Kingdom Taken From a King

The guilty man, a King who became a pauper, arrived at Courtroom 750 on the seventh floor--the honorable U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Paez, presiding--at a few minutes before 9 Thursday morning, for the final scenes of the The People vs. Bruce P. McNall. On a wall in the hall, the judge's letter P had somehow fallen off. His name read: "aez."

More than eight hours later, dusk having come to downtown Los Angeles, the lawyers' voices had finally trailed off. "Mr. McNall," the judge said at last, "this is now your opportunity to address this court, with regard to your crimes."

McNall rose from a teal leather chair at the defendant's table, buttoned his black, double-breasted suit and made his mea culpa.

"Your honor," he began, "for the last 2 1/2 years, I have been knowing this day would come.

"How things happen, why things happen, we don't always know. But I would like to apologize for what did happen. There were a lot of human factors. There were a lot of victims. The banks, for example. I apologize to them. And certainly to the bank officers. Banks are people too. I let them down, for which I'm eternally sorry.

"I apologize also to my co-defendants, many of whom are having a great deal of difficulty handling this. We had a mission. We thought what we were doing was right. To say it was wrong would be to trivialize it, your honor, just as the prosecuting attorney said.

"I was the only person who could have said no. I was the only one who could have stopped it. But I didn't. For that, I can never apologize enough. The people who got hurt by this . . . I can't believe I have to apologize to my own children."

McNall's voice cracked, for the first time.

He continued:

"I apologize to my attorneys, who haven't been paid for a long time, for basically two years. They have stood by me through all of this.

"Oddly enough, I would like to apologize to the people of the city of Los Angeles. When you own a professional sports team, as I did, you do have a certain duty to the public. We tried to do something special with this franchise. I apologize for the way we went about it.

"Finally, your honor . . . " McNall said.

And he paused. For what else can a man say, when being sorry isn't enough? The judge was waiting to pass sentence. A recommendation to the Bureau of Prisons was about to be made, that McNall, 46, be sent to "a federal prison camp"--as the people's attorney called it--at Boron, in the California desert, for a term of 70 months, for having confessed to several counts of conspiracy and criminal fraud.

In another time, another life, McNall might be spending this day buying a rare coin, a rare card, a fast horse, a faster car, a football star, with make-believe funds. He might be bidding for the Dodgers, with money worth no more than a Monopoly board's. He might be rubbing elbows with Hollywood actresses, inviting them backstage into a locker room, introducing them to hockey players, going home to Holmby Hills, or to Malibu, or boarding the private jet.

Not standing here, saying: "Finally, your honor . . . I've lost pretty much everything, materially, in my life.

"Everything I had as a child, everything I ever wanted or got, in the end, it didn't turn out to be worth much. In a funny way, I've learned a lot. I've learned that those things are not very important, the baubles and such. I've learned what really counts, like whatever time I could spend now with my children.

"With that, thank you."

McNall made for his seat.

The judge halted him. Because now it was his turn with something to say. For countless weeks, Judge Paez had been confronted with paperwork galore--"I read it all"--including piles of evidence, documentation, depositions, character references from friends and partners of McNall's, motions to reduce sentence due to exceptional co-operation and accountability, motions to take pity on a happy man for having been such an unhappy child.

Paez agreed on one point, that the guilty party "had demonstrated extraordinary acceptance of responsibility."

Had he stonewalled, had he fought the government tooth and nail, taken the Fifth, clung to attorney-client privilege, proclaimed himself absolutely 100% not guilty, McNall might have drawn a sentence far more stiff than the 5 years and 10 months he ended up getting. Crime had paid. It had paid quite well. But now the piper had presented the bill. McNall was bankrupt. Scores of associates had been implicated, or left without jobs. All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Bruce McNall together again.

The judge said, "You've got quite a history here, Mr. McNall. I've read a lot about you. You're a man of many talents.

"But this, this was quite a serious matter."

McNall nodded.

"A matter involving a lot of money, involving a lot of banks."

Still nodding.

"A great many people were hurt, Mr. McNall," Judge Paez said. "I hope you realize that as such."

"Yes, sir," McNall said.

"All right. I'm prepared to sentence you now."

And then it came. The prison term. The five-year probation beyond that. And the payback. The money. The IOU. The restitution that McNall must make: This bank, "$890,000." That bank, "$590,000." The one on Wilshire, "$2,265,000." The one on Santa Monica, "$295,000." Judge Paez recited the debts. "$175,000." "$45,000." $260,000." To a Louisville one: "$70,000." To a New York one: "$310,000." An additional 40 to a bank in Torrance. An additional 60 to one on Avenue of the Stars.

"Add it all up," the judge would eventually say. "Five million dollars."

McNall didn't have it. He didn't even have a job. But he was getting off cheaply. The amount he actually bilked from banks is believed to be more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

"Plus," Judge Paez said, without explanation, "you will pay the United States of America a special added assessment, in the amount of $200."

It was 5:37 p.m., and the case was closed. Other related cases would come to trial, but this one was done.

It had begun in the morning with Tom Pollack, the attorney for McNall, asking for a continuation, and with Peter Spivak, the attorney for the people, arguing that it was "simply delaying the inevitable." It continued with witnesses testifying how McNall had not only sunk the Kings but salvaged them, by bringing in potential buyers--entertainer Paul Anka, entertainment mogul Peter Guber and others--until the team sold for a fair price that could be returned to the investors McNall himself had fleeced.

Spivak described a man "literally" trying to close Pandora's box after opening it, "literally" trying to put a genie back into a bottle, which might have been true, figuratively.

Pollack defended a man with "a genuinely big heart," fraught with human frailties, among them an overpowering "need to be liked."

He called McNall a man who gave great sums to charity. Spivak argued that it was very easy to give away other people's money.

The judge in Courtroom 750 listened carefully.

He gave his verdict. He circled March 10 as the day a King would become a con. Then he said, "I think enough has been said today about Mr. McNall," and wished him luck.

* MCNALL SENTENCED: Former King owner Bruce McNall sent to prison for 70 months. A1

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