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USC Suit Is Settled by Agent : Colleges: Caron agrees to pay the school $50,000, provide records for investigation and leave its athletes alone.

October 14, 1995|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sports agent Robert Caron agreed Friday to pay USC $50,000 to settle the school's unprecedented lawsuit against him.

Although denying wrongdoing, Caron, 37, of Oxnard, said he was accepting USC's demands to help end the controversy surrounding his alleged dealings with some of the fifth-ranked Trojans' players and so he could avoid a protracted legal battle that might have cost $500,000.

Caron agreed to pay the settlement money within three months. He also agreed to stay away from USC athletes and to turn over records the school had requested to complete its investigation into allegations that players had received money and other benefits from him. USC had filed the suit a week ago.

"Basically, we have been able to get what we wanted within the first week of the lawsuit," said Scott A. Edelman, USC's attorney.

Russ Sauer, Caron's Los Angeles attorney, said the settlement benefited all parties.

"It gives USC a strong statement against what [it] perceives [as] abuse by athlete agents," he said. "From Mr. Caron's perspective, he was agreeing to not do things he wasn't going to be doing anyway."

USC will use the $50,000 for the Neighborhood Academic Initiative, which provides non-athletic scholarships and academic support for promising students at high schools near the South-Central campus.

Caron also gave school officials financial information, none of which showed that NCAA rules were broken.

In what experts said was a first-of-its-kind suit, USC claimed that Caron and his company, Pro Manage, had interfered with the school's contractual relations with its athletes and had interfered with prospective business advantages for the university.

Caron had planned to answer those allegations by attacking the NCAA's strict control of athletes as a violation of antitrust laws.

"I did not want to hold three USC student athletes hostage, nor, to a lesser extent, the USC football program, while litigation drags on," Caron said in a statement. "That is just completely unacceptable to me, and it is the only reason I have agreed to settle."

Caron, a personal-injury lawyer and owner of the year-old sports agency, was not a well-known agent three weeks ago when NCAA and Pacific 10 Conference investigators went to USC with documents linking him to four Trojan players.

Three of the players--running back Shawn Walters, defensive end Israel Ifeanyi and linebacker Errick Herrin--were suspended Sept. 28. The fourth, Johnny McWilliams, was cleared.

School officials are hopeful that Ifeanyi, a Nigerian national, and Herrin will be cleared to play by next week's game against Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind. Robert Lane, USC general counsel, said the school expects to petition the NCAA on Monday to restore Herrin's eligibility.

Ifeanyi's case could be decided early next week but is complicated by his having accepted money from fellow Nigerians in the Los Angeles area. Ifeanyi already has been suspended for three games because of his involvement with Caron.

Walters, who allegedly received $15,900 in benefits from Caron, is considering leaving school to join the Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League.

Caron, a football player in Ventura County in the 1970s, has said little about his situation because of the lawsuit and a possible criminal investigation. The Times reported earlier this week that the FBI is trying to determine whether he violated mail or wire fraud laws while allegedly giving money and other benefits to college athletes so he could sign them as clients when they turn professional.

USC alleged that Caron funneled the money through agent recruiters who posed as friends of the players without mentioning that they worked for Pro Manage. USC sued and was awarded a temporary restraining order, prohibiting Caron from contacting the school's athletes. The suit was seeking a permanent injunction against Caron.

He said in a statement that he was confident he would have won the suit had he not settled, and Sauer said that Caron plans to continue operating Pro Manage as a side business to his law practice.

"It's safe to say the publicity will probably set them back some, but I think he intends to go forward with the business," Sauer said, adding that Caron was prepared to close Pro Manage if that meant the athletes would not be punished.

"For Bobby, it's a love and a hobby," Sauer said. "But it's not his main business, and it wasn't worth it to him to continue to have athletes continually scrutinized and subject to investigations that in many cases were unwarranted."

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