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The State

Former Dodger Great Facing a Mound of Debt

Financial chaos has plagued Steve Garvey for years. As his money problems deepened, he continued to burnish his `Mr. Clean' image.

April 09, 2006|Scott Glover and Matt Lait | Times Staff Writers

Trading on his fame, charm and movie-star good looks, Garvey, now 57, went into business for himself after baseball, working as a pitchman and motivational speaker.

At the website promoting him as a motivational speaker, it says that Garvey's "playing field has changed from the baseball diamond to corporate boardrooms and lecture halls, but the integrity, intensity and the devotion for which this future Hall of Famer is famous for is the same." A promotional DVD shows him standing at a lectern in a sharply pressed suit, the picture of success. In speeches laden with baseball analogies, he talks about teamwork and setting goals.

But that image is at odds with Garvey's financially turbulent private life. A review of more than two dozen court files in California and Utah shows that he's had money troubles dating back at least a decade.

In a 1996 court declaration, Garvey said he suffered a "financial disaster" when the Internal Revenue Service disallowed tax deductions he claimed in connection with an investment in First Western Corp. in the early 1980s. As a result, he said, he owed $937,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest.

In addition, Garvey said he owed $10,000 to his ex-wife Cyndy, $40,000 to his current wife's parents, and another $40,000 to his former accountant.

"It feels like I owe everyone," his declaration states.

By 2000, Garvey's financial status appeared to improve. He and his wife moved into a 14,000-square-foot home near Park City, Utah. The estate came with its own name: The Boulders. It had a commanding view of the Deer Valley ski resort. The Garveys frequented the Stein Eriksen Lodge and drove luxury SUVs -- a Lexus and a Land Rover.

Their staff included a nanny, a groundskeeper, a handyman and Bilbrey, who served as a personal assistant to Steve.

But Bilbrey said there was a difference between the image the Garveys projected and what she witnessed in the Garvey home.

While working for the Garveys from July 2002 through June 2003, Bilbrey said, dealing with disgruntled creditors was part of her job.

Court records and financial documents reviewed by The Times and interviews with people who did business with the Garveys corroborate Bilbrey's claim that the couple's finances were in disarray.

From September 2002 to March 2003, dozens of businesses and people demanding payment of past-due bills called the Garveys or sent them letters.

In January 2003, a representative of the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles called to discuss a delinquent balance of more than $8,000 from a nine-day stay. In addition to the $495-a-night room, the Garveys were charged $828 for a necklace and bracelet, $189 for a bathrobe, $56 for Louis Vuitton stationery and $1,271 for dinner, according to their bill.

Andrea Messier said she worked as the Garveys' nanny from December 2002 through June 2003. At first, she said, she had no trouble getting her $100 a day, for which she shuttled the Garvey children to and from after-school sporting events, practices and play dates.

But after a couple of months, she said, things changed.

"Candace would say 'talk to Steve' and Steve would say 'talk to Candace,' " Messier recalled in a telephone interview from her home in Colorado.

At one point, Messier said, she wrote checks to pay her own rent, car payment, car insurance and other bills based on a promise that she would be paid by the Garveys the next day. The promise was not kept, Messier said, and her bank account was overdrawn.

When she told Steve Garvey what had happened, he offered to pay the overdraft charges, said Messier, now 25. But not before giving her some fatherly advice.

"Steve told me you shouldn't send your bills out until you've got money in your account," Messier recalled. "I just kinda stood there and looked at him," she said.

After helping to organize a church charity auction in 2003, the Garveys bid on several items and agreed to buy others totaling about $2,700, according to records and interviews. Despite numerous calls to the Garvey home, the bill went unpaid. Nearly a year later, a church volunteer charged with collecting the debt said she reached Steve Garvey on his cellphone. The bill was paid a few days later.

A big source of Garvey's money problems stem from a paternity suit filed by his onetime fiancee, Rebecka Mendenhall. She sued him in 1991, alleging that he was the father of her child, born in 1989.

In 1993, a judge ruled that Garvey was the boy's father and that Mendenhall was entitled to child support. Three years later, as Garvey sought a reduction in the amount he was ordered to pay, he filed the declaration stating he was nearly a million dollars in debt.

Mendenhall agreed to a reduction. But in 2000, when she heard Garvey was expected to receive $3 million in disputed pension funds from Major League Baseball, she filed court papers seeking to adjust his child support payment.

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