Albert Gersten, prominent Loyola Marymount University booster who helped finance construction of Gersten Pavilion in honor of his late father, has been accused of providing financial support to Hank Gathers, according to recent testimony by Gathers family members.
In depositions taken in connection with a wrongful-death suit filed by the Gathers family against Loyola and 13 other defendants, Gathers' mother and brother said that Gersten gave cash to Gathers while he was on a basketball scholarship at Loyola.
In her deposition, Lucille Gathers said that she received $2,000 in cash from her son, plus gifts. She said Gathers bought those gifts for her with money he had received from Gersten, a Loyola Marymount alumnus. Depositions are given under oath.
Such gifts to a player are violations of NCAA rules and if the accusations are true, Loyola will face penalties by the NCAA and the West Coast Conference, Loyola's league. The NCAA, however, would probably not take any of the approximate $800,000 Loyola received from playing in the NCAA tournament last season because Gathers did not play in those games.
Gersten, a Beverly Hills real estate developer who also owns fast-food franchises and is the largest of about 20 boosters who financed construction of Gersten Pavilion, denied the accusations.
"It's not true," he said. "I didn't help Hank. I gave him meals occasionally. He would be over at the house and we would have dinner and he would eat. But that's it. The lawyer (for Loyola Marymount) said they are saying this to prove Hank supported his mother for the lawsuit."
Gersten said that after Gathers died, he bought suits for a couple friends of Gathers and paid for the limousines used at the funeral in Philadelphia. He said the limousines cost about $1,500.
Gathers collapsed March 4 at Gersten Pavilion while playing in a West Coast Conference tournament game, and was pronounced dead 1 hour 40 minutes later at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder.
Subsequently, Gathers' mother, brothers Derrick and Charles and an aunt, Carol Livingston, filed a $32.5-million suit against the university and 13 other defendants claiming negligence, conspiracy and wrongful death.
That suit has been consolidated with another filed by Gathers' estate and 6-year-old son, Aaron Crump, against the same defendants but for an unspecified amount.
In the depositions, Lucille Gathers said that in addition to the cash she received from Gathers during the three years he was at Loyola, he also gave her gifts that included living room furniture, a VCR, a dining room set and clothes.
"(Hank) didn't have a job, and I would question him about where he's getting his money from and his apartment and all that stuff, and he would tell me, 'Mom, Al and . . . ' ," Lucille Gathers said. In that passage in the testimony, she mentioned no name other than Gersten's. Nothing was deleted.
Lucille Gathers also testified: "And I've seen him (Gersten) give him (Hank) money, but he didn't want me to see him. I've seen him pass money to Hank. . . lots of times on tournaments when I'd come out."
Lucille Gathers testified that she asked Gersten to stop giving her son money, but that Gersten didn't say anything.
"He laughed," she said.
She also said that Gersten gave money to Derrick, Hank's brother, who completed his basketball career at Cal State Northridge last season. An attorney for Loyola said that Derrick also testified that Gersten had given money to Hank Gathers.
Gersten told The Times: "Hank came over to see me about one-third of the time and my 9-year-old son the rest of the time. From the time my son was 5, they would play basketball together. "I didn't help--other than the meals--but if I had been helping them, now they are trying to hang me out to dry."
Bruce Fagel, the attorney representing the Gathers family, said that it was widely known that Gersten helped support Gathers.
"There were some things done after Hank decided to stay in school (for his senior year) instead of turning pro, and that is where everything started," Fagel said.
"Gersten is in an awkward position because he was giving money, and I think the circumstances under which he was giving it were with very good intentions and everyone else let him do it. They sort of didn't want to know about it, but didn't stop him either. They didn't want to."
Brian Quinn, athletic director at Loyola, said he notified the West Coast Conference as soon as he was told about the allegations in the depositions.
"We didn't believe it, but we followed the procedure and reported it to the conference and then they report to the NCAA," Quinn said. "I'm pretty close to the athletes. I used to talk with Hank a lot, and I have met with Gersten many times and I have no reason to believe that these allegations are true."
Quinn said he has not heard from the conference or the NCAA. Mike Gilleran, commissioner of the WCC, said that he filed a report with the NCAA.