In my last post I recounted how I was smeared in a Miami Herald article, concerning a limo ride that potential clients – young football players – had skipped out of. The article drew notice at the state level, and I was facing criminal and NCAA investigations as a result of being accused of practicing as a sports agent without a license, which was untrue.
I hired my friend and colleague Roy Black to represent me against the allegations my firm and I were being charged with in the criminal case.
I absolutely denied having anything to do with ordering the limo or recruiting these students. Of course, the implications of these allegations were far-reaching, because the three students involved could become ineligible to play ball going forward. I didn’t want to be responsible for the long-lasting impact on these boy’s lives a night of frivolous joyriding ending in an unpaid $1,032 limo bill could have had.
There was no wrongdoing on anyone’s part, and I certainly wasn’t willing to see these three talented guys’ lives destroyed by the NCAA or by an overaggressive prosecutor who was trying to take me down over something that was really nothing. The guys came up with the money to make restitution within a couple of days of this thing making the news and admitted they had made some bad decisions that night. Under different circumstances, this would all have been smoothed over without a media circus. But that wasn’t the case this time.
I found myself dealing all at the same time with “Limogate,” my separation from my wife, and preparations for the biggest trial of my life.
For reasons I’ll never understand, Gene Mato – the kid who came to work for me as a recruiter in the sports management company I had set up – ran scared and made a misdemeanor deal with the state, agreeing to be wired in an attempt to entrap me and gain information that could be used against me.
Fortunately, there was nothing I could say that would be helpful to the state, because nothing criminal happened. Even so, I found it amusing that Mato tried to take me down. He would come into my office from time to time asking if we could talk about the limo case. Each time I answered him the same way, saying, “There’s nothing to talk about. You were a moron for putting those boys into a limousine without getting in yourself to make sure they got home safely.”
Calling my stress levels high would be a gross understatement. And still, none of it really jarred me. I was in warrior mode all the way.
It took two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to prove our innocence and retain our right to continue working in sports management, but we were eventually victorious.
When all was said and done, it was my personal Oliver North moment that truly redeemed me in this mess. The Florida Bar is always the last step in the process after all criminal and civil agencies. The Bar held a probable-cause hearing, which could have jeopardized my license to practice law if things didn’t go well.
Since there was a lot of media attention on this case, the Bar assigned a separate federal prosecutor to investigate for six months before the hearing. It turns out that early on, the NCAA, as part of its own investigation, came to my office to question me about the incident with the football players. When they asked me if I knew the players in question, I said I didn’t. That was a lie. It wasn’t a lie under oath, but it wasn’t the truth. The reason I chose to lie was because, at the time, the NCAA was known to go on what I felt were crazy witch hunts that unfairly destroyed the careers of young football players.
In fact, the Yale Law Journal had published an extensive article that went into great length and detail about the NCAA, its haphazard fishing expeditions or investigations, and the negative effects these often had on innocent student athletes. I knew that if I had answered honestly, it may have jeopardized the guys’ future prospects of playing professional football.
At the probable-cause hearing, the federal prosecutor asked me if it was true that I had met with the NCAA in the summer of 1996.
“Yes.” I said. I knew where he was going with his questions.
“Isn’t it true that you told the NCAA that you had never met the players?”
“Wasn’t that a lie?” he asked, thinking I would stick with my story.
“Yes,” I said, bewildering the prosecutor.
“Why did you lie to the NCAA?” he asked, flustered by my honesty.
I went on to explain my reasoning to him and the panel in excruciating detail, including my feelings about the Yale Law Journal article and the NCAA. While I didn’t go so far as to state that “I did it for my country,” I did let them know I wasn’t about to allow innocent players to become victims of yet another of the NCAA’s witch hunts, which were common at the time.
Immediately after the testimony, I and Jack Weiss – my lawyer who I had retained to handle the Florida Bar case – were asked to wait outside while they deliberated. We were just on the other side of the door, so I could overhear everything. One member of the panel said, “I think what he did was honorable.”
Another member said, “But he lied.”
And yet another panel member said, “But what he did was honorable.”
With that, Jack said, “Let’s get away from the door.”
He was right. We didn’t need to stand there and listen to what was going down.
Ten minutes later, the panel came back with a finding of no probable cause, which put a victorious end to this whole ridiculous saga.
In my next post, I will talk about my preparations for the Castillo case as the hearing date drew nearer.
You can find a lot more about the story of this case in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.