A SPECIAL REPORT : Kareem’s Financial Crisis : Abdul-Jabbar’s Former Girlfriend Says There Is Lying, Deceit
Cheryl Pistono Jenkins, the mother of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 6-year-old son, Amir, said she never trusted Thomas M. Collins, the business manager Abdul-Jabbar is suing for $59 million.
“I expressed that to Kareem,” Jenkins said in a telephone interview last week. “Tom never liked me because of that.”
Collins declined to be interviewed by The Times, but associates claim that Jenkins spent nearly $800,000 of Abdul-Jabbar’s money in the seven years she spent with the Laker center.
Jenkins said that after she and Abdul-Jabbar split, she got a letter from Collins, saying that he had reason to believe that Amir was not Abdul-Jabbar’s son, and convinced Abdul-Jabbar of that. Mother, father and son had to take court-ordered blood tests to prove otherwise, she said.
“There is definitely a lot of lying, a lot of deceit,” she said. “I used to ask, ‘Wait a second--what is this guy (Collins) getting out of this?’ Kareem never asked those kinds of questions. I did, and Tom Collins didn’t like it.
” . . . I’m not surprised Tom Collins is attacking me. He’s got to attack someone.”
Now married to Steven Jenkins, she met Abdul-Jabbar in 1977. She had left a working-class family in LaSalle, Ill., at 16 to live with relatives on the West Coast, went to Beverly Hills High School and--according to a 1980 interview with Sports Illustrated--got “into the high life. Hanging out at Hugh Hefner’s, weekends in Las Vegas, stuff like that.”
No person, Abdul-Jabbar has said, had a greater impact on his life than Jenkins. She persuaded him to seek a divorce from his wife Habiba, whom he had married in 1971 but had not lived with since 1973. Jenkins moved in with Abdul-Jabbar in 1977 and they lived together until their breakup in 1984.
She now lives in a rented house in the Fairfax district with her husband, whom she married in March of 1985, their child, and Amir, of whom she has physical custody.
Jenkins, who receives monthly child-support payments, said she has a “great” relationship with Abdul-Jabbar.
“There are no problems or conflicts,” she said. " . . . I lived with Kareem for seven years and never took him to court. I never took a penny.
“The reason we have a great relationship is because I don’t drag him back through those days and those issues. To do that would cause more problems. . . . We made a pact because of our son. That was more important than anything we didn’t like about each other.”
She acknowledged that there had been an agreement for Abdul-Jabbar to pay her $1,500 a month for a year after their separation but claims that Collins stopped paying that money. She chose not to contest it, she said.
Collins, she said, also forced her to leave the rented house she had lived in for two years. He wouldn’t issue child-support checks until she did so, she said.
She also did not remain silent about allegations that she had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of Abdul-Jabbar’s money on clothes, charge accounts, travel and household extravagances. Collins made those allegations directly to Abdul-Jabbar, she said.
In Abdul-Jabbar’s suit against Collins, the basketball player asserts that Collins allowed him to spend “excessive sums” of money in connection with his home.
“Kareem came back from a meeting and said, ‘You’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,’ ” Jenkins said. “I said, ‘On what? Where?’ He wasn’t giving it to me, Tom Collins wasn’t giving it to me. I didn’t have it. After that, Kareem gave me money directly. It didn’t come from Tom Collins’ office.”
Jenkins said that when Abdul-Jabbar’s house burned down in 1983, she lost $100,000 in personal possessions for which she has not been fully reimbursed because they were insured for far less than they cost. In an effort to recoup some of that loss, she, Abdul-Jabbar and their insurance company are suing the contractor, claiming that the fire was caused by faulty wiring.
Jenkins said she never received money from the account referred to in Abdul-Jabbar’s lawsuit as “Cheryl’s Gold,” which Collins associates say was set up to reimburse her. She also lost an American Express gold card, issued in her name, in the fire. Collins would not give her the re-issued card, she said.
Why didn’t Abdul-Jabbar intervene on her behalf?
“He never wanted to take a stand,” she said. “He wanted me to be happy. He wanted to make things easier for Tom.”
Abdul-Jabbar gave her a budget of $60,000 a year, she said. The trips she took with Abdul-Jabbar were paid for by Adidas, the shoe company with whom he had a contract.
“Where is the hundreds of thousands of dollars I spent?” she said. “I’d love to see it. I’d love to have it, but I’ve got nothing to show for it.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars could go for drugs, but nobody’s tried to say that. I’ve never done a drug in my life. To say that would be ludicrous.
“I have no jewelry. I don’t have the things to show for this money. And I didn’t give it away, either.”
In Abdul-Jabbar’s lawsuit, he alleges that he never got $13,000 from the sale of one of his cars that was handled by Collins’ office.
Collins’ associates said that when Jenkins and Abdul-Jabbar broke up, she took his BMW. He instructed Collins’ office to buy Jenkins another car and get the BMW back. The new car, a Toyota, was bought, and a private investigator was hired to switch the cars, Collins’ associates said.
But on the day the switch was to be made, Collins’ associates say, Jenkins reported the BMW as stolen. It was later found, burned out.
David Pollack, a former employee of Collins who is not named in the lawsuit, eventually bought the Toyota.
“They were wondering what they were going to do with it, and I said, ‘I’ll buy it from you,’ ” Pollack said. “I took the car off their hands.”
But instead of writing out a check to Abdul-Jabbar, Pollack wrote it to Thomas M. Collins, Inc. Because of an oversight, Pollack said, the money was not transferred into Abdul-Jabbar’s account.
“There was no fraud, it was an internal affair,” Pollack said. “The way TMC did things was to transfer money from one account to another. Tom didn’t know anything about it. It’s just one of those things that take place in a large office.
“Tom is not a crook.”
Jenkins said that Collins convinced Abdul-Jabbar that she had burned the car, which Abdul-Jabbar had given her as a birthday present.
“Why would I have the car burned up? I didn’t file the insurance claims, Tom Collins did,” said Jenkins, who added that she never received any money for the BMW, or another car.
Jenkins does not believe Abdul-Jabbar received regular monthly statements from Collins, she said. “And I don’t think he made a point of scrutinizing them,” she said. “He trusted Tom, you know.”
Abdul-Jabbar didn’t realize that money was being transferred from one client’s account to another’s, she said.
“There were times I went to cash a child-support check and there was no money in the account,” she said. “But after some phone calls were made, money would mysteriously appear.”
Jenkins was asked how she thought Abdul-Jabbar could have wound up in such a financial mess.
“It’s obvious,” she said. “The man was so protected. He doesn’t have to make decisions, like you or I, on what he’s going to do the rest of his life. The struggle to make choices or decisions was never there.
“Everything was just taken care of--by his coaches, the Sam Gilberts (a UCLA booster), the women in his life. He was constantly taken care of.
“Now, instead of Tom Collins, he’s hired a whole flock of attorneys.”
Will that pattern ever change?
“It’s hard to predict the future, but you have to begin somewhere,” she said. “I think he’s trying to do that now--he’s a lot more involved. I think (his new attorneys) are making a point of him being more involved.
“Tom Collins made a point of keeping him uninvolved.”