Kentucky Aide Sues Air Freight Co. : Claims Defamation After Reports of Cash to Mills’ Father

Times Staff Writer

Dwane Casey, University of Kentucky assistant basketball coach, filed a $7-million lawsuit against Emery Air Freight and its employees Friday. Casey claimed that publicity resulting from Emery’s alleged finding of $1,000 in a package sent by him to the father of Fairfax High School recruit Chris Mills has damaged his reputation.

The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Ky., included claims that Emery, five of its Los Angeles-based employees, and the security officer and his company handling the package caused Casey to suffer defamation of character, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

“The whole situation is bizarre, to put it mildly,” Casey said Friday from his office at the university.


“I would like to get to the bottom of this. I would like to know exactly how the money got in there, how the (Los Angeles) Daily News got the story, and why they ran it on national signing day and the day I was interviewing for the New Orleans job.”

Said Bob Burdick, editor of the Daily News: “We join Coach Casey in wanting to know where the money came from and who got it. As for the timing of the story, we printed it when we felt we had it solid. And we did not know he was interviewing when we printed the story.”

The Daily News reported April 14 that employees of Emery had found 20 $50 bills packed with a videotape when the package, sent by Casey to Claud Mills, accidentally opened at the company’s Los Angeles handling center. The day the story broke, Casey said he was being interviewed in the athletic office at the University of New Orleans. He was not hired for the job.

Casey said he was contacted by a reporter from the Daily News about two or three weeks before the story was published. He said he notified New Orleans officials of the incident, and they still wanted to meet with him.

“I had been talking with them ever since the Final Four (college basketball championship tournament) and things were going great,” Casey said.

“I had done my homework and felt I had a good chance. But the day I was interviewed, the story broke, and the local paper had a story in the paper the next day about the controversial candidate. They couldn’t afford to hire me as head coach.


“This will be a detriment to me the rest of my coaching career and will follow me wherever I go--and I want to be a head coach.”

The report prompted an immediate National Collegiate Athletic Assn. investigation, which is still under way. Casey said he is scheduled to be interviewed again Monday by NCAA investigators.

Emery employees allege that a package addressed to Claud Mills was found opened on the loading dock at Emery’s terminal, and $1,000 was observed. Emery employees claim they brought the package and money to supervisors who counted the money.

An Emery employee called the Mills home and said he was going to deliver the package, Burl McCoy, Emery’s attorney in Lexington, said Friday.

“When the Emery employee arrived at the house, a young man, around 13 years old, answered the door. The (Emery) employee said he needed a legible signature, and the young man took it in to where there were some adults and brought it back signed ‘C. Mills.’ ”

Claud Mills has repeatedly said that he received no money, and Friday, Casey maintained that there was no money in the package he mailed, only a videotape of a high school game Chris Mills had played in.

“I filled out the order form and left the tape cassette in the sleeve and laid it on top of the envelope on the (athletic department) secretary’s desk and asked her to return it,” Casey said. “She sealed the envelope.

“That was about noon, and the package was picked up about 3 (p.m.) by Emery. I wasn’t even in town when the package was picked up. I was in Louisville at an all-star basketball practice.”

Larnetta McDowell, the secretary Casey referred to, said that she had mailed the package but would not comment directly on the incident.

McDowell, who has been working as a receptionist in the basketball office since November, works for the University of Kentucky temporary employment placement service.

McCoy said Emery maintains it did nothing wrong and will vigorously defend itself and the employees.

“Emery obviously is not happy to be sued but in this situation is glad to have a forum where they can explain,” McCoy said.

The date or place of the trial have not been set, but it may be held in Los Angeles, rather than in Lexington.