Zion Williamson's stepfather took $400K payment, court filing alleges

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Friday, July 10, 2020

Zion Williamson's stepfather solicited and accepted a $400,000 payment from a marketing agent in October 2018 prior to Williamson's only season with theDuke Blue Devils, according to a court motion and sworn affidavit filed by his former marketing representative's attorneys in federal court on Thursday.

Gina Ford's attorneys say the affidavit and other exhibits show that Williamson was ineligible when he played for the Blue Devils in 2018-19 because his stepfather, Lee Anderson, received impermissible benefits from Slavko Duric, a Canadian marketing agent.

"[We] obtained newly discovered evidence impacting the issue of whether Zion Williamson was a 'student-athlete' that we believe makes it transparently clear, verifiable and indisputable that he was not a 'student-athlete' long before there was any communication or contact between Zion Williamson, and/or any third party acting on his behalf, and our clients," Ford's attorney, Alvin Pittman, wrote in a letter to Williamson's attorney on Monday.

"The alleged 'agreements' and driver's license attached to these papers are fraudulent, and neither Mr. Williamson nor his family know these individuals nor had any dealings with them," Williamson's attorney, Jeffrey Klein, said in a statement to ESPN. "We had previously alerted Ms. Ford's lawyers to both this fact and that we had previously reported the documents to law enforcement as forgeries, but they chose to go ahead with another frivolous filing anyway. This is a desperate and irresponsible attempt to smear Mr. Williamson at the very time he has the opportunity to live his dream of playing professional basketball."

Exhibits attached to the motion include an affidavit from Donald Kreiss, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, who says he engages in fundraising, deal-making and investing. Kreiss said he was introduced to Duric by a third party and agreed to invest in Duric's company, Maximum Management Group, in exchange for a percentage of the money generated from its exclusive marketing agreement with Williamson.

In the affidavit, Kreiss wrote that after Williamson signed with Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to handle his marketing opportunities, he and Anderson agreed to "repay all monies given to his Family in 2018 and pay us seven to ten million dollars." Kreiss also wrote that Duric had to "'shred' any record relating to payment of money and the contract" between Williamson and MMG.

The exhibits included a purported marketing agreement with Maximum Management Group that was allegedly signed by Williamson and Anderson on May 2, 2019, and a purported letter of declaration from Dec. 8, 2019, in which Anderson and Williamson agreed to repay $500,000 to Duric before Jan. 7 "for a repayment of a loan rendered by him to our family in October 10, 2018."

Klein said in a letter to Pittman that a Google search revealed that Duric "purportedly attempted to defraud [Dallas Mavericks player] Luka Doncic ... using a scheme in which he forged Doncic's and his mother's signatures on a contract."

"The signatures on the documents you attach are also clearly fraudulent," Klein wrote in the letter. "The signature on the purported agreement between Maximum Management Group and Mr. Williamson does not match Mr. Williamson's signature on the Agreement he signed with your clients. And the signatures of Lee Anderson and Mr. Williamson on the Letter of Declaration are also inauthentic, as made clear by the fact that they are highly pixelated in comparison to the remainder of the document, and there is a break in the line beneath the 'Z' in Mr. Williamson's name where the signature was superimposed onto the document."

Last month, according to the letter, Klein received a letter from a different individual who also might have fallen victim to Mr. Duric's scam, which contained the same allegations and documents.

"We immediately referred the matter to the appropriate law enforcement officials, and have passed along to them today the new allegations contained in Mr. Kreiss's declaration," Klein wrote. "Accordingly, we ask that you advise Mr. Kreiss of our position as to the contents of his sworn declaration. Virtually nothing in Mr. Kreiss's declaration comes from personal knowledge, and instead consists of hearsay from Mr. Duric, so Mr. Kreiss may be unaware of the nature or extent of Mr. Duric's scheme."

Williamson's attorneys have asked a federal judge in North Carolina to void his marketing agreement with Ford and Prime Sports Marketing, claiming it wasn't valid because Ford wasn't a registered agent in the state and the contract didn't include a warning that was required by a state law designed to protect amateur athletes from unscrupulous agents.

Ford and Prime Sports Marketing sued Williamson and CAAfor $100 million in state court in Florida for Williamson's alleged breaching of their marketing agreement and signing with CAA.

Last month, a state appeals court in Florida granted Williamson a full stay of a civil lawsuit brought by Ford, meaning the New Orleans Pelicans' star won't have to answer discovery requests about whether his parents received improper benefits before or while he played one season at Duke, or at least not until after a federal case involving the same issues is resolved.

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