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Teen in Internet Fraud Cases Sues School for $50 Million

Cole Bartiromo alleges that his Mission Viejo high school ruined his baseball career.

May 17, 2003|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

A Mission Viejo teen who paid more than $1.2 million last year to settle federal Internet-fraud complaints is suing his former high school for labeling him an embarrassment and booting him from the varsity baseball team, according to the court filing.

Acting as his own attorney, Cole Bartiromo, 18, filed the $50-million civil rights lawsuit this week in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana alleging Trabuco Hills High School administrators barred him from the team last winter because of "personal vendettas" based on their "own jealousy/anger/spite of Bartiromo's local fame."

And famous he was. At 17, Bartiromo was alleged to be one of the nation's youngest Internet con artists, defrauding more than 1,000 investors in an online sports-betting operation that used an offshore casino account featuring the sports picks of "Tom Manning," an adult online persona Bartiromo created.

Bartiromo, who played left field, alleged in his lawsuit that school officials denied him due process by stacking an athletic review board against him and eroded his future earnings by undercutting a potential baseball career.

"We haven't been served yet, but the truth is, had we been served, we probably would not comment on it," said Barry Blade, Saddleback Valley Unified School District's assistant superintendent for business. "I won't say I'm not surprised. We anticipated it."

Bartiromo said Friday he has spent nearly a year since his June graduation poring over self-help legal guides.

"I can handle this on my own," Bartiromo said, but added that he would consider seeking legal help if he decides a lawyer would lend credence to his claim.

Bartiromo's baptism in the law came at the hands of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed a civil complaint last year over Bartiromo's "Invest Better 2001" online betting scheme.

"I've seen plenty since then -- motions, court filings, everything," Bartiromo said.

The SEC also cited Bartiromo, then a Trabuco Hills senior, over a scheme in which he allegedly bought shares in penny-stock companies through his father's online account, flooded investor chat rooms with e-mail rumors about pending takeovers and then cashed out when the stock prices rose.

In a court agreement, Bartiromo shut down the operation and turned over the cash without admitting guilt.

Bartiromo said Friday that he is still waiting for the final stage of the case: court-imposed fines. He said the SEC is seeking a "nine-figure" penalty, and that he would not discuss those allegations until the case is resolved.

"I wish we could get this over with so I can move on," Bartiromo said. "I can't do anything until this is settled. I'm just sitting on pins and needles here."

SEC officials could not be reached Friday for comment.

After the first civil SEC charges were filed Jan. 7, 2002, in New York City, Bartiromo continued to attend Trabuco Hills High and attend baseball practice.

Later that month, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by Bartiromo, the school athletic director told him that his presence on the baseball team "makes us look like idiots" in the eyes of other coaches and school teams.

Bartiromo claimed that a review panel convened a week later was stacked against him -- no baseball coaches, who he said supported him, were on it -- and he lost the appeal.

Getting bounced from the Trabuco Hills baseball team precluded him from performing in front of pro scouts and college recruiters.

The lawsuit, written by Bartiromo, swings between standard legal language and occasional high school jargon.

It accuses one administrator of calling Bartiromo to the school office for "bogus infractions" and complained that school officials removed personal details about him from the school yearbook.

"Instead of savoring every final moment of that final year to remember, Bartiromo has been left with thoughts of horror and the discrimination he endured," the lawsuit says.

Bartiromo also alleged that the school coerced him into accepting the dismissal from the team by threatening to turn over audiotapes of the review panel meeting to the SEC.

The lawsuit does not explain why those tapes would be of interest.

Bartiromo said Friday he has posted his lawsuit on the Internet and will launch a Web site detailing his battle against what he called the "fraudulent" Saddleback Valley school district.

And he is also looking toward a possible career not in stocks, the Internet or the law, but as a rap artist.

"I have a story to tell like no other," Bartiromo said. "Every other musician's story is a rags-to-riches story. They whine about poverty then make it big. I had it all, I was at the top and I'm now hitting rock bottom.... The only way to express that is through rap and hip-hop."

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