Dominic Frontiere, the songwriter-husband of Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, claims that the chief witness against him in the Super Bowl ticket-scalping case--a man with ties to organized crime--tried to extort money from him, it was learned Monday.
Frontiere said through his attorney that the extortion attempt was made by Raymond Cohen, a convicted thief and counterfeiter.
Government prosecutors say it was Cohen whom Frontiere used to sell about 4,000 tickets to the 1980 Super Bowl at scalper's prices. Scalping is legal in California, as long as it is not done at a game site. However, income from scalping must be reported.
Frontiere was indicted last month on charges that he failed to report income and pay taxes on the profits he made from selling the Super Bowl tickets.
In an interview, Frontiere's attorney, Bruce I. Hochman, said: "The nature of the extortion, simply put, caused Mr. Frontiere to worry about his physical safety and that of his family. . . . He (Cohen) wanted Mr. Frontiere to forget his name, and he wanted money."
To help make his point, Hochman said, Cohen invoked the name of Jack M. Catain Jr., a San Fernando Valley businessman, whom federal law enforcement authorities have identified as a major organized-crime figure.
"Basically, Mr. Cohen was throwing Mr. Catain's name around as a very important organized-crime figure in order to intimidate Mr. Frontiere," Hochman said.
The attorney said he did not believe Catain was involved in selling the tickets. He said he believes that his client met Catain once, but he declined to say what took place.
Hochman also declined to say whether his client, an Emmy-award winning Hollywood composer, paid Cohen any money in the alleged extortion attempt, which he said took place in 1980. However, in court papers, Hochman used language indicating the extortion attempt was successful. He said the government "knew, or should have known," that its chief witness "had been extorting the defendant."
Hochman said that in 1981, Frontiere learned from accountants preparing his 1980 income tax return that he and his wife had a one-time $700,000 operating loss, resulting in large part from an estate tax audit of the Rams after the death of Georgia Frontiere's husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, in 1979.
Frontiere, who was engaged to the new Rams owner at the time of the Super Bowl and married her later in 1980, did not tell the accountants of the money he had made selling tickets. He believed that any profits he had made would be offset by the operating loss, which he would share with his wife on their joint return, his attorney said.
"When we get to the (tax) return preparation stage, Dominic Frontiere knows that whatever he did with some tickets had no tax impact," Hochman said, in explaining why his client did not report the income. "So it just doesn't get the attention it would have had if it had had a tax impact."
Hochman said Frontiere realized "somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000" from the ticket sales. The government claims that Frontiere made "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Frontiere's lawyer declined to say how many tickets were involved, "but it's not thousands," as the government contends.
In addition, he said, "we are not admitting they were not sold over face value."
The government also has charged that Frontiere took a phony $116,335 deduction on his tax return for the Super Bowl tickets he sold, claiming that the Rams had given them away.
Hochman acknowledged that "Mr. Frontiere did not properly account for some of the tickets that he handled" in terms of the deduction. However, Hochman said the omission was not willful. He called it a "mistake."
Hochman said Frontiere passed a polygraph examination arranged by his lawyers. He said the examiner found that Frontiere was telling the truth when he asserted that he had been extorted and that he had made $30,000, at most, from the ticket selling.
Most of the issues Hochman discussed in the interview were first raised in a set of motions he and another Frontiere lawyer, Richard Marmaro, filed with the U.S. District Court Friday.
In the motions, the lawyers said that, because of the $700,000 loss, "this is a tax case with no tax consequences."
Government attorneys declined comment on most of the issues raised by Hochman.
However, a special prosecutor for the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in Los Angeles, Bruce Kelton, said Frontiere's attorneys are "factually and legally incorrect. . . ."
"It would have had a tax consequence--not necessarily meaning he would have owed taxes. (But) it would have had a future tax consequence," Kelton said.
He declined to elaborate.
Hochman said Frontiere was introduced to Cohen by an acquaintance, Daniel Whitman, who then owned Cyrano's, a Sunset Strip restaurant. The lawyer said Frontiere did not realize until later that Cohen was an associate of organized-crime figures.
At about that time, Cohen was living in Woodland Hills and owned a Panorama City firm that sold office supplies by phone.
Hochman said it was Cohen's idea to sell the much-sought-after tickets to the Super Bowl game, which pitted the Rams against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Rose Bowl.
Late in 1981, Cohen was caught distributing phony $50 and $100 bills in Las Vegas, and rather than go to prison, he agreed to become a government informant. He wore a tape recorder during meetings with Catain, whom he had identified as the source of the counterfeit money.
Catain was later charged with counterfeiting but has not stood trial because of ill health.
In his role as an informant, Cohen also told the government about Frontiere's involvement in selling Super Bowl tickets.
Internal Revenue Service investigators then approached Whitman, who had introduced Frontiere to Cohen. After he was questioned, Whitman turned against Cohen.
Whitman was convicted earlier this month of plotting to murder Cohen. The plot was foiled, and Cohen has since relocated.
Whitman once provided some corroboration for Frontiere's contention that he was an extortion target. It came at a time when the government contends that Whitman believed that his murder plot had succeeded and that Cohen was dead.
Whitman told the man he had asked to have Cohen killed that "Ray was blackmailing Dominic. That's what started this whole thing." The man was wearing a concealed tape recorder at the behest of government agents, but Whitman did not elaborate on his remarks.
Cohen, reached through an intermediary last week, said Whitman's charge was not true.
"There was no blackmail," he said.
However, he also declined to elaborate.