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Did Ickey Get a Fast Shuffle? : Finance: Suits, other reports allege money from Woods, Heyward and other NFL clients of agent Bruce Allen went to finance investments of his former business partner.

December 23, 1990|DANNY ROBBINS and ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHOENIX — For much of this year, the Brighton Place Apartments have been a modern ghost town, standing unfinished and unoccupied behind a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire in a blighted South Phoenix neighborhood.

Work stopped last February with construction on the 80-unit, low-income housing project nearly finished. The project's developer, Future Facilities, Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stave off foreclosure.

Described in court documents by one of Future Facilities' creditors as "a shambles," the Brighton Place Apartments are a grim sign of hard times in the Phoenix real estate market.

They are also a snapshot of the problems plaguing George Allen's son, Bruce, a Phoenix sports agent.

While George Allen has, at 72, revived his career as the football coach at Cal State Long Beach, Bruce Allen, 34, has seen his agency, GBA Sportsworld, Inc., caught in a maelstrom of controversy.

The younger Allen has been accused of financial impropriety and violations of NCAA rules, charges that have arisen primarily in two lawsuits filed by former clients. Allen has dismissed the charges, claiming "jealousy" of rival agents as their source.

The Times, though, has found through public records, other documents and interviews that questions surrounding GBA Sportsworld's investment practices go well beyond the lawsuits and have led to the defection of perhaps the agency's most prominent client, running back Ickey Woods of the Cincinnati Bengals.

The documents and interviews indicate that several NFL players who have been clients of GBA Sportsworld have been unaware that their investment funds were used to finance real estate transactions for individuals and companies with ties to Allen's agency.

All told, the situation has left nearly a dozen current and former NFL players bitter and disillusioned and, in some cases, seeking legal remedies.

IRONHEAD IS THROWN FOR A LOSS

Fullback Craig (Ironhead) Heyward of the New Orleans Saints, charging fraud, racketeering, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and breach of contract in connection with the Brighton Place project, has sued Allen, GBA Sportsworld and Bob Owens, Allen's former partner in the agency.

The suit, filed in Superior Court here, alleges that Heyward suffered $450,000 in investment losses, fees paid and lost investment opportunities as a result of the deal.

Now, Woods also has severed his relationship with Allen and hired a lawyer to untangle his finances, the Brighton Place deal in particular.

"What happened to me is after each (season) I had to borrow $50,000 to pay my bills," Woods said. "And, with all of the money I was making, I was wondering why. I just got skeptical and had an accountant take a look. It seems as if my money wasn't handled right. So I had to do what was best for me. And the best thing for me was to fire the guy."

Woods said he has lost about $100,000 that was invested for him through GBA Sportsworld.

His lawyer, William Hayden of Cincinnati, said: "There is a substantial amount of money that's unaccounted for."

It's unclear if these and other problems facing GBA Sportsworld shake out could have an impact on Cal State Long Beach, where George Allen, in his first college coaching job since 1956, led the 49ers to a 6-5 record.

A member of GBA Sportsworld's board of directors, George Allen has, in the Heyward lawsuit, been linked to an improper recruiting trip orchestrated by his son.

In his suit, Heyward alleges that he met with both Bruce and George Allen during a trip to Washington, D.C., in January of 1988, shortly after his junior season at the University of Pittsburgh.

Heyward alleges that his expenses were paid by Bruce Allen and Mark Solomon, a GBA Sportsworld recruiter at the time, and that he signed a representation agreement with GBA Sportsworld during the trip.

NCAA rules prohibit an athlete from signing with an agent or accepting money or other gifts from an agent before the athlete's eligibility has expired.

Shortly after returning from the trip, Heyward was dismissed from the team at Pitt by Mike Gottfried, then the Panthers' coach. Gottfried's action was prompted by a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting that Heyward had traveled to Washington using an airline ticket booked by a Las Vegas travel agency and ordered by GBA Sportsworld.

Bruce Allen disputes the suit's account of the Washington trip, saying that his father and Heyward both happened to be in the city at the same time to receive awards.

"I met (Heyward) there," the younger Allen said. "We didn't fly him there. And meeting my dad there? Yeah, he met my dad there. So did 4,000 other people. (Heyward's version) is a little exaggeration by his counsel (Edward Vincent King Jr. of San Francisco)."

Neither Heyward nor King would consent to be interviewed for this story.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

It is Allen's belief that most of his difficulties stem from rival agents, would-be agents and headline-hunting attorneys who view him as an easy target because of his father.

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