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Floridians fondly remember Bob Kuechenberg as an offensive lineman on the great Miami Dolphins teams of the ’70s and ’80s, including the 1972 Super Bowl champions who went undefeated and untied. Since his retirement from the gridiron after the 1984 season, he’s been known for his involvement in numerous charities. But to former National Basketball Association all-star Don Buse, Kuechenberg is a man who unlawfully received and converted $100,000 of his retirement income, then stiffed Buse on a federal court judgment for repayment. Now, eight years after that judgment was entered, Buse is again seeking redress in U.S. District Court. He’s trying to do in federal court in Miami what he was unable to do in his home state of Indiana — get Kuechenberg to pay the $367,857 judgment, which includes the $100,000 plus prejudgment interest and damages. His quest, however, hangs on which arcane laws U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore decides to apply to his case. The dispute between the former star athletes stems from the actions in 1989 of Robert R. Skinner, formerly an Indianapolis-based financial manager to Buse, Kuechenberg and NBA players Dan Roundfield, James McElroy and L. Darnell Hillman. Skinner invested money for the athletes in various funds and businesses. But according to a 1994 federal fraud and money laundering indictment, in some cases Skinner transferred the funds without his clients’ knowledge to businesses in which he held a financial stake. He also allegedly diverted some of the athletes’ money to pay for his mortgage, home remodeling, landscaping services and loan payments on a Chevy Corvette. Skinner bilked the four NBA players of about $1 million, the indictment said. Kuechenberg allegedly invested money with Skinner and was a partner with him in at least two businesses, but was not charged with any wrongdoing. CLEANED OUT Buse — who played with the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns and made the NBA all-star team in the 1976-77 season — had entrusted Skinner with $341,893. Skinner spent a chunk of it on his personal debts; in August 1989, he transferred $100,000 from Buse’s Vanguard Group money market account to an account in which he managed money for Kuechenberg, federal prosecutors charged (Buse later won a judgment from Vanguard). “[Buse] had the bulk of his retirement savings in this one account,” says Douglas Briody, an associate at Noffsinger Barnett in Evansville, Ind., who represents Buse along with partner George Barnett Jr. and Paul McMahon, a Miami solo practitioner. “Skinner stole the money and Kuechenberg got a piece of it. Kuechenberg never really disputed this.” In 1995, Skinner pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to 57 months in prison. A federal judge in Indianapolis also ordered Skinner to make restitution to Buse of $282,500; he is paying it off incrementally. DEFAULT JUDGMENT Kuechenberg was well aware of Buse’s claim long before that. In May 1990, Buse notified Kuechenberg that some of his money had been transferred into Kuechenberg’s account, according to court records. Although Kuechenberg by then had been the beneficiary of a $100,000 windfall for eight months, he claimed he was unaware of his good fortune. But after investigating further, Kuechenberg acknowledged the fund transfer and promised to repay Buse, Buse alleged when he later sued Kuechenberg in U.S. District Court in Evansville in 1992. When Kuechenberg failed to appear for the court proceedings in that case, U.S. District Judge Gene E. Brooks issued a default judgment against him in June 1993 for $367,857. “For whatever reasons, I think Mr. Kuechenberg elected not to defend that case in Indiana,” says Neale Poller, a partner at Camner Lipsitz & Poller in Coral Gables, Fla., who’s representing Kuechenberg. “From what I know, he had good defenses in this case. I don’t believe he was at fault, given the underlying facts.” Kuechenberg never paid the judgment. Buse and his lawyers let the matter languish while they attempted to recover some of Buse’s money from Vanguard and Skinner, says Buse attorney Barnett. And Kuechenberg — currently on his fourth marriage — was going through a divorce at one point, and Buse’s lawyers were led to believe he had few assets, Barnett says. “We’ve given him some time.” Barnett says. “Hopefully, he’s back on his feet.” ‘FOREIGN’ JURISDICTION? So last October, Buse’s lawyers had the judgment transferred to federal court in the southern district of Florida because Kuechenberg lives in Boca Raton. “The only place we can collect it is where he lives,” Briody says, because as far as Buse’s lawyers know, this is the only state where Kuechenberg might have assets. “The Indiana judgment becomes a Florida judgment for all intents and purposes.” Poller argues, however, that the case in Miami is a “new action” on a “foreign” judgment — and that it comes too late. More than seven years elapsed between the time Buse obtained the judgment in Indiana and the time that he moved the case to Florida. Florida law, Poller contends, places a five-year statute of limitations on reviving a judgment from another jurisdiction. He has asked Judge Moore to dismiss the case. Briody counters that Kuechenberg’s position might be valid if Buse’s judgment against him was in an Indiana state court. But the judgment was in federal court and thus is valid for 20 years, he says. Briody also notes that judgments issued by federal district courts in other states have the same force and effect as judgments issued by district courts in Florida. The district court in Florida must treat Buse’s judgment as if that court had issued it, he argues. If Moore rules in Buse’s favor, Briody says, Buse will seek a hearing to determine Kuechenberg’s assets. “The question comes down to whether Kuechenberg can pay the judgment,” Briody says. Poller declined to say whether his client has sufficient assets to pay the judgment if Moore rules against him. He also declined to comment on whether Kuechenberg acknowledges receiving the money, or whether he has a moral responsibility to repay Buse regardless of legal maneuvering. “Moral judgments,” Poller says, “should be left to authorities higher than you and myself.”

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