Web of trouble
Agent gets tangled in alleged payments to clients
Posted: Monday December 18, 2006 2:14PM; Updated: Monday December 18, 2006 3:03PM
Carl La Mondue, a 40ish lawyer in Norfolk, Va., did well in the early stages of his search for clients. He guessed right that a couple of guys named Williams would make it to the pros. Early in 2004, he connected with Shawne Williams, a basketball star at the University of Memphis, who later signed with the Indiana Pacers. Also in '04, he connected with Jimmy Williams, a cornerback at Virginia Tech, who eventually signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
According to lawsuits La Mondue filed in November against both players, he began to shower each of the Williams boys (they are not related) with cash. He began, he says in sworn statements, with a Western Union payment of $222 to Shawne on March 25, 2004. He started Jimmy with $600 from an ATM withdrawal on Nov. 24, 2004.
In the 28 months after the first Western Union transfer to Shawne, La Mondue says that he paid nearly $105,000 to the two athletes in 157 separate transaction. And it didn't work. Both signed with other agents.
In a decision that he may already regret, La Mondue decided to file the lawsuits to get the money back. The universities and the NCAA are investigating La Mondue's claims. If what he says is true, the players may have violated NCAA rules that prohibit agents' gifts to players.
In a series of impressively prepared court papers, La Mondue itemizes what he says he paid to each player. In '05, for example, he claims he spent $54,997 on Jimmy Williams, including $45,644 in cash payments and ATM withdrawals from various banks. Among the other payments he cites are a $1,500 fee for a court appearance, $310 for a tattoo and $293 for installation of a stereo with a remote control. In an amazing three days in July '05, La Mondue says, he paid Williams $10,500.
La Mondue's alleged payments to Shawne in 2005 included $22,598 in cash and another $6,621 for things like air fares, hotel expenses and a set of tires. In a remarkable show of generosity, La Mondue says he gave Shawne $5,000 in cash on Christmas Day '05.
La Mondue's total outlay to the two athletes in '05, he asserts, was $84,216, or more than $7,000 per month. Becoming a sports agent was an expensive dream for La Mondue, but the money may be only the beginning of the losses.
Neither the players nor their agents want anything to do with La Mondue's story. Ethan Locke, an experienced and well-regarded agent who represents Jimmy Williams, refused to discuss the alleged payments with SI.com. Happy Walters, another estimable agent who represents Shawne, would say only that La Mondue's claims were "frivolous."
Most experts agree that canons of ethics governing the legal profession bar the use of cash advances to facilitate the signing up of a client. The federal Sports Agent Responsibility and Trust Act of 2003 prohibits "providing anything of value to a student athlete ... before the student athlete enters into an agency contract." The NBA and NFL players' unions also prohibit loans or gifts to student athletes as part of an agent's recruiting effort.
La Mondue may be in trouble on a number of fronts, and he seems to know it. Although he stated his cases against the athletes in exquisite detail in the lawsuits, he voluntarily dismissed both cases, the Shawne case on Nov. 15 and the Jimmy case on Dec. 7. In the dismissal orders, he used language ("dismissed with prejudice") that prevents him from ever refiling the cases.
He also is declining to discuss the money he claims to have given to the athletes. He did not respond to phone messages, a FedEx letter and a fax from SI.com. In his only public comment to anyone since he filed the lawsuits, he told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper that he "did not want to comment on this" and that "these matters are private." There is, of course, nothing private about a public lawsuit.
La Mondue wishes it were private, but agents and sports lawyers across the U.S. are talking about La Mondue's mistakes and misfortune. It's a reminder to all of them of something they have known -- the toughest part of the sports agent business is recruiting and keeping clients.