Far and away

Some of the strangest cases we've had
By MATT TAIBBI  |  January 28, 2009

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Man, has this been an interesting few weeks in sports crime, featuring some of the weirder cases you'll ever hear about.

To begin with, let's take former Oakland A's first-baseman Troy Neel. No, I never heard of him either. But apparently he played in the green and gold between 1992 and 1994, then for teams in Korea and Japan. Mr. Neel is a strong candidate to win this year's Andre Rison/Evander Holyfield Award as the nation's leading child-support athlete deadbeat, having racked up some $725,000 in unpaid child support dating back to 1998. Neel owed the money to his ex in Austin, Texas.

But here's what makes this an interesting tale. Unlike many sports deadbeats, who boost their coffers by refusing to repay jewelry stores for diamond necklaces bought on credit (Rison) or by dealing coke (Travis Henry, who has had at least nine kids by nine women) or by trying to continue playing pro sports long after they turn old and obese (Shawn Kemp, who some reports say is now up to 11 kids by nine women), Neel did something very creative. He did not seek out new income sources to replace the stream lost when forsaken by pro sports. And he didn't merely move overseas to escape jurisdiction. He went further, and farther, than that: he bought his own 16-acre resort island in the Republic of Vanuatu, and hid there.

For those who have never heard of it, Vanuatu is a small nation in the Pacific Ocean whose leading industries, until very recently, involved the export of guano. It subsequently became a tax haven and is now home to many billions of dollars seeking a respite from collection around the world — Vanuatu's became a boom economy with the rise of the Russian oligarchs. So Neel bought a little island and hid his deadbeat ass there.

He must have lost his mind at some point, however, because in December 2008, he tried to come back to the US undetected. The Feds snatched him up at LAX and tossed him in the pokey, and something tells me that the island is soon going to be owned by his ex. A grand jury indicted him for traveling abroad to avoid child support, and Neel now faces up to two years in jail and a fine of $250,000.

Lately, we've entered a Golden Age for stories about deadbeat jocks with large numbers of illegitimate children. Holyfield, a member of the Kemp School of Playing On Well Past Your Prime, saw his $10 million mansion foreclosed upon in 2008 to pay off child-support debts to some of his nine bastard children. Also last year, basketball coach Scott Skiles was discovered to have at least six — and possibly eight — out-of-wedlock kids.

Anyway, give Neel 60 points for the deadbeatery. It'd be more — because not paying for your kid while you live on your own tropical island sucks to an extreme degree — but one has to leave some space for violent crimes.

Guy L'Absurd
Here's another weird one. In 2007, Mark Lafleur — the son of hockey legend Guy Lafleur — was arrested in a sex-assault case involving a teenage girl. As a condition of receiving bail, the court ordered him to sleep in his parents' home, but Montreal police subsequently produced evidence that Mark instead had stayed in a hotel. That led police to issue an arrest warrant in January 2008 for his dad, a man who is perhaps Canada's most beloved sports figure.

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Related: Throwback shame, What's in a name?, Ballspuck: Where's the hate?, More more >
  Topics: Sports , Sports, Criminal Sentencing and Punishment, American League (Baseball),  More more >
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