Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sports Lawyers in Action: How Katten Muchin Rosenmann Counsel Assisted White Sox in Internal Kickback Probe

My good friend and former law school classmate, Bryan Stroh, is among several Katten Muchin Rosenmann lawyers profiled by the American Lawyer and for their legal counsel to an internal investigation by the Chicago White Sox into kickbacks for Latin American agents who directed clients to the White Sox. Tim Epstein blogged about this emerging scandal last month.

Here's an excerpt from Brian Baxter's article:

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The ChiSox probably hope the splashy signings overshadow some less-positive recent news about the franchise: the decision by federal prosecutors in the Windy City to charge former senior director of player personnel Dave Wilder and two scouts with fraud.

Wilder and scouts Jorge Oquendo Rivera and Victor Mateo are alleged to have taken kickbacks from young Latin American players in the team's minor league system. A 17-page indictment accuses the trio of illegally defrauding 23 prospects out of $400,000 between December 2004 and February 2008.

It was in the summer of 2008 — after the White Sox fired Wilder, Mateo, and another scout in the wake of an internal investigation into the team's Latin American operations — that reports first surfaced of possible fraud in the signing of Dominican players.

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Assisting [Sheldon Zenner, the co-chair of Katten Muchin Rosenman's white-collar criminal and civil litigation practice] was Katten litigation associate Bryan Stroh, a former baseball player at Princeton. The two worked closely with White Sox executive vice president and Katten alum Howard Pizer, team general counsel John Corvino, and staff on the baseball side in arranging interviews at the team's home at U.S. Cellular Field.

"It seemed a lot easier to do those interviews here rather than [in the Dominican]," Zenner said. "To be frank, lawyers' time can be expensive, and that doesn't even include travel time and translation issues. One major challenge was getting them in an environment where they felt comfortable."

Given that most of those being interviewed were low-level minor league players — some of whom had been in the U.S. for only a short time — Zenner said that being questioned in a major league ballpark by many of the team's top brass left the young Dominican players terrified.

"A lot of these kids were scared stiff and had no idea why there were being called in," Zenner said. "It took a little while to assure them that there weren't being fired and had not done anything wrong, but that we needed them to be truthful with us. Like low-level folks in any organization, they were worried about the potential ramifications of implicating someone higher up in that organization."

Stroh added that many of the players had no idea that something was even wrong until they started talking with their colleagues elsewhere in the White Sox organization.

"They were just going about their business of playing baseball," he said. "It took awhile for some of them to realize that they weren't the only ones that didn't have all their money. Many of these guys were largely uneducated because they had spent most of their lives training to play baseball because that's the best chance to make money and provide for their families."

To read the rest of this excellent article, click here.