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Friday, August 15, 2008

Bad advice, bad decisions: the loss of Michael Vick's fortune

By Lester Munson


As he faced a federal investigation last summer into a dogfighting kennel that he founded and funded, Michael Vick also was looking for help in a fight to preserve a financial empire he had tried to build as one of the NFL's highest-paid players.


Just before his world came tumbling down, Michael Vick was a partner in a restaurant

called The Tasting Room in East Point, Ga.

Banks in Toronto; South Bend, Ind., and Charlotte, N.C., demanded repayment of more than $6 million in loans used to finance a car rental business, a wine enterprise and other ventures. A sports marketing company that he hired and fired even before he was drafted in 2001 hounded him for another $5 million in lost fees. And he faced breach of contract charges on two other deals.

"Even without the dogfighting case, Michael had been the victim of some very flawed advice by a number of professionals who were supposed to know what they were doing and were supposed to be helping him," observed Peter Ginsberg, the nationally renowned bankruptcy lawyer who is trying to preserve what little remains of Vick's net worth.

Ginsberg might be right. A review of bankruptcy court records and other litigation filed against Vick shows a remarkable series of blunders and thefts that could leave Vick insolvent even if he manages to retain the bonuses the Falcons and the NFL are trying to take back from him.

It's a sad story that begins in his final weeks at Virginia Tech and reaches points of crisis during the dogfighting prosecution and even now during his incarceration in Leavenworth, Kan. It involves two financial advisers who have been charged with major frauds and a sports marketing adviser who charged Vick 25 percent of all marketing fees earned.

With his finances deteriorating, Vick admitted guilt in the dogfighting scheme, hoping to minimize his time in jail. But federal agents demanded nearly $1 million in restitution for rescuing and caring for nearly 60 dogs they found in Vick's kennel. If he failed to pay the bills for the dogs, Vick faced additional prison time.


Demorrio Williams, one of Vick's ex-teammates on the Falcons, might not have helped with his recommendation of a business manager.

Despite earning more than $20 million in NFL bonuses, Vick could not find the money. In desperation, he turned to a Falcons teammate, linebacker Demorrio Williams.

Williams recommended Mary Wong, a 40-ish business manager in Omaha, Neb., who had helped Williams manage his money and his accounts.

Wong worked quickly to gather the restitution money, cashing in a retirement investment with Lloyd's of London and persuading a bank to lend Vick more money. That put together just enough money to pay the restitution.

It was a good start for Vick. But, according to papers filed in his bankruptcy, it did not last.

In addition to gathering the restitution funds, Wong used a power of attorney from Vick to "wrongfully remove" at least another $900,000 from his various accounts, according to a document filed by Ginsberg. And, court papers also say, Wong "caused certain business entities owned by [Vick] to be transferred to her."

There could be more bad news to come.

"We are still working on it, and it may well be that what she has taken from him will be well into seven figures," Ginsberg said.

Ginsberg has obtained a court order requiring Wong to return all accounts and records to the bankruptcy court in Richmond to allow Ginsberg and Vick's numerous lenders to try to find some of Vick's lost money. Wong has not responded to the court order. Nor did she respond to e-mails and phone messages from ESPN.com.


His arraignment in July 2007 compounded his legal problems, but Vick's financial problems started much earlier -- almost as soon as he turned professional.

While in the Leavenworth minimum security camp, Vick began to suspect Wong was doing something wrong. He discovered that Wong had been permanently barred from working with any firm that traded on the New York Stock Exchange as the result of taking more than $150,000 from two elderly widows she met while working at Wells Fargo Investments.

The charges against Wong by the NYSE, which regulates brokers and financial advisers, include taking $147,000 from one widow to invest in a chicken restaurant. There was no restaurant, and the money landed in Wong's personal account, according to the NYSE, which also says she took almost $9,000 from Williams' account to reimburse the other widow. She claimed she had lent Williams the money to buy rims for a truck.

The arbitrators who reviewed Wong's conduct deplored her "deceitful, fraudulent and shameful" actions against her customers and were "appalled" at her "implausible, convoluted explanations for her plainly wrongful actions." That is remarkably strong language in the polite world of investment counselors.

Did Vick learn anything from his experience with Wong? Maybe. Maybe not.

He next turned to David A. Talbot, a medical school graduate from Hackensack, N.J., who claimed to have expertise in financial management. After a series of visits with Vick in Leavenworth, Talbot managed to convince estimable bankruptcy attorney Ginsberg that he was legitimate. Ginsberg asked the bankruptcy court to allow Talbot to manage Vick's affairs and to authorize Talbot to seek redress against all those who had defrauded Vick. Using the jargon of the bankruptcy system, Talbot was to be Vick's "responsible person."

It seemed to be a good idea, as Vick is in jail and unable to tend to his financial situation. But it was yet another bad decision for Vick.

Talbot started by taking one of Vick's cars, an $85,000 Mercedes Benz, to use in his efforts, and he used $35,000 to pay the out-of-pocket expenses of his attempts to find Vick's money.

That wasn't all. He was to be paid $15,000 per month for his efforts, too.

Talbot earned his "responsible person" status with an impressive r

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hard to feel sorry for a guy that knowingly broke the law in the first place. Alomst seems ironic that Vick breaks law, others break law to further screw Vick.

BTW, i thought that was a pretty nice building Vick is currently living in. Gotta say it looks a lot like his mansion. :lol:

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hard to feel sorry for a guy that knowingly broke the law in the first place. Alomst seems ironic that Vick breaks law, others break law to further screw Vick.

BTW, i thought that was a pretty nice building Vick is currently living in. Gotta say it looks a lot like his mansion. :lol:

Let me get out my violin....

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