Sports agents Lloyd Bloom and Norby Walters used money and threats to force college athletes around the country to sign contracts with them, U.S. Attorney Anton Valukas claimed as the agents’ federal trial began in Chicago.
But defense attorneys, who portrayed the agents as victims of money-hungry athletes and the colleges as operating more like big business than institutes of higher learning, contend the agents used common tactics.
Bloom, 29, and Walters, 58, both based in New York, have pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion in what authorities contend was a scheme to defraud colleges and universities by signing athletes to professional contracts before their college eligibility had expired.
“You are not going to hear any evidence that these so-called victims (the schools) had to forfeit a dollar,” Robert Gold, Walters’ attorney, told the jury in his opening statement. “You won’t hear it because it never happened.”
Bloom’s attorney, Dan Webb, said National Collegiate Athletic Assn. eligibility rules--not federal laws--were broken and that it was the athletes, not the agents, who broke them.
Walters and Bloom tried to keep the athletes under their wing with threats, Valukas said in his opening statement.
The agents threatened athletes by saying, “ ‘We’re going to expose you . . . we will hold you and your parents up to ridicule,’ ” Valukas said.
“They told the athletes they would have their associates from organized crime . . . break their legs if they did not live up to their contracts.”
Webb argued that the athletes were not intimidated by Bloom’s threat to break their legs, knowing Bloom was “hotheaded” and was angry when some tried to back out of their contracts and hire new agents.
“They (players) clearly provoked the conduct,” Webb said. “They clearly were aware that Lloyd Bloom appeared to be someone with a big mouth.”