SBJ/February 3 - 9, 2003/Labor Agents

Octagon faces third agent suit

Octagon has been slapped with a third lawsuit alleging tampering with players under contract to other agents, the latest one filed last month by the former agent of NFL star Michael Vick.

Andrew Joel claimed in a $41 million suit filed in circuit court of Fairfax County, Va., that Octagon agent Andre Colona stole the 2001 No. 1 draft pick.

Octagon is the sports, entertainment and event marketing arm of the Interpublic Group.

Joel alleges that Colona and other Octagon representatives met secretly with Vick when he was still under contract to him and his company, Joel Enterprises.

The suit alleges Octagon reps met with Vick after he had signed with Andrew Joel.

Colona did not return phone calls seeking comment. David Schwab, Octagon's director of strategic marketing and media, said the company has not been served with the lawsuit, which was filed on Jan. 16.

"These allegations are based on events that happened over two years ago," Schwab said. "Any claim against Octagon or its staff did not have any merit then and does not now."

Joel's attorney, Hill Wellford, acknowledged that the suit had been filed, but he wouldn't comment on it. Joel did not return repeated phone calls.

Joel told SportsBusiness Journal in 2001, shortly after he lost Vick, that he believed another agent had contacted Vick while he was working with Joel's marketing partners, former NFL quarterback Jim Kelly and his brother, Dan Kelly.

Dan Kelly, president of Kelly Enterprises Inc., said his company is not a party to the Joel lawsuit because his contract was with Joel Enterprises, not Vick.

"We feel strongly that it has taken place," Kelly said of Joel's claims of tortious interference with contract. "We are in full support for what Joel is doing, and they have 100 percent cooperation from Kelly Enterprises."

A lawsuit filed by veteran agent Frank Bauer, who lost 2002 No. 1 pick David Carr to Octagon, alleging unfair business practices and interference with contract is scheduled to go to trial in federal court in San Francisco later this year.

Another veteran football agent, James Sims, has alleged in an NFL Players Association arbitration that his former employee, Doug Hendrickson, now an Octagon agent, violated the union's rules against soliciting players when he left and took at least six of Sims' clients with him to Octagon.

Additionally, Sims has filed an unfair advertising claim against Octagon in a lawsuit pending in San Francisco federal court.

The Joel lawsuit states that Joel signed Vick to an NFLPA standard representation agreement and Joel Enterprises signed him to a marketing agreement on Jan. 2, 2001. Vick flew to Buffalo on Jan. 15 to meet with Jim Kelly, whose company Joel had engaged to help with endorsement opportunities.

But before Vick was scheduled to leave, the lawsuit alleges, Colona and other Octagon representatives traveled to Buffalo and "secretly met with Vick" and "persuaded Vick to leave prematurely on Jan. 17."

The lawsuit alleges that Octagon officials induced Vick to fire Joel by undercutting him on both marketing commissions and the fee he was charging to negotiate Vick's NFL contract. Octagon promised Vick "that an Octagon Contract Advisor would take less than the standard 3 percent fee" that most agents typically charge NFL player clients, the suit alleges.

Joel is asking for compensatory damages of $5 million for loss of the marketing contract and $2 million for loss of Vick's NFL contract. Joel is also alleging that Octagon and Colona engaged in a conspiracy and acted willfully and maliciously, which, if proven, would allow those compensatory damages to be tripled to $21 million.

In addition, Joel is seeking punitive damages of $10 million each from Octagon and Colona.

Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, said he was aware of the Joel lawsuit, as well as the actions brought against Octagon by agents Bauer and Sims. But, he said, "allegations are made all the time in this area, but the outcome is determined by the evidence, and not accusations." He said the NFLPA monitors all such cases.

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