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Suns May Owe $500,000, League Official Says

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the eve of a court battle to determine whether an interim operating manager should be brought in to run the Pacific Suns, a top league official said that claims for payment against the baseball franchise could reach half a million dollars.

Team leaders have repeatedly denied having excess debt but have declined to state exactly how much money is owed and to whom.

The Pacific Suns, whose season record was 13-41 going into Saturday evening’s game, are one of eight teams in the Western Baseball League, a minor league based in Portland, Ore. This is the team’s inaugural season here after its relocation from Palm Springs to Oxnard College.

League Executive Director Tom Kowitz said Saturday that he and league founder Bruce L. Engel have received complaints from a vendor, shareholder, contractor and others--all alleging that they are owed money or stock.

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“The money people allege is owed to them or shares of the club people allege are owed . . . if you were to add all the ones up, it’s maybe as much as a half-million dollars,” Kowitz said during a telephone interview from his Portland office.

Kowitz’s statements follow allegations by Engel, who in a court declaration said the Oxnard ball club has outstanding debt and accused it of disorganization, inadequate accounting and unkept promises.

Engel and Suns shareholder Paul Regina are seeking to have Suns President Don DiCarlo temporarily ousted and a court-appointed interim manager brought in.

Suns General Manager Michael Begley on Saturday described many of the claims for payment as “frivolous.” Begley said the ball club has bills but none that are egregious or seriously delinquent.

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“In court, as this action goes through, that will all be proven false,” Begley said.

No other team in the league currently has a complaint on file, nor does any other team have claims for payment “even close to that figure,” Kowitz said.

Kowitz’s statements mark the first time a league official has publicly put a dollar figure on the claims against the Suns or the possible debt the club is carrying.

Although the validity of the claims still must be investigated, DiCarlo and Begley on Saturday continued to vehemently deny having major money problems.

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A hearing scheduled for Monday is the first step in a lawsuit filed by Regina last week in Ventura County Superior Court.

Regina, a minority stockholder in the team, is suing DiCarlo and his wife, his father and Channel Islands Sports Management, which is the majority owner of the Suns, claiming that DiCarlo has misrepresented the value of team stock and has conspired with family members to defraud shareholders.

Engel’s declaration, which accompanies the lawsuit, echoes some of Regina’s accusations and also alleges a history of financial woes for the Suns under DiCarlo’s leadership.

In his declaration, Engel accuses DiCarlo of leaving debt and trouble in Palm Springs, where the Suns formerly played. It was unclear if any of the estimated half-million-dollar debt was carried over from Palm Springs.

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“The Suns’ activities and difficulties in Palm Springs were an embarrassment to the WBL,” Engle said in the court papers.

Begley said Saturday that “Mr. Engel made his declaration without any contact with the Pacific Suns. I don’t know that he is really all that familiar with our current financial situation.”

Begley said the team has reconciled most of its debt in Palm Springs, but he would not say how much is still owed.

As for the Suns’ current financial picture, DiCarlo said there have been unexpected costs that cut into the Suns’ budget.

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The organization spent more than $50,000 defending the city in a lawsuit, which eventually was settled, over how long the team would play at Oxnard College, DiCarlo said. The club had about another $50,000 in unexpected construction and lighting costs to improve the Oxnard College site, he said.

Except for Regina, “all the stockholders are satisfied we are doing everything possible to make this franchise succeed,” DiCarlo said.

“I am flabbergasted and upset and I will use every possible means that I have to make sure Mr. Engel is thwarted from doing this to any other league members again,” DiCarlo added.

Engel was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

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