Cuban defector's old agent sues his new reps

BY foxsports • December 17, 2009

Even before he has a contract to play in the major leagues, Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman is in the middle of a lawsuit.

Chapman's original representative sued his current agent in Massachusetts state court on Tuesday, claiming that Hendricks Sports Management illegally lured him away from Athletes Premier International and agent Edwin Mejia. The lawsuit accuses Hendricks of tortious interference and unjust enrichment, claiming that Athletes Premier ``invested substantial time and hundreds of thousands of dollars'' on Chapman's behalf to help him defect, establish residency in Andorra and begin negotiating with major league teams.

Citing text messages and call logs from a cell phone Mejia provided to the Cuban left-hander, the suit claims that ``Hendricks and its employees made material false and disparaging statements to Chapman concerning Athletes Premier and Mejia as well as provided improper enticements to Chapman in order to cause Chapman to terminate his contract with Athletes Premier and sign a contract with Hendricks.''

In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press, the Hendricks agency described its representation of Chapman as ``an unexpected and unsolicited opportunity'' and called the lawsuit ``pure fiction and self delusion.''

``If Mejia wants to figure out who is to blame, he needs to look closer to home,'' it said. ``Chapman ... knew he needed a change, figured out what to do, and did it.''

The statement said Mejia brought his complaint to the players association ``and the union didn't buy it.'' It also noted that the suit was filed on the same day that Chapman was scheduled to work out for major league clubs in Houston, where the Hendricks brothers are based.

``Call it sad or spiteful, but it's no coincidence that Mejia filed this frivolous suit on this particular day,'' it said. ``He is not just attacking Hendricks, he is attempting to sabotage Aroldis Chapman's opportunities.''

Stealing clients is a longtime and lucrative practice among some sports agents, who can earn up to 5 percent of salaries reaching into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Inducing someone to break a valid contract - called tortious interference - is illegal, but it depends on what the agreement was between Mejia and the former star of the Cuban national team.

``Generally speaking, players can change agents at their discretion,'' said Michael McCann, a sports law professor at the Vermont Law School. ``There is certainly evidence of agents poaching clients (in cases) that don't result in litigation. Maybe it's unethical; maybe it's wrong; but it happens.''

The suit calls Chapman a ``highly sought-after baseball pitching prospect'' and notes that ``Baseball insiders have referred to Chapman as the top left-handed pitching prospect in the world.'' He left his Cuban team while at a tournament in the Netherlands, and with help from Mejia established residency in Andorra so he could choose his team as a free agent and not be subject to baseball's draft.

Mejia's agency says it provided Chapman with housing, food, clothing and access to training facilities, and also arranged for his visa to enter the U.S. so he could work out for major league teams. Concerned that the Cubans might try to abduct him, it provided him with bodyguards.

``As a condition of Chapman's United States visa, and as evidence of the extraordinary efforts made on Chapman's behalf, Mejia was designated as Chapman's sponsor and assumed personal responsibility for Chapman,'' the lawsuit said.

According to a person with knowledge of the negotiations, shortly after watching Chapman pitch at Fenway Park in October the Boston Red Sox offered him $15.5 million over four years. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the offer was supposed to be confidential.

As late as November, the lawsuit said, Chapman described Mejia as a ``great agent'' during an interview with ESPN Deportes. But Chapman ceased contact with Athletes Premier on Nov. 16.

The suit said Mejia checked the records of the cell phone he gave Chapman and found ``numerous incoming calls and text messages'' from one of Hendricks' agents, as well as one of his clients.


AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

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