Dressed impeccably in a white tuxedo coat, and with girlfriend Jennifer Lopez’s right hand placed over his heart, Alex Rodriguez peers ahead from the cover of the December Vanity Fair, his left eye squinting, the headline “J-Rod!” emblazoned below the couple.
The star-crossed former Yankee slugger is riding high this fall — whether it’s handling baseball analyst duties on Fox during the just-concluded MLB playoffs, appearing on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” or chronicling his public romance with J-Lo on social media. Rodriguez has even been endorsed by former Yankee teammates CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran to be the next Bombers manager. Rodriguez, it seems, has put his Biogenesis scandal and performance-enhancing drug use days long behind him.
Another legal saga still wages on in Miami state court, however, with A-Rod’s former brother-in-law Constantine Scurtis forging ahead with his multi-million dollar civil lawsuit against Rodriguez. Scurtis accuses the three-time MVP of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy, stemming from their years-long partnership in ACREI L.L.C (Alex Constantine Real Estate Investments), a real estate venture the two started in 2003. Scurtis, the younger brother of A-Rod’s ex-wife Cynthia, claims he was forced out of the company in 2008, right around the time Rodriguez was going through his divorce. Cynthia and A-Rod share two daughters.
But Scurtis’ more serious allegations, of mortgage and insurance fraud, appear to have been bolstered by the recent deposition testimony of a former Newport Property Ventures Ltd. employee (Newport is the operating company of ACREI). In the past 11 months, Rodriguez’s defense team has tried to have Scurtis’ suit dismissed and has tried to prevent the depositions of various witnesses, only to have presiding judge Monica Gordo deny the motion to dismiss and allow the depositions to proceed.
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Former Newport employee Demosthenes Mekras, who is Scurtis’ cousin, says that when he was still employed at the company, he was put in the uncomfortable position of executing a task that seemed suspect from the start.
“I was asked to deposit checks on behalf of employees at the company who had been moved into our Tampa portfolio property to increase the rent roll for various debt service coverage covenants in the mortgages,” Mekras said in his deposition, which was taken September 22. “It was not necessarily based on any sort of legal counsel that I had sought, but it just… my gut told me that did not seem correct.”
According to the deposition, Mekras says he was hired to work for Newport in 2007 as an accounting manager and that he reported to Jeanette Crook, Newport’s vice president of finance. (Mekras said he left Newport in 2014).
At the crux of Mekras’ potentially damaging testimony under oath is the time period – 2008 – in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike pummeling the west coast of Florida, including Tampa where Newport had properties affected by the natural disaster. Mekras testified in his deposition that he was asked to deposit the checks in an effort to meet certain debt service ratios for the Tampa properties so Newport wouldn’t default on “specific” loans.
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Mekras also testified that “certain people were moved in to help meet those ratios,” but that when he was asked to deposit the checks, Mekras told Newport executive Stuart Zook he did not feel comfortable doing so. Mekras, when asked during his deposition by Scurtis’ lawyer Joel Denaro if the Newport employees actually lived in Tampa, said: “No, that is a false statement.” Rodriguez’s attorney, John Lukacs Sr. was also present for Mekras’ deposition.
“Mr. Mekras’ partiality towards his cousin is obvious and his credibility an issue,” said Lukacs Sr. in a statement to the Daily News. “His statements are absolutely disputed and considered to be actionable.”
According to court documents, Jeanette Crook’s attorney, John Hoffman, wrote a letter to Newport on November 19, 2008 which raised Crook’s concerns about alleged insurance and mortgage fraud. Zook, also a defendant in Scurtis’ lawsuit along with A-Rod, is copied in the 2008 letter. Crook’s letter said that Zook, then Newport’s chief operating officer, hired (Ms.) Alex Gutierrez and then instructed Gutierrez “to maintain two separate books of records regarding Hurricane Ike insurance claims” — one for actual hurricane damages and the other for inflated estimates.
Crook’s letter also states that Crook saw “checks payable to numerous employees of Newport Property Ventures, in Miami that state that the checks are ‘consulting fees’ or for ‘consultants.’ Further, there are records reflecting that these same employees who live in Miami, Florida have been entered into the computer system as new tenants of Newport Square. These employees do not live in Tampa, but rather in Miami.”
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According to Scurtis’ amended complaint filed in 2015, Crook blew the whistle on the alleged fraud, and she eventually filed suit against Rodriguez before reaching a settlement. Mekras, in his deposition, testified that he witnessed a check being cut and that it was his understanding the check was a settlement payment to Crook. Mekras testified that the amount of the check was “into a six figure number.” Mekras also testified that Crook “had concerns with the way the (Hurricane Ike insurance) claims were being handled.”
Hoffman, Crook’s attorney, did not respond to calls and an email seeking comment. According to the deposition, Mekras signed a confidentiality agreement when he was employed at Newport and Lukacs said during the deposition that Crook was also bound by the same confidentiality agreement.
A-Rod also entered into a confidential settlement with his infamous cousin, Yuri Sucart, in 2013 after Sucart threatened to expose Rodriguez’s doping secrets, according to court papers filed in the federal Biogenesis case. Rodriguez paid Sucart $900,000. Sucart ended up serving time in federal prison after pleading guilty in the federal case, while A-Rod served an MLB-imposed season-long doping ban (in 2014) for his links to Biogenesis.
“It is obvious that (Rodriguez) conceals his injurious behavior with payments and secrecy agreements,” said Denaro, one of Scurtis’ attorneys along with Vince Duffy and Asela Lopez.
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Rodriguez’s rear view mirror is still clouded by his battle with Scurtis. It’s unclear if Rodriguez and Scurtis will reach a settlement in the matter.
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