Greenberg Traurig has been quietly settling lawsuits and claims brought by more than 30 current and former NFL players who alleged the law firm and a West Palm Beach shareholder failed to warn them about investing in what turned out to be an unlicensed Alabama casino project.
The players, most of whom went to college in Florida, lost more than $40 million. Some lost their life savings.
Five suits were filed by Terrell Owens, a wide receiver and six-time Pro Bowl selection; Clinton Portis, a running back who played professionally for the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins and in college for the University of Miami; Mike Peterson, a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons; Roscoe Parrish, a wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills who also played college ball at Miami; and Duane Starks, a former cornerback with the Baltimore Ravens and others.
In addition, the Daily Business Review has learned that a lawyer for 28 other players, including former Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and New York Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore and former New England Patriots running back Fred Taylor, was preparing to file suit last year against Greenberg when the firm suggested entering mediation instead.
In a statement to the Review, Greenberg denied wrongdoing. But the firm acknowledged it was settling the suits and claims.
“We have always denied any wrongdoing or any responsibility for or involvement with the players’ decisions to invest in this project,” the statement said. “We have resolved most of the claims and are discussing resolution of the remaining ones. The terms of the settlements and the details of ongoing discussions are confidential.”
The athletes sued or mediated with Greenberg and shareholder Pamela Linden. Greenberg is standing behind Linden. The firm’s website said she is a member of its real estate group and represents developers and lenders with loan restructuring, analysis of defaults and development of residential, condominium, golf course, commercial and office properties. She served as secretary-treasurer of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission in 2011.
A Florida Bar spokeswoman said Linden has no Bar complaints or investigations against her.
Some of the players have also sued or threatened to sue Pro Sports Financial Inc., a former Fort Lauderdale financial adviser, and its principal, Jeffrey B. Rubin. They claim they were steered into investing money in the failed Country Crossing electronic bingo venture, which was closed down by Alabama state authorities.
Alabama developer Ronnie Gilley, the creator of the bingo venture, has pleaded guilty to federal charges of trying to bribe legislators in exchange for passing a bill allowing a statewide vote on gambling. Now a key prosecution witness, Gilley is facing up to 27 years in prison.
Fort Lauderdale phone numbers for Pro Sports are disconnected. Rubin’s attorney, Patricia Morales Christianson of West Palm Beach’s Casey Ciklin Lubitz Martens & O’Connell, did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment by deadline.
The lawsuits filed in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Circuit courts against Greenberg and Pro Sports claim Linden and Rubin failed to inform them the only legalized gambling in Alabama is for charity and NFL rules prohibit players from investing in gambling ventures.
In previous statements, Greenberg has said Linden advised the players on real estate and other matters, but only became involved in the gambling project well after it was set up. However, state corporate records show Linden signed incorporation papers in 2008 establishing ventures with Pro Sports employee Ed Rappaport, who also is also being sued by several players. The companies bear names like KL Miami Group LLC and JK Miami Group LLC, then list players like Kenard Lang and Jevon Kearse with Rappaport as the registered agent. Michael Simon of Boca Raton-based Simon & Sigalos said corporate listings coincide with the dates the players invested in the casino project.
According to the lawsuit filed by Terrell Owens, Greenberg and Linden were his attorneys since 2006 and Linden was granted power of attorney for him. Linden steered him to investing $2 million in the project, promising a 15 percent return, Owens alleges.
“Moreover, continuing into 2008, Owens reasonably believed that Defendants were his attorneys because Linden consulted on Owens’ behalf with Owens’ advisors at Pro Sports Financial, Linden organized the TO Miami Group LLC, as Owens authorized representative for his investment opportunity involving a real estate, resort, entertainment, dining and gaming project in Alabama, known as “The Country Crossing Casino,” states the suit.
In Greenberg’s answer, filed in December 2011, the firm states that Pro Sports referred Owens to Linden for a real estate matter and that Linden represented Owens “on one corporate matter, and from time to time on certain discrete matters, all unrelated to the Entertainment Project.”
Elizabeth Kagan of the Kagan Law Firm in Fort Myers, who represents 28 NFL players, said she has been entering into confidential settlements with Greenberg Traurig and is exploring lawsuits against Pro Sports, Rubin and possibly financial institutions that may have wired funds from players without authorization. She declined to name any of the institutions.
Simon, who represents Parrish, Starks, Peterson and Owens, also has been settling his suits with Greenberg.
“The state shut down the bingo hall and seized the bingo machines and will never reopen the hall,” Simon said. “The project’s a dead deal. There’s no one there willing to operate it.”
Simon declined to say how much Greenberg Traurig settled for. He said he is still proceeding with actions against Pro Financial and Rubin.
Rubin’s connections to athletes go back to his college days at the University of Florida, where he roomed with Mo Collins, who went on to become an Oakland Raider, Yahoo! Sports reported. Rubin rented a Golden Beach house in 1999, and Taylor, Burress and retired defensive end Jevon Kearse were among the offseason residents.
Another lawyer, Martin Simkovic of the Simkovic Law Firm in Miami, said his client, Portis,also received a settlement from Greenberg.
In August 2011, Broward Circuit Judge Robert Rosenberg entered a partial final judgment of $510,000 with prejudgment interest of $15,845 against Pro Sports and Rubin for Parrish. Rubin omitted items of personal property in a fact sheet for the court and then removed the items from his Lighthouse Point home last Oct. 26, according to an emergency motion filed by Simon the next month. Rubin allegedly used a U-Haul truck to remove property and conceal it “to avoid satisfaction of the partial final judgment,” the motion said.
But Simon has had difficulty locating Rubin and garnished his BankAtlantic and Wells Fargo bank accounts.
BankAtlantic said it had a diamond ring in a safe deposit box, but Rubin said the ring was owned by Kearse, according to court records filed a year ago. The ring has since been returned to Kearse. The bank also said it had $100 of Rubin’s money.
Wells Fargo turned over $268 of Rubin’s money.
Simon also moved to garnish any trust accounts held by Greenberg Traurig on behalf of Rubin.
In its reply, Greenberg Traurig “denies that it had in its possession or control tangible or intangible personal property or money owed to the defendants at the time of service of the writ or at the time of the filing of this answer or at any time in between.”
In another setback for Rubin, U.S. Bank filed a foreclosure suit in September 2010 on his waterfront house in Lighthouse Point, which was bought for $2.89 million in 2005.
It wasn’t just NFL players who lost money in the casino venture. Undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. claims he lost $4 million on a loan to Pro Sports and Rubin in June 2010. His lawyer, Gary Fox of Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain in Miami, filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in June 2012 to recover the money, alleging Rubin told Mayweather the project “involved little risk.”
Fox said he has been unable to locate Rubin.
“He is concealing his whereabouts,” Fox said. “He’s making himself scarce. We’re obtaining alternative service of process on him in attempting to track him down and take his subpoena.”
Meanwhile, another one of the casino investors who lost money, NFL cornerback Samari Rolle is facing foreclosure on his $4.5 million Delray Beach house. On Sept. 6, JPMorgan Chase Bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the former Florida State University player.