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Insulting proposition

20 October 2008

By Abigail Goldman, Las Vegas Sun
LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- In the end, O.J. Simpson's undoing fit into a few evidence boxes — suitcases of sports memorabilia worth a conviction and a collective sigh from the nation.

Now Simpson, like the stuff he stole from a Las Vegas hotel room last September, is shelved, waiting for a judge to seal his fate.

Hundreds of items from the Sept. 13 2007, robbery were tagged as evidence — footballs, photographs, books — and now live in limbo. Because Simpson's camp filed suit claiming his conviction last month was unfair, it's unclear who owns the merchandise and when it will be released.

This hasn't stopped people from trying to hawk the impounded items, or collectibles from their private Simpson troves, to a surprising source: the parents of Ronald Goldman, who was slain alongside Simpson's ex-wife Nicole in 1994.

Three of the eight men who were in the Palace Station room the night the robbery occurred — Bruce Fromong, Alfred Beardsley and Michael McClinton — have all approached the Goldman family, even as the trial dragged on, with proposals: I'll split the proceeds with the family, or, I'll give the Goldmans some of my old O.J. memorabilia, out of the kindness of my heart.

But Fred Goldman, Ron's father, sees no kindness in this. His attorney, David Cook, who won the family a $33 million civil judgment against Simpson, sums it up like this:

"Everyone wants Fred Goldman's patina of earnestness cloaking their sales. They literally wanted Fred to embrace the merchandise with his halo of victimhood. That's what they wanted, and they discussed the profits and proceeds."

Some of the items that have been offered are the ones that ultimately landed Simpson behind bars. It's a nasty but neat little way to tie up the package: Help the family of the victim profit from the crime that put O.J. away, then help yourself to some of the proceeds.

It's half-Shakespeare, half made-for-TV-movie.

"The family of a murder victim selling the property of the man who attempted to squirrel it away to thwart those victims from recompense — they'd be putting on the block the stuff that motivated the perpetrator to commit the crime," he said. "It's a perverted merry-go-round with a bunch of adults trying to grab the brass ring of O.J. Simpson's memorabilia."

Fromong, the only person who confirmed he contacted the Goldmans and talked to the Sun about it, said he was just trying to do some business.

That, of course, is what got him into trouble in the first place. It was Fromong who brought the Simpson memorabilia to the hotel room, thinking he was going to meet a serious buyer. Instead, it was a serious Simpson and guys with guns come to cart the collection off.

Fromong thinks it's a collection that would retail for $80,000 to $100,000. For the time being, however, it's a collection that will sit in an evidence closet. No matter how nice he asks (and Fromong has an attorney working on niceties right now) prosecutors can keep it for as long as they need it for retrials, unless a judge says otherwise.

And even if District Attorney David Roger was willing to part with the stuff (he wasn't willing to talk about Simpson for this story), Cook is poised to pounce on it first. Cook persuaded the California courts to order that the memorabilia be turned over if it is released so it can be auctioned and the proceeds given to the Goldmans. And although the California court has no bearing in Nevada, criminal defense lawyer and Simpson trial commentator Dayvid Figler said it was a smart move. If Fromong asks a judge to give him his stuff back, another claim to the property is already out there. It's the legal equivalent of a smoke signal warning: We want that stuff, too.

This is why Fromong approached the Goldmans.

"It would cost more money to have to fight them than it would to possibly work out a deal with them," he said. "It's a matter of dollars and cents. You cut your losses, you try to break even, and you go on."

This offer, which was rejected, was made while the trial was in full swing. So was Michael McClinton's. However McClinton, a Simpson accomplice who pleaded guilty in the crime, didn't want to sell something to the Goldmans. He wanted to give them a gift: two of Simpson's footballs in glass cases and a jersey, Cook recalls. McClinton reportedly offered to personally deliver the goods to the San Francisco attorney. The Goldmans didn't take him up on the offer. His attorney did not return calls from the Sun.

Cook thinks this kindness would have found its way into a pre-sentencing plea for mercy.

"His ulterior motive was to ingratiate himself with the Goldmans," he said. "He pled guilty, he has sentencing, he had a weapon in his hands when it happened, and the judge can send him away for some time."

Cook says Mike Gilbert, Simpson's former manager, also contacted the Goldmans during the trial with an offer. Gilbert — the author of "How I Helped O.J. Get Away With Murder" — reportedly dispatched his attorney to tell Cook that he, too, wanted to sell his own Simpson memorabilia with the Goldmans. The family rejected the co-sale concept.

Even before the September robbery had occurred, Cook was getting offers. Beardsley, the memorabilia dealer who came with Fromong to the hotel room, contacted Cook three months prior, trying to get the Goldmans to join him in the sale of the suit Simpson wore when he was acquitted in 1994. Beardsley promised, moreover, the suit had provenance: A bloodstain on the collar, which could be matched to O.J., should an interested buyer doubt the authenticity.

Cook didn't doubt the suit's credentials, just Beardsley's. His offer shares a certain quality with the rest: It illuminates something of the circumstances that finally undid O.J. All of the offers show how easily Simpson was surrounded by people who wanted to make money off the friendship. They saw autographs and footballs and photographs of the fallen star as easy money, an alchemy with enough promise to land them all in a hotel room, with guns and boxes and a real mess on their hands. Simpson and his accomplices were clinging so tightly to the scraps of his career that they sealed their fate in one fell swoop of a sloppy stickup.

It's no surprise they approached the Goldmans after their golden goose was cooked.

"Is it untoward?" Cook said. "Is there something slimy about all these people diving into the trough to grab this stuff? Well, let me answer that — Bruce Fromong, Mike Gilbert, Alfred Beardsley, all of these guys, they live in that trough."

The punch line, then, is a cruel one: Many sports collectors say Simpson stuff isn't worth much, and it's the football Hall-of-Famer's fault. Through his infamy, and his habit of signing almost anything for money, he flooded his own market. In the parlance of memorabilia dealers, Simpson's not only gone to jail, he has gone "soft."

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.


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