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SBJ/June 3 - 9, 2002/Labor Agents
NFLPA hires prosecutor to target outlaw agents
Published June 3, 2002
The NFL Players Association has hired a special prosecutor to crack down on sleazy agents.
Gene Upshaw, executive director of the players union, said the prosecutor will be charged with building cases against agents who steal clients and engage in unsavory activities that violate union rules.
"My job is to protect my players and ... agents who have integrity and want the business cleaned up," Upshaw said. "I need a prosecutor and his only job is to take these cases and see them through."
The hiring of Matthew Couloute Jr. comes amid complaints from agents that last year was the worst ever for unscrupulous recruiting tactics.
Upshaw said two NFLPA agent meetings were dominated by accusations of client stealing. During one meeting of prominent NFL agents, he decided that something had to be done.
"There were guys screaming at each other, saying, 'You are trying to steal my client,'" Upshaw said.
The issue of client stealing also came up at a larger meeting of agents held around the time of the NFL combine in Indianapolis this year, sources said.
"We already know we can't depend on these guys to regulate themselves," Upshaw said.
Upshaw said he is worried that some good agents may consider leaving the business because they don't think they can be honest and still compete effectively. He compared the situation to that of NFL players wanting all players to be tested for steroids to ensure fair competition.
Since 1996, the NFLPA has taken disciplinary action, which ranges from a letter of reprimand to a fine to decertification, against more than 50 agents.
Those cases were prosecuted by the NFLPA's legal staff, which is also charged with a lengthy list of other tasks, including representing players in arbitration, defending players against disciplinary actions imposed by the league, negotiating the NFL collective-bargaining agreement and answering player and agent questions about the collective-bargaining agreement and the salary cap.
Couloute, the player liaison for NFL Security and a former state prosecutor, will work in the NFLPA legal department under the direction of general counsel Richard Berthelsen.
"NFLPA staff lawyers Tim English, Tom DePaso and Arthur McAfee have all done a terrific job in prosecuting the agent cases we have had so far," Berthelsen said. "But we need more help in this area because we are getting an increasing number of complaints."
Couloute, a former assistant Connecticut state attorney out of Bridgeport, worked on serious felonies, including murder cases, before joining NFL Security.
Couloute said he will be working on other NFLPA legal issues, but "my primary goal there is to take care of these agent cases." Couloute said the agent cases may involve everything from tampering with clients to interfering with other agents' contracts and potential NCAA recruiting violations.
Couloute said he has already made contact with NCAA officials who investigate allegations of agents illegally recruiting student athletes, and he plans to work with them "hand in hand." Couloute said he has not yet set the date at which he will join the NFLPA, but he wants to start before the college football season gets under way.
"I think it is important that I get there before recruiting season [for the 2003 NFL draft] starts," he said. "I think some of the [unscrupulous recruiting] we heard about last season has to be addressed, and the sooner that we get there and try to take control, the better."
Couloute said he will need the help of good agents to do his job. "I think what the agents have to realize is it is going to take some of them to step up and blow the whistle on the others who are doing a disservice to their profession," he said.