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Goods included family heirlooms

THE NATION

A memorabilia dealer's testimony seems to support the Simpson defense's stance in the robbery-kidnap case.

September 17, 2008|Ashley Powers and Harriet Ryan | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — A sports memorabilia dealer who says O.J. Simpson and five other men robbed him at gunpoint testified Tuesday that some of the items taken from him were the former football star's family heirlooms.

"I believed these items belonged to Mr. Simpson's family," said the alleged victim, Bruce Fromong. "They should go to his kids."

Though Fromong estimated the value of the items taken at up to $100,000, he told jurors at Simpson's armed robbery and kidnapping trial that he and the NFL Hall of Famer "could have come to some arrangement" regarding their return.

Fromong was not asked to reconcile that statement with his attempt to sell the items at Palace Station Hotel & Casino, where he was expecting to meet a wealthy buyer. Instead, he was confronted by an angry Simpson and associates.

Fromong's statements appeared to support the defense argument that Simpson was simply trying to retrieve stolen mementos, including pictures of his children and his late parents, on Sept. 13, 2007. Simpson attorney Gabriel Grasso intimated that Simpson had no use for the Pete Rose baseballs and Joe Montana lithographs taken from the room.

"Has O.J. ever talked to you about what a big Joe Montana fan he is?" Grasso asked.

"He's a Barry Sanders fan," Fromong said to laughter, referring to the former Detroit Lions running back.

Simpson, 61, and codefendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart, 54, are accused of robbing Fromong and another collectibles dealer at gunpoint. They face a dozen charges -- including kidnapping, which carries a potential life sentence.

In his second day of testimony, Fromong acknowledged that he had tried to sell sports collectibles on EBay by advertising them as "the same as the ones stolen from me" by Simpson. He also admitted that he had phoned the TV show "Inside Edition" shortly after the incident.

"You wanted big money," Grasso charged. Fromong initially denied it, but the attorney confronted him with an audiotape in which he said of his call to the tabloid program, "I told them I want big money."

Simpson's attorneys are expected to accuse multiple witnesses -- including former codefendants now cooperating with the prosecution -- of seeking media attention, book deals and money after the alleged robbery.

Grasso also tried to point out apparent inconsistencies in Fromong's account of the confrontation. Fromong's testimony was cut short Monday after he complained of feeling dizzy and lightheaded.

Fromong had testified that two of Simpson's associates carried guns and rushed into the hotel room. During the six-minute encounter, Fromong said, Simpson waved an arm up and down while someone yelled "put the gun down."

Simpson maintains he saw no guns in the hotel room.

Under questioning, Fromong admitted that he had never mentioned those details during statements to police or in his preliminary hearing testimony.

Fromong also conceded that the initial description he gave police of the perpetrators' race was incorrect. He had told a detective that all of the men accompanying Simpson were African Americans. Two were actually white.

Fromong's turn on the stand also provided additional insight into what prosecutors say is a connection between the alleged robbery and Simpson's attempts to avoid paying a civil judgment.

Simpson was acquitted in 1995 in the slayings of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Two years later, a civil jury ordered him to pay $33.5 million.

An audio recording played for jurors Tuesday alluded to how Simpson might have concealed assets from the court.

"I helped him set up his [expletive] offshore accounts," said a man identified as Fromong.

Fromong also testified that Simpson's former agent, Mike Gilbert, had hidden some of the gridiron star's memorabilia to thwart the judgment. He recalled an incident at Simpson's Brentwood mansion in which the football player joked about how the Goldman family would never get the valuable mementos.

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ashley.powers@latimes.com

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

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