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WWE Ex-Exec Pleads Guilty

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February 11, 2005|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A former licensing chief of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. admitted Thursday that he accepted kickbacks in return for steering the licensing rights for several WWE products made by others.

James K. Bell, WWE's former senior vice president of licensing and merchandising, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport, Conn., to one federal count of mail fraud.

In announcing the plea, the U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut didn't disclose the licenses or companies involved in Bell's scheme.

But WWE is pursuing a separate civil suit against Bell, Malibu-based toy company Jakks Pacific Inc. and others, alleging they helped Jakks wrongfully secure a video game license from WWE in 1998. Jakks has denied any wrongdoing.

The U.S. attorney's office in Connecticut said that, under a scheme that ran from 1998 to 2000, Bell arranged for an outside WWE licensing agent, SS&Associates Inc., to receive commissions on licensing agreements to which it was not entitled. Bell would then get kickbacks from SS&Associates, owned by licensing agent Stanley Shenker, according to Bell's plea.

Bell, 49, of Norwalk, Conn., was released on $50,000 bond. He declined to comment after the proceedings.

Shenker has not been charged. His attorney, Andrew Bowman, declined to comment Thursday.

WWE, based in Stamford, Conn., filed its civil suit against Bell, Shenker and Jakks in federal court in New York in October. In the lawsuit, WWE alleged that Jakks paid $100,000 in bribes to Bell and Shenker to gain a video game deal with WWE. The alleged arrangement deprived WWE "of the benefit of competition" in awarding the license, its suit stated.

Jakks already was licensed to sell WWE toy action figures when it obtained the WWE video game license in 1998.

A Jakks spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.

O'Connor's office said the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service were continuing to investigate the case. Bell, who is scheduled to be sentenced April 29, faces up to five years in prison and restitution of about $1.9 million.

WWE's stock fell 22 cents to $12.19 on the New York Stock Exchange. Jakks' stock fell 74 cents to $22.88 on Nasdaq.

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