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Official in Buss Tax Case Is Suspended

Times Staff Writer

The Maricopa County official who negotiated the recent $1 million settlement with Los Angeles sportsman Jerry Buss and his business associate, Frank Mariani, over unpaid taxes said Wednesday that he has been relieved of his duties, pending an investigation.

Joe Abodeely, deputy county attorney, said that he has been given administrative leave, in part, at least, because of the methods he used in the Buss-Mariani case.

Abodeely said that his cases have been taken away from him and that he is barred from the office until the investigation, by an outside law firm, is completed. He remains on salary.

Said Sylvia Lopez, spokeswoman for the county attorney’s office: “At this point in time, we can only say that yes, Joe Abodeely is employed in this office, but we are not releasing any more information.”

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Buss, who owns the Lakers, Kings and the Forum, operates a real estate business in Maricopa County with Mariani. When the county assessor’s office determined that Buss and Mariani had underpaid taxes on 206 Arizona properties by more than half a million dollars, Abodeely threatened them with criminal prosecution and demanded a total of $1 million.

Abodeely said that the additional money would be used to cover attorney fees, penalties, uncomputed interest and the cost of the investigation, which had stretched over nine months. Buss and Mariani paid on May 10.

“It isn’t extortion,” Abodeely said of his methods in the Buss-Mariani case to Phoenix television reporter Alan Rappoport. “Our office does that all the time.”

According to Abodeely, the decision to ask for $1 million was made in a meeting at which he was joined by Tom Collins, the county attorney, and other county officials.

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“Mr. Collins knew what I was doing every step of the way,” Abodeely said. “We all agreed to go for $1 million, and Collins said it would teach them a lesson about paying their taxes. If I committed the crime of extortion, then Tom Collins is guilty of aiding and abetting.

“I just got a million dollars for Maricopa County. One million dollars. I don’t get a word of commendation. . . . Instead, they call me in the office and say, ‘We’re going to investigate you.’


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