court began when Moriarity brought up the name of Wilcox, who is listed, along with her husband Earl Wilcox, as a witness in the case.

Mary Rose Wilcox moonlighted on the state Boxing Commission until 2009, and she was on the panel when it refused to renew Diaz’ license in 2005 for alleged fraud. That year, she sent a 12-page fax containing a cover-page with her letterhead and a stamp that reads “Joe Diaz Certified State Liar” to a deputy Maricopa County attorney who was handling a short-lived misdemeanor case against McKinn that stemmed from the same $5,000 check.

The fax contained documents pertaining to the check, Diaz’s boxing license and previous disputes he had with McKinn, whose promotion company was affiliated with boxing giant Top Rank.

The misdemeanor case against McKinn was later dismissed. Diaz claims Wilcox worked behind the scenes to clear McKinn of the charges.

“She tried to pin everything on me so she could keep McKinn out of trouble,” Diaz said. “But now the truth is coming out. McKinn is going to pay for what he did to me. And so will Mary Rose Wilcox.”

In court, Russo objected when Moriarity brought up Wilcox, saying she was irrelevant to the case. He said McKinn never had contact with Wilcox and doesn’t wield enough influence to affect someone’s boxing license.

“This is nothing more than a bad-check case, and it’s really gotten blown out of proportion,” Russo said.

Cari Gerchick, Maricopa County spokeswoman, said Wilcox declined comment for this story.

“She has nothing to add to the official record,” Gerchick said.

Things got uglier in the 20-minute hearing when the judge asked whether restitution for Diaz would include interest.

Russo said the judge was inappropriately inserting terms in the plea deal that the parties hadn’t discussed.

“The judge said if you’re not going to let me put it in, then I’m rejecting the agreement,” Russo said. “And we said ‘Good, that’s what we want. We don’t want you to become a party to this agreement and start adding things to this agreement.’”

According to court records, the judge “only wanted to know what the plea agreement provided,” and “because there was no satisfactory answer, the court rejected the plea.”

It is rare for judges to reject plea agreements, and when they do the case is typically reassigned. The next hearing has not been scheduled, but both parties believe the proceedings will resume in November.

The initial dispute began in May 2004 when McKinn gave Diaz’s fighter a check for $5,000 that bounced. Diaz tried to collect on the check for weeks.

Eventually, McKinn produced a cash receipt with Diaz’ signature on it and a witness who swore in an affidavit that Diaz was paid in cash.

The witness, Gabriel Esqueda, later became a witness for the state and admitted that he had lied on the affidavit.

The Boxing Commission refused to renew Diaz’s license in June 2005 on allegations he and his fighter Luis Ramon “Yori Boy” Campas had tried to rip off the commission for $3,000 by claiming they hadn’t received payment for a fight. That incident was unrelated to the case that is now in court.

Diaz, owner of Top Level Boxing Gym in downtown Phoenix, said his business fell apart after he lost his license and he’s now $516,000 in debt.

The Boxing Commission, under new leadership, reinstated his license in April. But in the years without a license, Diaz had lost more than half of his clients. During that time, he continued to train boxers at his gym, but was unable to act as their trainer in sanctioned fights in Arizona.

As part of the agreement to reinstate the license, Diaz agreed in writing to support the current commission and differentiate between the new commission members and the former commission members if he decides to sue.

“We decided to let bygones be bygones,” Boxing Commission Executive Director Dennis O’ Connell said. “His disputes are with the old regime.”

In reality, though, O’Connell lobbied to keep the old disputes alive. In January, he urged the commission to reject Diaz’ application for reinstatement, but was overruled by the commission members.

The situation went bad for McKinn in October 2009 when he was arrested and charged with felony counts of theft, fraud, perjury, forgery and conspiracy to commit theft in connection with the $5,000 that he had claimed was given to Diaz.

Acting Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley turned over the case to Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores in June, citing a conflict of interest from Wilcox’s involvement in the case, according to Bill Fitzgerald, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Flores said Wilcox has nothing to do with the criminal case against McKinn. She said her office generally offers probation to first-time offenders, but she wouldn’t speak specifically about the penalties she would seek against McKinn.

Meanwhile, Diaz is trying to sign up new prize-fighters and return to ringside after years on the sidelines. The 70-year-old trainer was scouting talent in El Paso, Texas, last week when he heard McKinn’s plea deal had been rejected.

“The way I see it, this means he might get more than just a slap on the wrist,” Diaz said during a phone interview. “If they let him off the hook by giving him probation, that tells me they don’t care about corruption in boxing.”

May 8, 2004: Peter McKinn writes a $5,000 check to Luis Ramon “Yori Boy” Campas, Joe Diaz’s fighter, for a boxing match. Diaz tries for several weeks to collect on the prize money, but finds out the check is bad.

Jan. 4, 2005: Diaz appears before the Arizona Boxing Commission to testify against McKinn’s license being renewed.

April 1, 2005: Maricopa County Attorney’s Office files misdemeanor charges against McKinn for bad check.

April 20, 2005: McKinn employee signs affidavit stating he paid Diaz $5,000 in cash.

May 1, 2005: McKinn’s defense attorney produces cash receipt with Diaz’s signature.

June 30, 2005: Arizona Boxing Commission refuses to renew Diaz’s boxing license based on allegations he and his fighter tried to steal money from the commission by claiming they hadn’t received payment for a boxing match.

Aug. 24, 2009: Diaz applies for renewal of boxing license.

Sept. 30, 2009: Maricopa County Grand Jury indicts McKinn on counts of theft, forgery, perjury, fraud and conspiracy to commit theft.

Oct. 14, 2009: Investigators arrest McKinn.

Jan 4: Boxing Commission Executive Director Dennis O’ Connell denies Diaz’s application.

April 22: Commission and Diaz reach settlement agreement to reinstate his license.

Sept. 24: McKinn enters guilty plea to two counts, but court rejects plea deal.

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