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Wired informant useful in investigation of boxing promoter

Perhaps lunch hour at a busy restaurant wasn’t the best time to wire an informant for a meeting with an investigative lead.

The noise of all those customers made it hard for detectives to understand just what Mary Rose Wilcox had to say. As it turned out, Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor and former boxing commissioner, didn’t say much anyway.

The wire was worn Aug. 24 by Gabriel Esqueda, a former employee of Phoenix boxing promoter Peter McKinn. Maricopa County sheriff’s detectives enlisted Esqueda as part of their investigation into a bad-check case, leading to the Sept. 30 indictment of McKinn by a Maricopa County grand jury.

McKinn has pleaded not guilty.

The investigation produced a 1,200-page sheriff’s report, largely transcripts of conservations between and Esqueda and McKinn. During those conversations, Esqueda wore a hidden recorder.

In addition, detectives spoke with a justice of the peace about whether Wilcox’s husband Earl had sought to quash a warrant for the arrest of McKinn. They also spoke to a former boxer who said McKinn had tried to hire him to “knock out Joe Diaz.”

Diaz is a Phoenix trainer and manager who’s had a long-running feud with McKinn and the Wilcoxes. He operates Top Level boxing gym at Ninth Avenue and Washington Street near the Capitol. The three-member Arizona Boxing Commission, including Wilcox, stripped Diaz of his trainer’s license in 2005. Wilcox’s term ended last January.

The Wilcoxes became part of a story that began in May 2004. That’s when Diaz received a $5,000 check in prize money from McKinn’s Top Rank Boxing account. Esqueda made the payout. Diaz later went to the bank, but was unable to cash the check made out to his fighter, Luis Ramon “Yori Boy” Campas. The check was no good.

McKinn later said Diaz was paid in cash, not by check. He produced a cash receipt with Joe Diaz’s signature on it. Esqueda, in turn, produced an affidavit saying he paid Diaz in cash. Diaz claimed his signature on the receipt was forged. He went so far as to hire a handwriting expert to make his case. Esqueda later told deputies he signed a false affidavit. He didn’t pay Diaz the cash, he said.

It was an admission he made to investigators during a July 30 interview. He agreed to cooperate in their investigation.

The charges against McKinn include fraud and forgery stemming from the check, the receipt and affidavit.

Misdemeanor bad-check charges were initially filed against McKinn in 2005. At that time, the county prosecutor on the case received a fax from Mary Rose Wilcox’s office. It included copies of the receipt and the affidavit. Stamped on one of the documents was “Approved, Joe Diaz State Liar.”

The misdemeanor charges were later dropped. Diaz, however, convinced sheriff’s detectives to pick up the trail.

As part of their investigation, Esqueda wore a wire when meeting Mary Rose Wilcox at El Portal restaurant in Phoenix, which is owned by the Wilcoxes. It was, detectives noted, 12:05 p.m. Lunchtime.

Esqueda told Wilcox investigators wanted to talk to him about the Diaz check. He said he had signed a false affidavit. According to the report, Esqueda told detectives afterward: “Mary Rose was quiet and seemed reluctant to talk. …. She told him she had nothing to say and suggested he get an attorney.”

No transcription was made of Esqueda’s recording – too much background noise.

Esqueda met Earl Wilcox the following day. Earl Wilcox had drawn the interest of investigators for showing up with McKinn in the chambers of Justice of the Peace Carlos Mendoza. Earl Wilcox wanted Mendoza to quash a warrant for McKinn’s arrest on the misdemeanor charge.

Once again, Esqueda wore a wire. Once again, he went to El Portal at noon. Once again, noise inside the restaurant made the recording all but useless. Like his wife, Earl Wilcox had little to say, other than to suggest Esqueda get a lawyer, according to detectives.

McKinn himself was a bit more talkative. Esqueda spoke to him while wearing a wire on at least three occasions. On July 31, McKinn picked up Esqueda at a Dad’s Barber Shop, 16th Street and McDowell Road. According to the report, McKinn told Esqueda that he or his attorney, Hermilio Inigquez, made the receipt.

“So our (expletive) was covered,” McKinn told Esqueda, according to transcripts, “so if Joe (Diaz) would ever burn us on this (expletive) check, we, we had a receipt.”

McKinn later said the original receipt was lost in a fire, adding that it came down to his word against Diaz’s. He told Esqueda to stick to his story that Diaz was paid in cash.

On Aug. 5, the investigation led detectives to Daniel Lerma, a boxer who once fought for McKinn.

“Lerma said he knew about the $5,000 check which Diaz had tried to cash. Lerma said McKinn voided the check and Diaz did not get paid,” according to the report.

Beyond that, Lerma said, McKinn wanted to hire him and his brother “to knock out Joe Diaz. You know, burn his house down, his truck down.”

Lerma turned down the offer.

On June 25, detectives spoke to Mendoza as well. They wanted to follow up on a complaint by Diaz – that Earl Wilcox had shown up in Mendoza’s chambers with McKinn in 2005. Mendoza confirmed that with detectives.

Mendoza said he told Wilcox to stop right there. Then Mendoza put on his robe, turned on the tape recorder and – in the courtroom – asked McKinn how he pleaded. After McKinn pleaded not guilty, Mendoza quashed the warrant and released him on his own recognizance.

Detectives asked Mendoza if anything criminal had happened.

Mendoza said Wilcox didn’t try to intimidate him by “invoking the power of the governor or his wife’s political clout.” But he called Wilcox’s appearance highly inappropriate.

It was difficult, however, for Mendoza to stay on point. In a rambling interview, he veered into an ongoing dispute he had with a private citizen, as well as an argument he had gotten into with another JP over weddings, which pay extra.

“He (the other JP) had a bad habit of stealing weddings,” Mendoza added. “He would have his clerk outside on the street on February 14, handling out flowers, telling his clerk to stand in front of the street and hand out red roses to bring all the people in to go get married, so it hogs up all the weddings.”

Mendoza said the judge went too far when he had six weddings ready to go, and he had none. Mendoza told the judge he couldn’t do that. At that point, the other judge grabbed him by the neck and tried to drag him into his chambers, Mendoza said.

Mendoza said he has glad to have all that behind him. He left the court in March 2008.

“I … had a medical retirement,” he said. “I fell down a flight of stairs.”

There is another side to Mendoza’s story, however. According to the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct, he resigned following allegations he went into the other judge’s courtroom and ushered out couples waiting to get married.

When the other judge objected, Mendoza reportedly said: “Do you want to step out in the parking lot right now, and we’ll settle this man-to-man?”

The commission said Mendoza failed to maintain high standards of conduct.

As for McKinn, he is set to go on trial in the bad check case on Feb. 10 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

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