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Rockets Suspend Absent Francis

February 03, 2004|David Rosenzweig | From Staff and Wire Reports

Houston Rocket guard Steve Francis was suspended for Monday night's game for missing a flight to Phoenix.

He missed the Sunday night flight and was not with the team for its game against the Suns. Rocket spokesman Nelson Luis said the team would have no further comment.

Francis' public relations firm issued a statement late Monday saying the guard was absent because of an "urgent personal family matter" and would rejoin his teammates at practice today.

Francis leads the Rockets in scoring (16.6) and assists (5.9).

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A former business manager for NBA veteran Mark Jackson pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court to embezzling more than $1.5 million from the Rocket point guard.

Bruce J. Breger, 41, of Thousand Oaks faces a maximum five-year prison term and will have to make restitution to Jackson under terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Douglas Fuchs said Jackson, then with the Clippers, hired Breger in 1993 to manage his financial affairs, including balancing his checking account, paying his bills and providing him with investment advice.

Breger was able to embezzle the funds by fraudulently transferring money from Jackson's account at City National Bank in Westwood to bank accounts that Breger controlled at the same bank and at other financial institutions, according to the prosecutor.

In some cases, Fuchs said, Breger sent City National Bank authorization forms bearing Jackson's signature, which had been used in previous legitimate transfers.

To further conceal the fraud, the prosecutor said, Breger had Jackson's account statements sent to the offices of his company, Breger Management Group.

Breger's attorney, Mark Gottesman, said Breger gambled away most of the money. He said Breger had since joined Gamblers Anonymous and had been "sober" for the last 800 days.

Breger, whose clients included other professional athletes, entertainers and physicians, is a defendant in a number of civil suits alleging wrongdoing, according to the prosecutor. He said one of those clients tipped off Jackson, who then hired a forensic accountant and fired Breger. Jackson and his wife also have a civil lawsuit pending against Breger.

Sentencing for Breger, who remains free on bond, is scheduled for April 19.

-- David Rosenzweig

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New Jersey Net forward Eddie Griffin was back in jail after prosecutors said he violated bail terms stemming from a prior assault charge.

Griffin's bond was revoked and a hearing was set for today over alleged curfew violations.

Griffin must abide by a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew unless he must work.

Griffin was released by the Rockets in December and signed with the Nets in January. He then requested a leave last week so he could undergo six weeks of treatment for alcohol abuse, said Griffin's attorney, Rusty Hardin. He was expected to check into the Betty Ford Center on Wednesday.

Griffin is to be sentenced Feb. 13 for a marijuana possession conviction. He was charged in November with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against a woman on Oct. 25.

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Orlando Magic forward Grant Hill plans to practice full time with the team after the All-Star break or in early March and hopes to play before the season ends, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Hill, who underwent his fourth surgery on his left ankle in March, has played in only 47 games for the Magic since signing a $93-million contract in 2000. He hasn't played since January 2003.

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