Saturday, February 1, 2003

Rose left behind trail of debt in the '90s

Car dealer out $12,000, writes letter against reinstatement

By Robert Anglen and John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pete Rose has been hit with multiple court judgments and tax liens since being banned from baseball in 1989, and the parties who are owed money in these cases have yet to be paid by the game's all-time hits leader.

Court records in New York, New Jersey, Florida and California show that either Rose or a company he was associated with failed to pay two liens and ignored two court-ordered judgments during the 1990s.

Among those are lawsuits filed by an Atlantic City casino against Rose and others for walking out on a sports card show in 1991 without paying $26,000 in hotel bills; and one filed by a Florida car dealer who says Rose reneged on a contract to make a public appearance.

Tim O'Brien, the owner of O'Brien Motors in Orlando, Fla., said he does not think Rose should be reinstated to baseball, let alone be allowed into the Hall of Fame. He said Rose has failed the character test Major League Baseball wants him to pass.

"I sent the (baseball) commissioner the file on Pete and told him what I thought about the idea of reinstating Pete," O'Brien said. "I'm dead-set against it, because Pete doesn't conduct himself in the upstanding manner that you'd expect of a Hall of Famer."

The Enquirer reported last week that Rose faces an unpaid $151,690 federal tax lien in Los Angeles County, where he owns a $1 million condominium. A second lien, $2,772 filed by the California Franchise Tax Board, was paid off in 2000.

Rose's agent, Warren Green, said Rose was taking care of the debt and insisted that nobody can "tell you Pete has avoided or ducked it."

But Rose and Green both refused to talk about the most recent cases, which records show are still outstanding years after they were filed.

A Florida court sided with O'Brien Motors in 1996, saying Rose reneged on a promise to appear at the dealership in exchange for getting more money than his Porsche was worth when he sold it.

"It was Pete who suggested the idea that he would make a personal appearance," said O'Brien, whose company has since relocated to Dahlonega, Ga. "I'll never forget his words. He said, 'I make little auctions big auctions.' ... I figured the personal appearance was worth about 10 grand, so I went ahead with the deal, but then Pete never showed."

The suit could have been settled in 1996 for $6,600, but records show Rose only made one payment and now owes more than $12,000 in penalties and interest.

At the heart of case was Rose's 1986 white Porsche 935 Turbo DP, with white-leather interior. It was designed for former auto racing star Mario Andretti. In a letter to O'Brien, Rose's attorney said Rose originally paid $120,000 for the car, and that O'Brien got a good deal on the car at $47,500, even though it was 8 years old.

O'Brien provided documents to the Enquirer showing Rose paid $80,000 for the car.

Rose promised to make a personal appearance at an auto auction as a way to help O'Brien recoup $10,000 extra he had paid Rose for the car. O'Brien said recent publicity about Rose being considered for reinstatement prompted him to write a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

"A couple of years (after the court case against Rose), I ran into Pete at a radio convention in New Orleans," O'Brien said. "This is back when he was doing that radio sports talk show. I waited until he got off the air, and then I approached him. I asked him if he remembered me. He said he didn't. I said, 'I'm the guy you stiffed on the personal appearance at O'Brien Motors.' He pushed me aside and had a couple of his bodyguards shield me from him."

O'Brien's attorney, Gary Siegel, remembers the case because it involved Rose.

"One of the things I recall the most clearly is that Pete Rose was supposed to show up at a pretrial. Pete Rose has to show up at that - even the King of Siam has to show. But Pete didn't show and his lawyer was running around with no client," Siegel said. "The lawyer finds out from Pete later that day that Pete couldn't make it because there was a death in his family or some kind of serious illness. That night, I happened to turn on the TV, and something called The Victor Awards was on. The camera panned through the audience, and who's sitting out there? Pete Rose!"

Rose made a $2,500 payment on the debt in 1997, but once his deposition was cancelled, Rose made no further payments, Siegel said.

Rose's former attorney, Lawrence Schner, said last week that he is no longer on the case and won't comment about it.

And the Porsche? It didn't sell at the auction, but a Panama City, Fla., chiropractor later bought it for $28,000. The chiropractor no longer has the car, O'Brien said.

Green, Rose's agent, said Rose would not respond to any questions about the O'Brien suit.

"It doesn't involve you. It doesn't involve me," Green said. "We are not interested in discussing anything."

Rose, who makes his living by making appearances at sports shows two or three times a month, earns $20,000 to $30,000 for a three-hour show.

Major League Baseball officials are considering lifting the lifetime ban imposed on Rose for allegedly using bookies to bet on sporting events while he was manager of the Cincinnati Reds.

A high-ranking baseball official, who asked to remain anonymous, said revelations of financial troubles are hurting Rose's chances to get reinstated. The official said Rose's debts could indicate a pattern of behavior similar to what got him in trouble in 1989. If Rose is to be fully reinstated to the game, he must not be in debt to anybody who might be able to control him, said the official.

Baseball officials have previously said they were aware of Rose's debts. But this week they acknowledged that the federal lien took them by surprise.

Rose promised he would change his lifestyle in 1990 after pleading guilty to tax evasion and spending five months in federal prison in Marion, Ill.

In 1999, Rose told the Society of American Baseball Research that he had "reconfigured" his life. He has echoed that on radio and TV in recent years.

"When (former baseball commissioner) Bart Giamatti suspended me, he told me to change my life," Rose said in the interview. "The exact word he used was 'reconfigure.' I have to believe that reconfiguring my life meant I had to be careful with whom I hung around. I've done that. They (baseball officials) haven't done their part."

But in 1991, Rose was named in a suit filed by the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City.

The suit, filed against Pete Rose Hit King Marketing - a sports memorabilia company that Rose helped finance in the 1980s for his friend Michael Bertolini - accused the company of not paying the hotel for expenses during a baseball memorabilia show.

The itemized bill included $13,454 in banquet charges, $6, 450 in security charges and $6,998 in room charges.

A New Jersey Superior Court awarded a $26,934 judgment against Hit King in 1991, but the debt has never been paid. Officials at the casino said they had no information on the case.

Bertolini is one of the key figures in the betting-scandal that ended Rose's career.

John Dowd, who was hired by baseball to investigate Rose's gambling, said Bertolini ran bets for Rose to an unidentified bookmaker in New York. In his report to baseball, Dowd said Rose in 1987 signed as a co-borrower with Bertolini on a $43,000 loan at Star Bank in Cincinnati. He said Rose also signed for a $125,000 loan from Star Bank to Hit King Marketing, Inc.

Bertolini became an exclusive photographer for Rose and other ball players, a seller of memorabilia and director-producer of Rose's card shows.

Dowd said Bertolini refused to submit to an interview or to produce records for the company he operated with the financial assistance of Rose.

Bertolini, who operates a new sports-memorabilia related company in Staten Island, N.Y., refused to talk about his connection with Rose or the outstanding judgments.

"I've got nothing to say," he said before hanging up the phone.

Jeff Ruby, a Cincinnati restaurateur and Rose's friend, said Bertolini told him Friday that he and Rose haven't had any business dealings since 1989. "Mike said Pete lent his name to the venture, but was never an officer or a director of the company," Ruby said.

Although Bertolini and Rose were seen in Cincinnati together in September, a Cincinnati memorabilia dealer said Thursday that he doubts there is any business connection between them.

"Pete has distanced himself from the people he was dealing with in the 1980s," Charles Sotto said. "I see Pete Rose every six weeks to two months, and I have never seen Mike Bertolini and him together at any of the shows."

Sotto and other memorabilia dealers said Rose signed a contract about three years ago to work exclusively with Dreams Inc.

Hit King Marketing went defunct in 1993, according to the New York secretary of state, which monitors corporations. But not before tax problems put them in debt to the New York City Department of Finance and Taxation, which filed a $7,883 lien against the company in 1996.

The Richmond County Recorder's office reports that the lien is still outstanding. The recorder reported that a tax warrant was issued for the amount, but indicated the debt would likely never be collected since the company is no longer in business. The lien is for back taxes.

The New York lien is different from the federal lien Rose faces in Los Angeles. That debt to the IRS is for failing to pay income tax in 1998. The lien is attached to any property Rose owns in Los Angeles and prevents him from selling his home until the debt is paid.

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