Arrest leads to father-son bonding
In a matter of 30 seconds on the night of April 3, 2011, an undercover cop put Greg LaFleur in handcuffs and effectively ruined the former Southern University athletic director’s life.
In some ways, though, LaFleur’s arrest for allegedly soliciting a would-be prostitute at the Final Four in Houston — and his eventual acquittal in January 2012 — was also the best thing that happened to him.
To be sure, the 54-year-old former NFL tight end would never wish the last 26 months upon himself again — no way, no how.
After all, he was fired before he returned to campus, and he’s still struggling to find work in athletics, the only field he’s ever known. And because his name was so tarnished by the mere accusation — regardless of the eventual verdict — there’s no telling when he’ll land the AD position he desires.
But in losing his job and, in the eyes of many, his credibility, LaFleur gained something far more valuable — a chance to reconnect with an NBA-bound son more than 2,000 miles away.
LaFleur was in Houston to search for a replacement for Southern’s then-vacant basketball coaching position, but he stepped into his personal hell on that night, shortly after leaving Discovery Green, a park in the city’s central business district.
LaFleur had been there for an NCAA “fan fest” event, which culminated in a concert featuring Pat Green and Kenny Chesney. After the concert, LaFleur says he wanted something to eat, so he made his way to Main Street — a popular Houston thoroughfare lined with shopping and restaurants.
“It’s not like I was off some skid row or whatever or in an area that was known for stripping or anything,” he told FOXSports.com. “That’s just not the way I do things.”
As LaFleur stood at an intersection waiting to cross the street, a woman approached him. According to LaFleur, the woman — who later turned out to be an undercover Houston police officer — began flirting and made advances toward him.
“And the next thing I knew, I had handcuffs on me and they’d brought me to jail,” LaFleur said.
Houston police accused LaFleur of engaging in “sexual intercourse for hire,” saying he offered the woman $50 in exchange for sex. He was one of more than 60 men picked up that night during a sting in the downtown area. But LaFleur tells a different version.
“I was not going out searching for some prostitute,” LaFleur said. “I was looking for a place to eat, and I invited her to come to dinner with me because as far as I knew, she was just a single woman who had started talking to me.”
Had the woman looked like a prostitute or had he suspected he was being set up, LaFleur says he would have just ignored her, saving himself a year’s worth of legal trouble and a lifetime of embarrassment.
“There was nothing conspicuous about her,” LaFleur said. “She was dressed normal, and there was nothing provocative about her in any way. My antennas probably would have gone up if she had her purse swinging and was showing off her body and had lots of make-up. But this was a normal-looking lady that I thought just wanted to talk to me.”
LaFleur was released later that night on $500 bond, and after nine months of waiting, his case finally went to a jury of six of his peers last January. After an eight-hour trial and just 34 short minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a not guilty verdict, and LaFleur was a free man.
But the damage had already been done.
“I was just glad that it was over with, but I was mad that it took so long to happen,” LaFleur said. “I wasn’t concerned with the outcome of the case because I knew what happened, but I still had to wait that long for everything to run its course. … The media hit me so hard (after the arrest) and it formed a perception. Even though I was innocent, I was already judged in the court of public opinion.”
For evidence of that, one should look no further than LaFleur’s last full-time employer.
Southern fired LaFleur by phone on April 6, 2011, just three days after his initial arrest — and before he ever had a chance to defend himself to anyone.
“I didn’t even get to make it back to campus,” LaFleur said. “I was on my way back to Baton Rouge, and I got a phone call that I had been fired. That was the extent of that, so I didn’t even get a chance to discuss it with the officials at the university.”
LaFleur eventually filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Southern. The civil case has yet to go to court — the trial is set for Jan. 21, 2014 — but it’s not just restitution LaFleur is after. What he really wants is a job back in college athletics, the only field he has ever known.
LaFleur has been working part-time for a market research firm called TCG Consulting since last summer, but his heart is still in sports, and he’s applied for dozens of jobs at universities across the country since his acquittal. These days, they’re at least calling him back — that wasn’t the case early on — and he’s interviewed for three AD jobs in 2013.
But there’s no telling when he’ll finally get the opportunity he so craves. For now, all he can do is wait and hope for another chance.
“If you don’t know me, you can only go on what you read and you perceive me differently,” LaFleur said. “In our profession, the first thing people do is Google your name, and whether I was guilty or not guilty, that still shows up, and if someone hires me, the first thing people will say is, ‘He was accused of soliciting a prostitute and was later acquitted,’ and then the story will go on from there.
“That will always be part of the story when people talk about Greg LaFleur.”
A world away from Houston, Robert Sacre had finished his junior season at Gonzaga, where he was a star center on the basketball team. He would have loved to have been in Texas for the Final Four that weekend, but the Bulldogs, a No. 11 seed, were eliminated by BYU in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Sacre’s girlfriend, Vinessa, was four months pregnant at the time, and Sacre had that week told his mom, Leslie, that she was going to be a grandmother. Unfortunately, that news was followed by word that his father, LaFleur, had been arrested.
“When I found out about it, I got the call and I just took it in,” said Sacre, 24, now a popular reserve center for the Los Angeles Lakers. “I told myself, ‘It’s not the end of the world, let me go play some basketball, and I’ll come back and I know it’ll be all right.’ I kind of freed my mind by playing some basketball that day.”
Later, Sacre would talk to LaFleur, who did his best to clear up the situation.
“He gave me a call and wanted to see how I was doing,” Sacre said. “He was extremely embarrassed and he wanted to apologize. I told him, ‘It happens — whatever happened, just know that whatever goes on, I’ll always have your back.’”
Sacre didn’t know it at the time, but that support meant the world to his dad.
LaFleur was seemingly born to work in athletics.
A native of Ville Platte, La., LaFleur played football and earned a physical education degree at LSU, where he met Leslie, a member of the women’s basketball team. After graduation, LaFleur was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round of the 1981 draft. He went on to play 86 games in six NFL seasons, 77 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Once his playing career ended, LaFleur returned to his alma mater, where he worked as a graduate assistant football coach before putting in 12 years of service to LSU’s athletic administration department, working in multiple roles ranging from marketing and promotions coordinator to associate athletics director.
LaFleur’s first athletic director job came at Texas State University-San Marcos in 2001. He was let go in March 2004 after an NCAA investigation found that 135 students had misused nearly $75,000 in scholarship money from 1997-2001, but he landed a short time later at Huston-Tillotson College in Austin, Texas.
After a short time in Austin, LaFleur left to become the AD at Chicago State University. Then in 2005, he was hired by Southern University to replace Floyd Kerr, who had left the historically black college in Baton Rouge to become the AD at Morgan State.
Sixteen years of work went into getting that job at Southern, and in a matter of three days between his arrest and his firing, it was all rendered useless.
After LaFleur was acquitted, the university released a statement congratulating their once-embattled AD on the verdict, but that was the only communication he had with the school that fired him less than a year before.
“I haven’t been on the campus; I haven’t talked to anybody,” LaFleur said. “The only correspondence I’ve personally had with Southern was the day they called me to tell me I was fired.”
His attorneys have had their share of contact with the school, however.
Shortly after he was released, LaFleur filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Southern seeking damages, which included his salary for the final two years of a deal that was originally set to expire on June 30 of this year. In the suit, LaFleur alleges that the university fired him without “just cause, good cause, reasonable cause, or other cause.”
As he waits for the suit to go to trial, LaFleur has continued on what has, thus far, been a futile hunt for a permanent job in athletics.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever known,” he said. “I’ve been doing that my entire life.
“It’s more about perception than reality in athletics, and that’s the challenge,” LaFleur said. “I just hope that a president somewhere will have the courage enough to bring me in. And the first thing I will do (when one does) is address the situation.”
LaFleur knows his opportunity will come, but there’s no telling when. For now, all he can do is wait and hope for another chance.
If there was a bright side to LaFleur’s arrest and subsequent firing, it’s that his unexpectedly wide-open schedule afforded LaFleur the opportunity to reconnect with Sacre.
Sacre was born in Ville Platte, but his parents divorced when he was 7, and his mother moved back to the Pacific Northwest, taking Sacre with her. As a result of the mutual decision to move Sacre to Canada, LaFleur was only able to spend summers with his son, who would return to Louisiana after school got out.
“That was like my home away from home,” Sacre said. “I grew up with a lot of cousins and I remember just being a kid there, not really worrying about stuff, getting into the dirt and just having fun being with my family. We’d ride bikes and ride horses and just be boys.”
Those summers were special times for LaFleur, who couldn’t necessarily watch his son grow, both literally and figuratively, the way he would have liked.
“Each time he came, he was so much taller,” LaFleur recalled. “When he came home in the eighth grade, he was 6-foot-8. I’m 6-foot-4, and my son was already four inches taller than me, and that was weird.”
But as Sacre got older — and taller — and his schedule got busier, it became more difficult for him to return to Ville Platte. By the time he had enrolled at Gonzaga, Sacre had virtually no time to visit his hometown.
“I started playing in the summertime, so then my summers became shorter and shorter,” Sacre said. “I kind of made it to where instead of being in Louisiana for two months, it was one month, then it was a week. Now, if I can get a weekend in Louisiana, I’m happy.”
Because of the demands of his job, LaFleur rarely had time to visit Sacre, either. But that all changed after LaFleur’s firing, and LaFleur spent a significant portion of the nine-month wait between his arrest and his trial in Spokane, visiting Sacre, Vinessa, and their son Quinton, who was born Oct. 4, 2011.
"He stayed in Spokane a couple of times, and we bonded, and I showed him around," Sacre said. "And he also became such a great grandfather (during that time). He was so supportive, and was always asking questions about the baby. He’s just been great, and I am really privileged to have him in my life."
LaFleur watched Sacre play in several Gonzaga home games before the trial, and after being acquitted, he traveled to Las Vegas to see his son play in the West Coast Conference tournament. LaFleur also made the trip to Pittsburgh to watch Sacre and the Bulldogs play in two NCAA tournament games, including a first-round win over West Virginia, opportunities he’d have never had if he would have still been at Southern.
“As an athletic director, the times that he played were usually the times that I was busiest,” LaFleur said. “In some ways (the arrest) was kind of a blessing, and it gave me an opportunity to be able to spend a lot of time and watch him play.”
In addition to watching his son play and bonding with his first and only grandson, LaFleur also used the opportunity to talk to Sacre about the incident in Houston.
“I was embarrassed,” LaFleur said. “It embarrassed my family and it embarrassed him because of the coverage that it received. It was in just about every newspaper, it was on all the sports talk shows. It’s not something you can hide from, and people would come up to him and ask him what happened, and that was a shock to him.
“But he supported me. He and the rest of my immediate family all know me, and they knew that something out of the ordinary had happened. Unfortunately, we all still had to sit back and just wait.”
The LaFleur family also found itself sitting back and waiting on June 28, 2012, but this time, the circumstances were less dire.
On the night of the NBA Draft, Sacre was at LaFleur’s house in Ville Platte, along with Leslie, Vinessa, Quinton, and 11 other family members, including Sacre’s grandfather, Gervis, from whom Sacre gets his big personality — “When you’ve got it, you’ve got it,” Sacre says.
Sacre was his conference’s defensive player of the year as a senior and played with the Canadian national team while at Gonzaga. He took part in 15 NBA workouts leading up to the draft. But on draft night, commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver called name after name, and none of them were Sacre’s.
Finally the wait paid off, however, and the Los Angeles Lakers selected Sacre with the 60th — and final — pick of the night.
“We were all elated because the whole family was here,” LaFleur said. “And we were excited because it was the Lakers who picked him. If you’re going to get drafted in the second round, what better team to be drafted by than the Lakers?”
Added Sacre: “I had no idea if I was going to be picked. I just took it in as, ‘OK this is the last one, let’s see who it is,’ and my name was called. (Being picked last) was a blessing in disguise, and I was very honored and privileged to have it come my way.”
Though he didn’t play much in his rookie year — 203 minutes in 32 games, with three starts — Sacre made a huge impact in L.A., where he became known for his enthusiasm on the bench and a capable fill-in for Dwight Howard in practice. He also used the opportunity to absorb as much information as he could from veterans, including Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Howard.
“I think they helped me grow up a lot when it comes to playing basketball,” Sacre said. “I don’t view it as just a game anymore. I view it as, ‘OK, I’m dealing with professionals, and the best of the profession.’ So it kind of gave me a view of how to take this game seriously and how to really capitalize on getting better.”
He also used his professional career as an opportunity to pick his dad’s brain. As a former athlete himself, LaFleur was more than qualified — and more than happy — to dole out advice to his son on how to make the most of his opportunity.
“I just wanted to get his point of view — he’s been through this type of lifestyle where you’re on the road all the time and you’re traveling and you’re dealing with different types of players and different places, and you’re dealing with money,” Sacre said. “Just to get his side of the story, and learn how to be a professional and how to carry yourself around the league is important. I took everything he said and I used it to better myself.”
The relationship between LaFleur and Sacre that blossomed during Sacre’s senior season at Gonzaga continued to flourish during Sacre’s first year with the Lakers. LaFleur traveled to Los Angeles twice, in November and again in January, to see his son play. He also saw him on Lakers road trips to Washington, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
“Although he’s 7-feet-tall, you still look at him like, ‘Man, that’s my son playing out there,’” LaFleur said of watching Sacre. “It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s a joyful feeling.”
During one Lakers trip to New Orleans in March, Sacre’s entire family, including his grandparents, came down from Ville Platte to watch. Sacre played just four minutes and didn’t score any points, but that didn’t matter.
“I really appreciated them coming out and showing all the love they did,” Sacre said. “They’ve been wonderful, and I love them to death. They’ve always helped me out when I needed help, and I can’t say anything bad about my grandparents and my family in Louisiana. Even though they don’t like my tattoos, they’ll always love me.”
Sacre hasn’t been back to Ville Platte since the draft, but he has plans to visit some family, including LaFleur, in his hometown in July. That’ll give him yet another opportunity to bond with his dad — and his dad another chance to grow closer with his grandson, too.
“He’s growing, man,” LaFleur said of Quinton. “It’s hard to believe. He’s not quite 2-years-old yet, but he looks like a grown man. And like his dad, he loves that basketball.”
The tale of Sacre and LaFleur’s bond sort of feels like the perfect ending to one of the most imperfect father-son stories you’ll hear during NBA Draft Week. LaFleur’s opportunity to catch up with Sacre didn’t come under the perfect set of circumstances, but sometimes that choice isn’t left up to you.
LaFleur is continuing to make the best of a bad situation, and he’s still trying to piece his own life back together. But as he prepares for his long-awaited opportunity at redemption, he’s also content reveling in the success and love of those around him.
“I’ve been really privileged to have the dad that I’ve had,” Sacre said of LaFleur. “It has been a blessing in disguise for the fact that my dad and I, we’ve gotten a lot closer since the incident happened. We’ve created a bond more so than ever before.
“You’re never going to have a great relationship all the time with your parents, and that’s just life. But to know that they love you and they’ll support you, that’s all that matters.”
And certainly, LaFleur would say the same.