YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Caron's New Branch Laden With Thorns : Colleges: Personal injury lawyer's attempt to become a sports agent has led to controversy.


VENTURA — After graduating from the Ventura College of Law in 1984, Robert Troy Caron spent the next decade developing a thriving personal-injury law practice.

Some would say he had climbed to the highest level of that branch of the profession, figuratively as well as literally. His plush 16th-floor office is in Oxnard's 21-story Union Bank Tower, which stands above the fertile farmland of southwest Ventura County like an out-of-place monument to modernization.

But Caron, 37, wanted to expand. In 1993, he established Pro Manage, hoping to become a major player in the high-profile sports-agent game.

"I warned him early on, 'You're trying to jump into a pool already filled with great white sharks,' " said one former associate, asking not to be identified. "But he wanted something more fun than the drag law had become."

What Caron wanted, said Dennis Ebell, Pro Manage's marketing director, was for the agency to become the largest in its field, the William Morris of sports.

In the last two weeks, however, Bobby Caron has been on a detour. He has found that life as a sports agent is certainly no drag, but the fame, action and headlines his career move have brought may not be quite what he had in mind.

For allegedly giving athletes money and other benefits in an effort to secure them as clients, Caron is the subject of investigations not only by the NCAA and the Pacific 10 Conference but also the FBI. He also is a defendant in a civil suit filed by USC and is dart-board material for coaches around the country who have sounded the alarm against unsavory practices by agents.

Twelve players from seven schools have been questioned about their association with Caron. Under NCAA rules, athletes who accept money or other favors from agents can lose their eligibility.

"I just feel this is a big issue that has been simmering for a long time," Caron said Tuesday night. "It seems to have exploded on me. What has happened [to me] is unprecedented. They are exploring the waters. The current situation can't go on any longer. They're using this to take control of it. . . . in a strong-handed way."

Three USC football players--running back Shawn Walters, defensive end Israel Ifeanyi and linebacker Errick Herrin--were suspended Sept. 28 for their involvement with Pro Manage. They have not been reinstated.

Walters allegedly received $15,900 in airline tickets, concert tickets, pocket money and other items, according to a ledger acquired by The Times. USC officials say the total is much less. The other players were given phone cards, pagers and trips to Las Vegas with Caron, Ifeanyi told school officials.

UCLA linebacker Donnie Edwards, who has been injured since the Oregon game last month, allegedly received $150 for food, according to another document. He was declared ineligible by UCLA on Monday. The school has asked the NCAA to restore his eligibility.

The Times also reported that Caron signed promising teen boxer Fernando Vargas of Oxnard to a professional contract, jeopardizing his chances of competing as an amateur in the 1996 Summer Olympics. After initially suspending Vargas, USA Boxing officials said Tuesday he can fight while they are investigating him but cannot receive money from either their organization or the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Caron, who is not subject to NCAA regulations, has denied wrongdoing. In telephone conversations with The Times, he said he never paid an athlete who had eligibility remaining. He said he has been misunderstood and falsely accused, but has declined extensive comment on the advice of his lawyer, Russ Sauer of Los Angeles.

"We have strongly advised Bobby to remain silent for the moment while we fully assess all these nefarious issues that have been raised," Sauer said. "Bobby has attempted to cooperate as best he can with the NCAA and USA Boxing. He is being attacked from a whole host of angles. He would prefer to help these athletes get back on track. He would like to be speaking publicly.

"He has spent a great deal of time donating many, many thousands of dollars to sports organizations throughout Ventura County, and it pains him to read all these terrible things."

Caron was a football star at Ventura High and Ventura College in the '70s. He then played at San Diego State for two years, but the feisty strong safety never really left this close-knit coastal community.

After graduating, Caron returned to the town where his parents raised two boys and two girls, and went to law school. After passing the state bar exam, he opened practice as a criminal lawyer here.

It did not take long for Caron to become successful, as a lawyer and a businessman. A Golden Gloves boxer who competed into his 30s, he first dabbled in professional sports by representing Lupe Aquino, a junior-middleweight world champion from Santa Paula who was convicted in 1989 on vehicular manslaughter charges. He was released from prison in November of 1992.

Los Angeles Times Articles