- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Buddy?

Not likely, according to the man who authored one of the most famous pieces of law enforcement legislation of our time, the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. The RICO Act is being used by former investors of the Montreal Expos to go after baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig and Major League Baseball officials.

"I doubt it will be successful," said Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, a former special prosecutor in the Justice Department and chief counsel of the McClellan Committee, the congressional committee that went after Jimmy Hoffa and union corruption.

Cadillac Bud, chief operating officer Bob DuPuy and Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the former owner of the Expos, join the ranks of the Mafia and motorcycle gangs as those who have been the target of a RICO lawsuit. Is a guest appearance on "The Sopranos" in Cadillac Bud's future?

This is a strange one, even for baseball. There have been Ricos in baseball Rico Petrocelli, Rico Carty, Rico Brogna but this is the first time baseball has been hit with the big RICO, the one that has helped bring down the mob over the past 30 years. The law makes it "unlawful to conduct or conspire to conduct an enterprise whose activities affect interstate commerce by committing or agreeing to commit a pattern of racketeering activity."

RICO is the acronym that fits the description of the act, but there is a story behind the name. It was the name of Edward G. Robinson's character in the classic gangster film "Little Caesar." At the end of the movie, when he is gunned down in the street, his last words are, "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?"

Did Blakey really come up with a name of the law to fit the acronym from the "Little Caesar" character? Sort of inside mob humor?

"I decline to answer that," Blakey said. "But I will say I am a movie buff."

There is nothing funny, though, for anyone named in a RICO lawsuit. It raises the stakes of any legal battle because of the reputation of the act itself and its history of being used in organized crime and corruption cases. "It makes it very personal," Blakey said.

Personal, indeed. The lawsuit claims that Cadillac Bud and his gang are the "perpetrators of a fraudulent conspiracy and the members of a racketeering enterprise with the object of eliminating major league baseball in Montreal and removing plaintiffs from standing in the way of that objective."

The lawsuit, which seeks punitive damages of at least $100million as well as triple compensatory damages, claims that Cadillac Bud and his "principal lieutenant" (can you believe they actually called DuPuy Cadillac Bud's lieutenant? What's next, consigliere?) had "secretly determined that major league baseball in Montreal should be eliminated."

"As part of that plan, the [defendants] and others acting with them made numerous fraudulent misrepresentations to plaintiffs and concealed numerous material facts from plaintiffs."

The suit also charges that the elimination of the Expos "soon became part of a plan of 'contraction' that was designed to enrich the owners of the other major league baseball franchises [including Mr. Selig's family interests in the Milwaukee Brewers] and to pressure the Major League Baseball Players Association, the players' union, in upcoming labor negotiations."

Jeffrey Kessler, the high-powered New York attorney representing the former Expos owners, told The Washington Times that the case "obviously doesn't speak directly toward free agency rights or an entire economic structure, but it seeks to establish the boundaries in what a [sports league] commissioner can do and what he has the legal authority to do."

But Blakey said he doubts that the RICO suit against Cadillac Bud will be able to prove it fits the standards for proof of such activity. "The only kind of RICO cases that are successful on the civil side are ones that show systematic fraud, with a number of victims, with discreet injuries and taking place over a long period of time," he said. "It appears in this case there is a single perpetrator and a single victim minority shareholders, all in the same class, and one discreet fraud, this squeeze out. This is the quintessential single instance that RICO was not designed for.

"It looks as if this lawsuit is being used as a bludgeon to keep the Expos where they are," Blakey said. "These people are looking for the biggest stick they can to keep baseball in Montreal, and someone has misled them to believe it is RICO. They've got a hard row to hoe. RICO suits are not favored in federal courts. The courts are hostile to them and are presumptively hostile to them in business contexts.

"If their ultimate motivation here is to delay or get a settlement, I can tell them that bringing a racketeering suit against a legitimate business, in this case, baseball, and hoping by the use of the racketeering label to coerce a settlement is illusory. They might as well go paint the wind. The effect of the racketeer label causes defendants to dig their heels in."

Better to have your opponent dig his heels in than dig a hole for you somewhere in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

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