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Ex-banker's courtroom death an apparent suicide

From Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Wed July 11, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police find sodium cyanide container in Marin's car
  • He died shortly after being found guilty of arson
  • His monthly payment on his home was $17,250

(CNN) -- The death last month of a 53-year-old former investment banker who collapsed in an Arizona courtroom, minutes after a jury found him guilty of torching his palatial Phoenix estate, appears to have been a suicide, police said Tuesday.

Michael Marin was facing a sentence of seven to 21 years in prison on June 28 when courtroom video shows that he appeared to put something into his mouth and swallowed. Minutes later, he appeared to put something else into his mouth, and again swallowed. Shortly afterward, he went into convulsions and was taken to Maricopa County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Late Monday or early Tuesday, Marin's adult son received a delayed e-mail from his father "telling him that if things don't go good in court, Marin's wills are in place and his car can be found at a Mesa location," Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio told reporters. The family relayed that information to police, who searched the car's cargo area and found a canister labeled sodium cyanide, he said.

Investigators determined that Marin had ordered the quick-acting poison -- typically used in agriculture and gold mining -- from a California-based company and that it was delivered by FedEx to his home in 2011.

"All indications point to suicide but, until the final report, this case still remains open," he said.

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The coroner will determine the cause of death.

"We assume that Marin made capsules out of this toxic substance before coming to court on June 28," he said. The product, which typically sells for $68 for 200 grams, was on sale this week for half off, Arpaio said.

He described the family as "very distraught," but cooperating with investigators.

During his career working for Wall Street investment banks, the Yale University Law School graduate had collected Picasso artwork, driven a Rolls Royce and flew his own plane.

"He was en engaging character," said Paul Rubin, who profiled Marin in 2008 for the Phoenix New Times newspaper. "He's the smartest guy in the room, the smoothest talker in the room," Rubin told CNN. "He gets all the girls, he's that guy. And he hit a brick wall."

Marin's brick wall proved to be his 10,000 square-foot home in the Biltmore Estates, an exclusive enclave in Phoenix.

Marin bought the house in 2008, as the real estate market was collapsing, with an interest-only mortgage payment of $17,250 per month.

But Marin had long before been fired from Wall Street and had not worked in years.

Prosecutors say he concocted a scheme to raffle off the house and, in the process, make himself $1 million. Raffle tickets would sell for $25 apiece, with the proceeds going to the Child Crisis Center.

Investigators say Marin climbed Mount Everest to generate publicity for the raffle, doing interviews with local television stations from the mountain.

But Joe Epps, the forensic accountant who unraveled Marin's personal finances for investigators, told CNN it was all a ploy.

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"What happened was he paid $2,550,000 for the house and set up with a couple of friends of his a bogus second mortgage designed to increase the value of the house for $950,000, a second mortgage that didn't really exist," he said.

Epps said the ploy was intended to make $1 million for Marin while also making him look as though he was helping charity.

But in April 2009, the Arizona attorney general ruled the raffle was illegal. By then, Marin was six months from having to make a balloon payment of roughly $2 million to lenders or risk a major jump in his monthly payments. His financial world was collapsing.

"I don't think he really thought this through, and it ended up where he had to do something that was pretty wacky, which was burn down his house," said Rubin.

Early July 5, 2009, fire engulfed Marin's Biltmore home. He called 911 from his upstairs bedroom, then emerged from the burning home wearing SCUBA gear that happened to have been in his bedroom.

"Every fireman on the scene was, 'You're not going to believe this guy -- he came out of a ladder out of his master bedroom wearing a SCUBA tank, a SCUBA mask and a snorkel,'" said Phoenix Fire Captain Jeff Peabody. "Yeah, you're right, I find that odd."

Speaking after the fire from his hospital bed, Marin recounted his improbable escape.

"I realized that I actually had some air left in that tank, and that's what enabled me to get back to the window and deploy that ladder," he told a reporter. "If I hadn't had those two things, we wouldn't be talking."

Peabody says he found four locations in the house where fires had been intentionally set and a line of phone books that helped the fire spread.

Marin's attorney said last week that his client had shown no signs of being suicidal.

"It was a gigantic shock," he said. "I think it's fair to say that we certainly had no inkling that this was going to happen. I'm not aware that anybody did."

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