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Simpson's rogue collection

Like the memorabilia in that Las Vegas hotel room, most of the men who gathered there are trailed by questions.

September 22, 2007|Ashley Powers, Scott Glover and Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writers

las vegas -- Days after O.J. Simpson was famously arrested in a double murder 13 years ago, he received a jailhouse visit from his friend and agent, Richard "Mike" Gilbert.

Simpson passed him a note that began, "Mike, I need you more than ever." But he wasn't looking for emotional support, Gilbert said. Simpson had thought up a way to cash in on his situation -- signing football memorabilia from behind bars.

"Imagine: O.J. Simpson, L.A. County Jail," Gilbert recalled the note saying.

Gilbert and Simpson capitalized on the football legend's notorious name for years, even after his acquittal in the slayings of his ex-wife and her friend made him one of the most reviled people in America.

But the pair eventually had a falling out over money and mementos. Then last week, Simpson ended up in a $35-a-night Las Vegas hotel room, where he allegedly robbed two memorabilia dealers, taking back items he claims Gilbert stole. How the items ended up with the sellers -- and whether they were stolen, as Simpson maintains -- remains unclear.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
O.J. Simpson case: A Sept. 22 article on the Las Vegas armed robbery case against O.J. Simpson and five other men, and several previous Section A articles about it, said all six faced 10 felony counts. Only Simpson was charged with 10 felonies; the remaining men were charged with nine.

The confrontation at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino, wild even considering Simpson's tabloid past, brought together two groups of questionable characters with whom the former NFL star has been spending the third act of his life.

On one side -- accused along with Simpson of armed robbery -- was a motley cast of hangers-on who accompanied Simpson on endless rounds of golf and late-night parties.

On the other was a morally flexible pair of memorabilia sellers hoping to profit from Simpson's infamy. The dealers, whom Simpson had known for years, said they helped him make money from autograph sessions in the years since the murder case.

Simpson was found liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in civil lawsuits, and now owes their families $24 million and $38 million, respectively. But according to an attorney for the Goldmans, Simpson has often failed to turn over income from autograph signings.

Nearly everybody who ended up in the little hotel room at 7:38 p.m. on Sept. 13 had a criminal record. And for all but one, it seems, life immediately got worse.

One of Simpson's alleged victims, Bruce Fromong of Las Vegas, suffered a heart attack this week. The other, Alfred Beardsley of Burbank, was arrested by U.S. marshals at the Luxor Hotel & Casino on Wednesday. He was on parole for stalking a woman in Riverside County and had violated the terms by leaving California.

Simpson's five companions, one of whom says he had met the Heisman Trophy winner just hours earlier at a party, are facing 10 felony counts.

The auctioneer who arranged the meeting between Simpson and the sellers, a career criminal from Corona named Thomas Riccio, surreptitiously audiotaped the encounter and sold it to a celebrity website. Riccio is believed to have reached an immunity deal with law enforcement.

If convicted, Simpson, 60, faces spending the rest of his life in prison.

That night at the Palace Station, Simpson walked out with an All-American team football, three game balls marked with the dates Simpson used them to break records, 24 baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider, three dress ties and a "J. Edgar Hoover document," among other things, according to a police report. But he didn't find the family photographs he said were stolen from a storage locker, or the suit he wore on the day he was acquitted of murder.

Through the tabloid press, Beardsley had been peddling what he said was that suit for more than $100,000.

The collectibles world

Gilbert, 52, of Hanford, Calif., said he was introduced to Simpson more than 15 years ago by another client, Marcus Allen, who like Simpson reached NFL stardom after winning the Heisman at USC.

He began handling Simpson's public appearances and endorsement deals, and the two became friends. Gilbert said he accumulated a wealth of Simpson sports memorabilia, including signed helmets, jerseys and photos, often because "O.J. didn't like to pay me out of his pocket."

So it was not out of place, Gilbert said, when he asked Simpson about the designer suit his friend had worn the day he was acquitted. Gilbert had seen it lying atop a pile of clothing in a closet in Simpson's Brentwood estate the next morning.

"O.J., what are you going to do with the suit?" Gilbert recalled asking. "It's going to be worth a lot of money someday."

Simpson, uninterested, told him he could have it, Gilbert insisted.

"I went over, picked it up, put it in a suit bag, and I took it," Gilbert said. "I've had it ever since."

After the Las Vegas incident, police questioned Gilbert about the disputed memorabilia.

Gilbert said he suspects some -- footballs from record-breaking games, awards from Simpson's pro and college careers -- were items that Simpson told friends and relatives to hide after the Goldman and Brown families obtained an order to seize his assets. Others may have been auctioned off when Simpson failed to keep up payments on storage lockers.

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