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Vigilantes Expected to Hang Up 'For Sale' Sign

Baseball: Officials from financially troubled franchise might announce intentions today at league meetings.

October 23, 1998|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As an ugly divorce between the Vigilantes and the city of Mission Viejo proceeds, officials from the baseball team could declare their intention today to sell the franchise.

Cedric Sampson, chancellor of the South Orange County Community College District, said Vigilantes managing partners Pat Elster and Paula Pyers are attempting to sell the franchise after playing two seasons in Mission Viejo.

Tom Kowitz, executive director of the Western League, said the league expects to hear from Elster at league meetings today in Portland.

Richard Goldstein, one of the limited partners, said he understood all potential buyers would move the team far from Mission Viejo, with a group from Yuma, Ariz., believed to be among the interested parties.

Pyers has not returned repeated telephone messages. Goldstein acknowledged Elster's phone has been disconnected.

The league will not allow a franchise to move without settling outstanding debts, but a sale may be the only way the Vigilantes can raise enough money to meet financial obligations. The Vigilantes owe between $12,000 and $15,000 to the league, according to league president Bruce Engel, and the city of Mission Viejo has sued for $135,000 in back rent.

The Vigilantes declined to pursue additional investors without the guarantee of major stadium improvements at Saddleback College, Goldstein said. The team and the college district discussed lease proposals as recently as last week, but neither party could finance such upgrades as permanent seats and concession stands. The city, which would have issued bonds to fund the project, broke off negotiations with the college district in August.

Goldstein, a Los Angeles lawyer, called the city "vindictive" for filing suit.

"They would have gotten paid if new equity came in," he said. "They will get paid whatever they can get paid once the franchise is sold. If, because of them, the franchise doesn't get sold, they will not get paid at all."

The city sent Elster a letter dated Aug. 11 demanding overdue payments for stadium rent and office space. The city filed suit in Orange County Superior Court Oct. 2, according to deputy city manager Rick Howard, but did not locate Pyers to serve her a copy of the suit until Tuesday and still has not located Elster to serve him.

The Vigilantes also vacated their offices without cleaning them out, according to Howard, and even left behind their team bus.

"It looks like an abandoned vehicle up there," Howard said.

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