Former sports commission chief indicted in theft - East Valley Tribune: News

Former sports commission chief indicted in theft

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Posted: Sunday, October 5, 2008 5:06 pm | Updated: 9:44 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A grand jury has returned an indictment on nine counts of felony and misdemeanor theft against the former top executive of a tax-funded sports promotion group.

The indictment alleges that Michael T. Benson, 47, former executive director of the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission, made thousands of dollars in unauthorized purchases on hotel rooms for his family, a trip to the Cayman Islands and Cuba and health club memberships.

The indictment also alleges he withdrew commission money funds from an ATM at a Phoenix strip club.

"This defendant is accused of living a lavish lifestyle fueled by funds from the sports commission," Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Sunday.

The commission, established by the Arizona Legislature in 1989, is a nonprofit group that works to land sporting events for the Valley, helps to promote existing teams and supports youth sports, according to the commission's Web site.

An investigation report stated that in 2006, Phoenix, Maricopa County, Scottsdale, Chandler and Peoria contributed funds.

There was $144,284 in the commission's bank account when Benson was hired on May 30, 2006, and when he resigned on July 16, 2007, there was only $23,339, the report states.

Thomas said Benson obtained a debit card on the commission account without approval.

The county attorney's office began investigating in March at the request of the commission, Thomas said.

Benson could not be reached for comment.

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