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A Full-Court Press to Regain Late Basketball Great's Items

THE COURT FILES

"CHiPs" star's suit . . . A balky Balki . . . Heavy metal looting? . . . A multimedia threat.

April 16, 2000|ANN W. O'NEILL

Within hours of the death of basketball great Wilt Chamberlain on Oct. 12, relatives gathered at his Bel-Air bachelor pad to mourn. There were brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, all of them remembered in Chamberlain's will.

Two of the nephews, Vaughn Taylor and Olin Chamberlain, both 25, say they were invited to help themselves to a few mementos from their famous uncle, who was single and had no children.

The nephews took boxloads, observed Superior Court Judge Robert M. Letteau, who has ordered the items returned to Chamberlain's estate. But it hasn't been so easy.

The nephews disclosed that they sold their keepsakes to Nate Sanders, a South Bay sports memorabilia dealer, for a total of about $84,000. For several months, the nephews, the estate and the dealer have been squabbling over who owns what. The nephews say they had permission to help themselves. The dealer says he paid for the merchandise, some of which is now on consignment to Leland's, a sports memorabilia auction house in New York City. The dealer wants his money back.

Letteau says the items belong to the estate. Some of them--such as Chamberlain's Overbrook High School basketball jersey--are quite valuable, he said.

"Wilt's Overbrook jersey, that ain't a small item," the judge said. "A small item is an ashtray or something. It's not his high school jersey, for God's sake."

Other mementos, such as a jockstrap, might not be so precious, but they still belong to Chamberlain's estate, the judge ruled.

Seymour S. Goldberg, Chamberlain's longtime friend and lawyer, asked the judge to order the memorabilia returned. He said Friday at a hearing in Superior Court in Santa Monica that Sanders also has some "embarrassing" photographs.

Letteau ordered Sanders to give everything back by Tuesday or face a contempt of court charge.

Besides the jersey and the jockstrap, missing items include one shoe signed on the night Chamberlain scored 100 points, his expired American Express card, his wallet, one tall trophy, two canceled passports, one pair of cuff links and one pair of Nike sneakers, size 17.

Chamberlain left cash bequests ranging from $25,000 to $200,000 each to about 15 close relatives. The nephews each were left $25,000. Chamberlain also left money to Overbrook High and several of his favorite charities. His estate was valued at more than $5 million.

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CHiPPING IN: "CHiPs" star Larry Wilcox is suing a former business partner, claiming that the man is an international con artist who fleeced him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars last year.

Wilcox's Los Angeles Superior Court suit accuses Jedd Rabon of racketeering, fraud and breach of contract. According to the suit, Rabon posed as a billionaire and promised Wilcox $1 million a year and a percentage of the profits from a telecommunications venture.

Rabon claimed to own the rights to compression equipment and microwave transmission frequencies in Los Angeles worth an estimated $600 million, the suit says. The plan, according to the suit, was to use Wilcox's celebrity to raise money for a service that would deliver hundreds of television channels to Los Angeles residents.

Wilcox chipped in his own money and rented office space in Pasadena before learning that Rabon had served jail time in England and was the target of numerous fraud suits, court papers say. When Wilcox confronted him, Rabon said he been set up by a crooked cop, according to suit.

"Though somewhat extraordinary, Mr. Wilcox believed the explanation provided by Mr. Rabon," the suit states. But later, as Wilcox pressed Rabon to deliver on his promises, the partner allegedly stalled: "I am excited about our relationship," he wrote Wilcox in a memo. "Up until very recently, we have been dancing around waiting for funding. Now that it is on its way, I can finally demonstrate just how good a friend and partner I am going to be. . . . Please, never doubt my loyalty."

As a show of good faith, the suit says, Rabon sent Wilcox separate checks for $25,000 and $200,000. The small check bounced and Rabon put a stop payment order on the larger one, court papers say.

Wilcox seeks unspecified damages. Rabon could not be located for comment. Alas, so much for friendship.

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THE CLIENT: Actor Bronson Pinchot, a master of silly-sounding accents, has sued his lawyers, alleging that they committed malpractice by failing to file a lawsuit in a personal injury case.

Pinchot says in court papers that he could have won the case and recovered damages if the lawyers hadn't messed up. Named as defendants are Pinchot's personal lawyer, John Diemer, and bulldog celebrity litigator Martin D. Singer, a frequent visitor to this space.

Couch potatoes might remember Pinchot as Balki, the character he played for six seasons on the TV comedy "Perfect Strangers." He seeks damages for pain and suffering and medical expenses for an unspecified injury suffered April 10, 1997.

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