One of the organizers of a recent Pasadena sports memorabilia show that led to allegations that sports celebrities and small businesses were bilked of more than $100,000 said Wednesday that he was not involved in any wrongdoing and did not know the whereabouts of the show's principal promoter, Ernest Dent.
West Virginia officials, meanwhile, said Dent was involved in a failed business venture that was accused of misusing federal and state job training funds in that state. And, they said, they believe Dent's real name is Paul Whitlow.
Rick Abbott, who helped Dent organize the show, said he was cooperating with the Pasadena Police Department, which is investigating circumstances surrounding the "Baseball Legends" show held at the Pasadena Center on Sept. 7-9.
Several sports stars, including Mickey Mantle, Don Drysdale and Steve Garvey, have said they agreed to appear at the show and sign autographs but were paid with checks that bounced. At least a dozen businesses say they have gone unpaid, and a number of collectors say valuable memorabilia has not been returned.
"I wasn't involved in writing any bad checks," Abbott said by telephone from his home in West Virginia, adding: "Ernest Dent is gone. Nobody knows where he is."
Dent's "Baseball Legends" office in Glendale was found abandoned two days after the show closed, and Pasadena Police Lt. Van Anthony said the department has not been able to locate the promoter for questioning.
Anthony confirmed that Abbott had been in contact with Pasadena investigators. "He's maintaining he's totally innocent" but remains under investigation, Anthony said.
After the show, Abbott said, he returned to his home near Montgomery, W.Va. He said he first met Dent in 1987 or 1988, when Dent was involved in a now-defunct business in Montgomery that sought to install a network of privately owned coin-operated telephones.
Dent became president of the company, West Virginia Pay Phone Systems, and was among company officials held responsible for the misuse of $9,200 in federal and state job training funds, said Paul Skaff, director of job training for West Virginia's Department of Employment Security.
"We have been unable to collect the $9,200, and the state attorney general's office has been trying to track down Mr. Dent," Skaff said.
Rolland Phillips, an official with the West Virginia governor's Office of Industrial Development, said the state had hoped the company would attract high-tech manufacturing, but then it went bankrupt.
"It was indicated to us Mr. Dent was probably not as honest as was believed," Phillips said.
As for Dent's alleged use of an alias, Phillips said: "I was advised from people associated with the project that Ernest Dent was not a real name; that it, in fact, was an alias. His real name was Paul Whitlow. I have no idea where he's from."
Pasadena police said they were not aware of any alias.
Another West Virginian involved in "Baseball Legends" was Harold (Dee) Lipscomb, who went by the name Dee Whitten, according to some who attended the Pasadena show. Lipscomb's mother said by phone Wednesday that her son was "in Kentucky looking for work."
Abbott said he had "no idea" what happened to Dent or the show's proceeds. "I thought he would still be there," he said of the promoter. "The show did not go well, but I didn't expect him to leave. . . . I don't think Ernest left with a whole lot of money." Abbott declined to comment further.
But dealers and others who attended the show said it was attended by large crowds. Pasadena fire officials said lines waiting to get into the Pasadena Center were so long by the show's second morning that they limited admissions.