On Nov. 28, 2008, Los Angeles Dodgers team owner Frank McCourt and team president Jamie McCourt announced a partnership between the ‘Dodgers Dream Foundation’ and the local Friedman Charitable Foundation to build 42 baseball diamonds around the city.
As part of the charitable venture, the McCourts noted that Bruce Friedman, Chair of the Friedman Charitable Foundation, had pledged $5 million to the construction project.
At the time of the charitable initiative, the Dodgers were in the midst of a contract negotiation with Manny Ramirez. A negotiation which prompted Jamie McCourt to observe that day to Dylan Hernandez of the LOS ANGELES TIMES:
“If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you?. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’re really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We’re really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?”
More from Hernandez:
The Dodgers recently made a two-year, $45-million offer to slugger Manny Ramirez that they later withdrew, and the McCourts seemed to be hedging against lavish spending during a time of such great economic uncertainty.
Jamie McCourt said the fact that the majority of contracts were guaranteed was a significant issue.
“I think, oddly enough, maybe if things weren’t guaranteed, then we could pay for it,” she said. “If people can’t play anymore, it’s like, ‘Oh well, see ya.’ Different story. Whatever money they are guaranteed could be money that we could otherwise have given to community.”
The cost of the project to build youth fields is unknown, but the Friedman Foundation has committed to donating as much as $5 million, matching every dollar spent on the endeavor by the Dodgers Dream Foundation up to that amount.
Frank McCourt said that while he and his wife contribute money out of their own pockets to the Dodgers’ charitable causes, the team and its foundation are separate entities and the funds to pay for the fields won’t be taken out of the team’s operating budget. But he too said the Dodgers had to re-examine their priorities.
“To me, it’s more, how do we prioritize?” he said. “Where should we be investing?”
Thanks to documents from the subsequent McCourt divorce proceeding, we now know their priorities: $167,050,000 borrowed against the Dodgers and spent on real estate for the McCourt’s personal and private use since taking over the team in 2004.
On March 4, 2009, the Dodgers signed Ramirez to a two-year, $45 million deal.
On March 4, 2009, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit in United States District Court against “Dodgers Dream Foundation” benefactor Bruce Friedman for stealing $228 million from 1,500 investors in a massive Ponzi scheme. (Of that $228 million, it was later learned that Friedman used $57 million in fraudulently obtained investor funds for his personal and private use since 2004.)
One year earlier, on March 29, 2008, the McCourts bestowed on Friedman one of the highest honors the franchise could provide. From the L.A. TIMES on June 20, 2010:
Friedman also gave generously to charities — nearly $5 million, by Gill’s reckoning. One of his favored charities was the Dodgers Dream Foundation, which the baseball team founded to benefit underprivileged youth.
On March 29, 2008, the Dodgers invited Friedman to throw the first pitch at an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ move from Brooklyn to L.A.
On March 26, 2008, according to credit card records obtained by the SEC and FBI, Friedman donated $25,000 to the McCourts’ other Dodger charity, “Thinkcure.”
Might that donation have had something to do with Friedman’s on-field appearance at the Coliseum 72 hours later?
Less than a year after that first pitch opportunity, and just four months removed from his $5 million pledge to the McCourts’ Dodgers Dream Foundation, Friedman had fled to Belize and then eventually France, where he was arrested by French authorities. Friedman is now in the process of being extradited to a U.S. federal lockup, where he will await trial after being subsequently criminally charged in a 23-count federal indictment that includes multiple felonies.
So what became of the McCourts’ promise to build 42 baseball fields to benefit the local community? Without Friedman’s millions in stolen Ponzi cash, 2 1/2 years later, two such diamonds have quietly been built. And though they didn’t get their hands on the $5 million Friedman had promised, according to Friedman’s credit card records, on Dec. 20, 2007, he illegally transferred $110,000 in “investor” funds to the Dodgers for game tickets.
While the McCourts may not have been complicit in Friedman’s scheme to defraud 1,500 investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars, at the very least they were unwitting accomplices. The McCourts helped Friedman, a convicted felon even before he hatched his Ponzi plan, burnish his image as a philanthropist as he preyed on unsuspecting Angelenos.
At the Nov. 28, 2008, press conference to announce their “Dodgers Dream Foundation” partnership with Bruce Friedman, Jamie McCourt said:
“We only go through this life once but the Dodgers are going to be here for generations so we have to really take care of the asset.”
Finally, Frank McCourt’s estranged wife got something right: the Dodgers were here before us all and they’ll be here long after we’re all gone.
If only Friedman’s 1,500 “investors” could say the same about their money.