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Jordan Hit on Gambling : Golf bets: San Diego man says the Bulls' star played him for four years, once owed him $1.252 million.

June 03, 1993|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — NBA superstar Michael Jordan owed a San Diego businessman as much as $1.252 million in golf gambling losses before eventually agreeing to a negotiated settlement of $300,000, according to a soon-to-be-released book obtained Wednesday by The Times.

Richard Esquinas, 38, former general manager of the San Diego Sports Arena, claims in his book, "Michael & Me: Our Gambling Addiction . . . My Cry For Help!" that he and Jordan wagered hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes adding up to more than $1 million, during the course of their four-year relationship, which included more than 110 rounds of golf.

According to Esquinas, who owns the company that published the book, Jordan lost $1.252 million to him during a Sept. 20, 1991 match at Aviara Golf Course in San Diego County--the same week in which the Chicago Bulls' guard was formally named a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team. The following June, Esquinas said he and Jordan met for a final three-day golf betting binge at several San Diego County courses. That binge, Esquinas said, resulted in Jordan reducing the gambling debt to $902,000.

Despite several phone conversations and formal letters requesting payment, Esquinas said Jordan remained evasive about settling the bet. Esquinas later offered to lower the debt to $300,000, at which point Jordan agreed, but asked that the payments be spread over several months. According to Esquinas, Jordan said he wanted to keep the lost wagers a secret from his wife, who had access to the basketball star's personal financial ledger.

"I took a ($602,00) hit just to get the hell out," Esquinas said. "I just wanted out. I knew it was a quick fix, that he could afford it. I figured that it was a number he could afford. I wanted out of this whole process."

Esquinas said he has since received two separate cashier's checks for $100,000, one of which was drawn from American National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago. A cover letter written by Chicago-based lawyer Wayne A. McCoy of the law firm Schiff, Hardin & Waite accompanied the first cashier's check. Esquinas provided The Times with copies of those documents.

There was no reference to Jordan in the March 26, 1993, letter, nor was he mentioned in a May 27, 1993, correspondence, which included the second $100,000 payment. The only reference to a payor made by the law firm in the letter was to a "client."

Jordan, said Esquinas, is scheduled to send a final payment by January, 1994. "I expect him to honor his debt," Esquinas said Wednesday.

The Times also obtained a photocopy of a $25,000 check drawn from Citibank which, said Esquinas, bears the signature of David Falk, Jordan's longtime agent.

Falk, who was questioned by a reporter at courtside during Game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, said: "I will not comment on anything about Michael or golf during this basketball game."

Falk also refused to comment on the $25,000 check itself or on whether the account number was, indeed, his. When asked about the connection between Jordan and Schiff, Hardin & Waite, Falk waved the reporter away.

When questioned again after the game by the reporter, Falk said, "I don't manage Michael Jordan's money." He also said, "Obviously, your information is wrong."

Esquinas said he has reported his gambling winnings on his Internal Revenue Service returns. He provided The Times with a copy of his 1992 tax return that reported $125,000 of "gambling winnings."

This is not the first time questions concerning Jordan's golf gambling have been raised. In October of 1992, Jordan was subpoenaed to appear at the drug and money-laundering trial of James (Slim) Bouler. At the trial, in Charlotte, N.C., Jordan testified that he wrote a check for $57,000 to Bouler to pay off debts for golf, poker and other gambling. He was never questioned in those proceedings about three additional checks from Jordan found in the briefcase of bail bondsman, Eddie Dow--slain in February of 1992--and totaling $108,000. But Dow's attorney's said the money was for payment of gambling debts.

Most recently, Jordan's gambling habits have come under scrutiny after his trip to an Atlantic City, N.J., casino on the eve of an earlier playoff game against the Knicks. He has since refused to speak to the media, including Wednesday night after the Bulls' victory in New York.

Esquinas, who describes himself as a recovering gambler who still undergoes therapy and attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings, said he wrote the book as "an attempt to understand myself. The book is my catharsis." He said he also wanted to "reach out" to Jordan.

The 209-page book, co-authored by Dave Distel, former sports editor of The Times San Diego edition, describes in detail the birth of Esquinas' betting relationship with Jordan.

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