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Yeager Sued by Sports Collectibles Investors

Jurisprudence: Former Dodger catcher's role as spokesperson for failed Laguna Niguel company brings into question his accountability.

June 04, 1997|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A six-line classified ad in the Fresno Bee followed by a call from former Dodger catcher Steve Yeager were enough for Gary Beaudette to withdraw $2,950 from his 401-K plan, at a great penalty.

Beaudette, 40, a sales manager for a roofing company, responded to the sports collectibles company's pitch. Then a phone call from the former World Series hero to his Modesto home about two weeks later closed the deal, Beaudette said.

"He talked about what a great company it was and how he staked his reputation on it," said Beaudette, who withdrew the money despite the 10% early-withdrawal penalty. "That was the main thing. . . . With Steve Yeager, you can't go wrong."

But since then, little has gone right for the company Yeager was representing, Collectibles International of Laguna Niguel. It filed for bankruptcy in April, and the company and its chief executive officer, Nicholas A. DiPaolo, face seven lawsuits in five states.

Neither DiPaolo nor his bankruptcy lawyer could be reached for comment. DiPaolo denied any wrongdoing after one of the lawsuits, in New York, was filed. Yeager is involved in settlement discussions in that suit.

Instead of being able to tell the kids he coached on his son's PONY League team he was working with a company whose spokesman was the co-MVP of the 1981 World Series, Beaudette is merely a name on a list of hundreds of wannabe brokers and creditors who are trying to get their money back.

Beaudette and others answered ads that promised returns of as much as $800 a day working as sports card brokers. Court papers said applicants were asked to pay $800 to almost $3,000 as a deposit, but the requirements to get the deposits back were almost impossible to meet.

Yeager, 48, has been named in two of the lawsuits--an action in U.S. District Court in New York and another in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill.

Yeager, who retired from baseball in 1987, said he could not comment when contacted at a recent sports card show at the Hollywood Park Casino.

"I can't say anything about it because I'm in litigation," Yeager said. "I'm just a spokesman for the company, that's all I can say."

Said Yeager's lawyer, Leonard Lerner: "Steve Yeager shouldn't be in this lawsuit. . . . The wrong guy is left defending actions he doesn't even know about."

Lerner said his client was only a celebrity spokesperson, not an officer of the company or even a paid employee.

Yeager was featured in Collectible International's brochure, on an audiotape and a videotape and made at least two personal appearances, in New York and Detroit, according to those who invested in the company.

Collectibles International and DiPaolo entered Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings in April. Court documents show the company with assets of $1,050 and liabilities of $232,274.64.

The company's legal trouble escalated last June with a lawsuit filed by the New York Department of Consumer Affairs and later transferred to federal court, saying the company engaged in deceptive trade practices.

Jose Maldonado, New York's consumer affairs commissioner, called the venture "classic snake-oil salesmanship."

He said a combination of factors led individuals to trust Yeager.

"The average sports fan is living from paycheck to paycheck," he said. "When you see an opportunity to identify and affiliate yourself with a sports figure and given the chance that you can make money for it, they're going to fall for it."

Collectibles International placed advertisements in newspapers around the country. For his investment, Beaudette received names and numbers of people in the Modesto area who supposedly were interested in buying or selling sports memorabilia. He said he contacted at least 20 individuals on the list, but no one was interested.

Beaudette contended he met the requirements to receive his refundable deposit.

Said Maldonado: "Their material was nothing short of a litany of falsehoods and misrepresentations.

"They're supposed to have given leads that were pre-screened, people Nick DiPaolo knew, sports fans. People on the lists were people who were deceased or people who had moved away or had no interest in sports memorabilia."

More than a year later, Beaudette has made numerous attempts to reclaim his deposit and has informed government agencies about his experience, as a thick file of correspondence attests.

"They took the money and ran--and a big part [of his getting involved] was Steve Yeager," Beaudette said.

Beaudette is not alone in his displeasure.

Not every consumer became involved solely because of Yeager's backing, but Mitchell Savage of Staten Island, N.Y., who said he lost about $2,500 in his dealings with Collectibles International, felt Yeager's endorsement of the company increased his comfort level.

"It kind of legitimized it," Savage said. "I felt a whole lot better. In fact, he welcomed me to the company."

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