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Another manager, Lester Knispel, virtually slipped on his own sweat defending them.
"Shaquille, believe me that people most loyal to you, besides me, are Dennis and Inna," he beseeched via email that day. "They would never throw you under the bus with Shaunie. They are both in tears over this... Is it possible that Shaunie can tap into your emails and that is how she is picking up the information you are sending to Dennis and Inna?"
Knispel signed the missive "Love, Lester."
When the basketball season began a month later, O'Neal was fending off more mortar fire. He had been forwarded an email in which gossip conglomerate TMZ was offering $3,500 to another alleged mistress — a Scottsdale, Arizona woman named Christina — for proof of an affair during his year-and-a-half tenure with the Phoenix Suns.
On December 15, O'Neal forwarded the email to his personal agent, Mike Parrish.
By now, O'Neal had zeroed in on the real traitor in his crew: his IT guy, Shawn Darling.
"Boy needs to b put in jail," he told Parrish. "we have way to many law enforcement connections to let a criminal try to get over on mine o mine.
"We dnt need any distraction as we deal with our harvard guy, shoe line guy, retaraunt guy, real estate guy, and everything we are planning to do for the after basketball life," O'Neal continued. "I promised u I would stay outta trouble, I kept my word, but cannot control somebody dtealing and selling emails. Come on now protect me from this. I lost my family because of this guy, come on now."
Parrish's reply was succinct: "Got it he will be stopped n pay for this."
That day, the seven-foot police groupie, who used the email address firstname.lastname@example.org, got a response from a real detective: Burke Mattlin, a child-porn investigator with Arizona's Tempe Police Department. Mattlin had acted as Reserve Officer O'Neal's partner during his stint with that department.
The content of the email to which Mattlin was responding is unknown — and later the Tempe Police Department was curiously unable to find their correspondence — but it contained detailed instructions on how to log as evidence child porn on a suspect's computer through the use of high-tech forensic tools.
It ended with a flourish: "Happy Hunting!"
Ping! Ping! Ping!
Like a submarine captain surveying incoming missiles on sonar, Shawn Darling says he watched a sudden barrage of virus alerts pop up on his computer screen one day in early December 2009.
"I was like, What the fuck is going on?" Darling recalls, lurching from a rolling chair as he re-creates his surprise in his immaculate home office in Homestead. "I felt like I was under attack."
Darling, who admits without shame to having routinely raided his boss's inbox and toyed with his life, had recently noticed some strange happenings in O'Neal's email, which he frequently monitored from the server on his desk.
So after the "attack," he dug through the athlete's recent messages and began to believe O'Neal was plotting to frame him with kiddie porn. Implicated in subsequent lawsuit allegations: Tempe's Mattlin, a Miami Beach Police detective, and a former chief on the Miami Beach force.
Darling's civil suit, dismissed in July, was revived after the determined techie entered new filings. O'Neal's lawyers have called Darling's allegations "baseless" and attempted, unsuccessfully, to have him indicted for theft and extortion.
But the case, regardless of the veracity of its claims, is booby-trapped for O'Neal.
When Darling started working for the Miami Heat star, whom he had met through a mutual acquaintance, in 2007, the computer whiz was the one-man team behind Your IT Team, LLC. He specialized in late-night tech work for Miami Beach hotels.
Darling rigged the O'Neals' various homes and offices for theater and Internet. When Shaq was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2008, he would fly Darling to Arizona just to fix his Wi-Fi signal. Invoices later filed in court show O'Neal paid him an on-the-books total of just under $12,000.
O'Neal used Darling's server for all of his electronic correspondence. Darling says he has every email his ex-boss sent or received from September 2008 through January 2010 — somewhere between 13,000 and 19,000 messages.
And now, like an employer raiding your inbox after you've been canned, the rogue IT guy claims O'Neal's messages are his property.
A local judge recently provided a de facto appraisal of the explosive potential of the email cache's content. "I can tell you that there are allegations against so many people in so many different positions in society" in O'Neal's emails, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Marc Schumacher declared in an August 26 court ruling sealing them from the public record, "that their release would really wreck lives."