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Monday, July 15
Updated: July 16, 9:05 PM ET
 
Former minority owners sue for alleged fraud

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- The former minority partners of the Montreal Expos sued baseball commissioner Bud Selig and former team owner Jeffrey Loria on Tuesday, accusing them of mail fraud and wire fraud.

The 14 owners filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and asked that the Expos be placed in trust. They also said that if baseball officials try to move or fold the team, they would ask for an injunction -- which could become another roadblock to Selig's contraction plan.

"All of you have heard about the Grinch that stole Christmas," said Jim Quinn, the lead trial lawyer representing the plaintiffs. "This is the case of the Grinches that stole the Montreal Expos."

In their 44-page complaint, the limited partners contend, "(Loria) and his co-conspirators engaged in a scheme that had as its object the destruction of baseball in Montreal, so that Mr. Loria and his co-conspirators could justify relocating the franchise to the United States."

They accused Loria and his staff of conduct "that effectively destroyed the economic viability of baseball in Montreal (that) included removing the Expos from local television, subverting well-developed plans for a new baseball stadium in downtown Montreal, purposefully alienating Expos' sponsors and investors, abandoning agreed-upon financial plans for the franchise, and undermining a planned recapitalization of the franchise that would have added new Canadian partners."

The suit contends Loria and Marlins president David Samson conspired with baseball officials to dilute the minority partners' share of the team from 76 percent to 6-to-7 percent and never intended to keep the franchise in Montreal. Earlier this year, Loria's holding company sold the Expos to a company owned by the other 29 major league teams and purchased the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who became controlling owner of the Boston Red Sox.

The plaintiffs are seeking $100 million in punitive damages and compensatory damages of between $100 million to $150 million. If awarded, compensatory damages could be tripled.

"We have a reaction: rage," John McHale Jr., baseball's executive vice president of administration, told ESPN.com. "I guess that would be one word that could be used. We are profoundly offended and we will contest these baseless and groundless allegations as strongly as we can.

"It is an utter fabrication and enormous revision of history," he added.

Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, called the suit "frivolous'' and "a shameless attempt to obtain through publicity what they know they are not entitled to legally.'' DuPuy said the commissioner's office "will seek sanctions against those responsible for bringing these baseless claims.''

Defendants in the lawsuit include Selig, Loria, DuPuy, the commissioner's office and Samson, who had been executive vice president of the Expos under Loria's ownership. If the suit goes to trial, documents pertaining to Loria's purchase of the Expos, the three-way swap of teams and the plan to eliminate the Expos could be made public.

Quinn told ESPN.com his firm had sent letters out on Tuesday "telling the defendants not to get anywhere near any shredders."

Appearing at the news conference to announce the filing of the suit was Sam Minzberg, a lawyer for the Bronfman family who last month helped oust Jean-Marie Messier as chairman of Vivendi Universal. Charles Bronfman, who owned the Expos from the team's inception until 1991, has been close to Selig.

Minzberg accused Selig, Loria and their staffs of "stonewalling" the limited partners and said Bronfman had spoken to Selig about the matter.

"He asked the commissioner to do the right thing. He didn't do the right thing," Minzberg said. "We had no choice."

The plaintiffs include five prominent Canadian companies: Bell Canada (the country's leading telephone company), Fairmont Hotel & Resorts (the largest luxury hotel chain in North America), BMO Nesbitt Burns (the country's leading investment banker), Provigo (Quebec's largest grocery retailer) and Cascades (one of the largest paper manufacturing companies in the world).

Stephen Bronfman, the son of Charles Bronfman, is a principal in Esarbee, also among the 14 limited partners who filed suit, and L. Jacques Menard, the Expos' former chairman, is the principal of BMO Nesbitt Inc.

The limited partners are represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which has done work in the past for several players' associations and also represents the San Francisco Giants' Jeff Kent and Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. The firm also has represented the city of Oakland in its lawsuit against the NFL's Raiders and owner Al Davis.

Samson and DuPuy declined comment, saying they would first have to review the suit.

Selig and baseball owners tried to fold the Expos and Minnesota Twins during the offseason but contraction was put off until 2003 at the earliest when Minnesota courts forced the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.

ESPN.com staff writer Darren Rovell and information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.






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