Originally created 07/04/99

Bad deals leave area man with list of lawsuits



From his white brick home in a gated golf community, Larry Katzer lived the good life.

He amassed a large collection of sports memorabilia. He hobnobbed with the rich and famous. And when it all went bad, he disappeared, leaving a trail of lawsuits, bankrupt businesses and bad debts.

"Have you ever seen the movie Other People's Money?," said Don Dow, a former business associate. "That's what it's called. I'm still amazed at how those guys sleep at night."

There's an endless highway of legal papers documenting how Mr. Katzer and his partners promised to repay debts and provide tickets and accommodations to some of the world's most prestigious sports events, including the Masters Tournament. Those broken promises add up to hundreds of thousands in lost cash.

On Tuesday, beginning at 10 a.m., an auction of Mr. Katzer's personal property begins. Organizers hope to use proceeds from the auction to cover some of the debts Mr. Katzer accumulated.

"It's not your run-of-the-mill auction," said E.L. Clark Speese, an attorney representing an Augusta businessman who loaned Mr. Katzer $76,000. "It should be a chance to pick up a bargain."

The auction promises a voyeuristic peek into the lifestyle most people can only dream about.

There's a Gucci watch, Mont Blanc pen, Armani sun glasses, 41 pairs of shoes, six leather jackets, custom-made dress shirts and his trademark exotic leather cowboy boots. There's his collection of sports memorabilia -- the Joe Namath autographed football, 1992 U.S. Open Pebble Beach plate, the Palm Desert Classic jewelry box, the 1987 U.S. Open Wood Commemorative Streetcar and a Kentucky Derby pin.

The house that held the trappings of Mr. Katzer's life has already been sold. The West Lake home at 3590 Pebble Beach Drive was auctioned on the courthouse steps in June by the county to pay $3,427.81 in back taxes. The house sold for $214,000.

It now stands empty, a tangible reminder of the hollow business agreements and promises Mr. Katzer left behind.

A bumpy beginning

The story of of Larry J. Katzer and his business partner Frederick Moir is about money -- large amounts of money -- that changed hands with little more than a promise, men living in large homes in West Lake, acquiring trophies of their wealth.

Their story cuts a path across the United States from northern California to Augusta. It's a highway littered with debt and litigation.

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Mr. Moir came to the United States in 1979. He met Mr. Katzer in Alamo, Calif., eight years later. It was a meeting that would change the lives of many.

By 1990, the partners had formed International Sports Events Inc. (ISE), a sports hospitality business involved in procuring tickets and housing for the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The business went bankrupt in June 1996.

And then the lawsuits began.

There are currently at least three ISE-related lawsuits pending. National Basketball Association Properties Inc. is suing Bhagyawanti & Sons and Mr. Moir in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia.

ISE had contracted with the NBA in 1996 to reserve 45 hotel rooms at Quality Hotel -- owned by Bhagyawanti & Sons (BSI) -- in downtown Atlanta. The NBA paid $240,000, but the rooms were rented to others and the NBA was locked out. Three weeks after the contract was initiated, ISE went bankrupt and the funds were never returned, according to the NBA lawsuit.

The NBA had wired the money to ISE, which then placed a deposit on the rooms. However, the amount of the deposit was insufficient and Bhagyawanti & Sons returned the check to ISE.

ISE retained control of the $240,000 and never returned it to the NBA, according to court documents. BSI has been named as a defendant in the case because it allegedly hired ISE as an exclusive agent to sell the rooms, though the company denies the claim in a response to the suit.

Another outstanding suit, filed March 3, accuses the pair of diverting in excess of $50,000 from ISE -- now in the care of a trustee under Chapter 7 bankruptcy -- to pay for a business office on Berckmans Road in Richmond County. There is also a similar lawsuit filed April 5 in Columbia County Superior Court. Both lawsuits were filed by C. Richard McQueen, an Atlanta attorney who is the bankruptcy trustee for ISE.

Mr. Moir answered the suit in May claiming he was only an officer of ISE, while Mr. Katzer was the company's primary shareholder. No answer from Mr. Katzer was filed in the court documents.

But the ISE-related legal troubles may be just beginning.

Former ISE employee Eric Holzheimer, who now is managing director of Global Sports Access Inc. -- a sports event logistics, planning, access and entertainment company based in Walnut Creek, Calif. -- also has a past with the duo.

"Unfortunately, I am limited in what I can say about Mr. Katzer and/or Mr. Moir because of ongoing litigation to resolve a substantial outstanding debt owed me by Mr. Katzer, Mr. Moir and the company," Mr. Holzheimer said in a prepared statement.

"In June 1995, I severed all relationships with International Sports Events Inc. ... I found I could no longer work at ISE due to our extremely divergent opinions relating to the direction, ethics and business practices employed by the company. At that time, ISE owed me a considerable amount of money."

Mr. Dow, a former ISE employee and now president of Dow Sports of Ellensburg, Wash., claims the company owes him money and has filed notice with the bankruptcy trustee.

He worked as a salesman for ISE from February 1996 until June. At the time he resigned, the company owed him $30,000, he said.

"I was trying to coordinate their sales efforts and was continually having to go to the organizing committee to pull their feet out of the fire because they were breaking all kinds of rules which I wasn't aware of when I went under contract to help them," Mr. Dow said.

"When I realized what was going on, I resigned. They are just bad news," he said. "It's like ... the Peanuts cartoon with the storm cloud hanging over their heads all the time. Or like the kinds of tornadoes you have in your part of the country that come along and wipe you out."

Turning to Augusta

After their business in Atlanta crashed, the partners decided to try Augusta -- and the Masters.

They formed SportsWorld Group to broker tickets and arrange housing, transportation and meals for major sports events, such as the Masters.

SportsWorld Group was incorporated July 24, 1996, with Mr. Katzer as chief executive officer, and Mr. Moir as chief financial officer.

"Larry moved here primarily because of the Masters," Mr. Moir said. "Larry had bought a house here, and so this was where he was going to stay. At that time we still had, collectively, many corporate contacts to whom we could provide hospitality at sports events, which was the nature of our business. Starting a fresh company, as Katzer had portrayed the SportsWorld Group to be, just seemed like the logical thing to do -- to carry on."

Mr. Katzer and his business associates capitalized on large corporations that needed local connections to provide access to sporting events -- events attended by top employees and valuable clients.

Though many corporations have travel departments, it's often more economical for an outside company to plan these specific events, said Marianne McInerney, a spokesperson with the National Business Travel Association.

Companies, such as SportsWorld, also have access to hard-to-get tickets -- tickets a corporation could not get unless they sponsored the event.

"If it is such a specialized need that it requires external personnel, then it makes more sense to have external personnel manage that function and report back to the corporation," Ms. McInerney said.

Georgia-Pacific is one corporation that had contracted with SportsWorld this year to provide a tent outside the Masters to serve as a main drop-off and pick-up point for the company's guests.

Though the company paid for this service, SportsWorld never delivered on the contract, said Georgia-Pacific spokesman Greg Guest.

He would not give the specific amount of the payment to SportsWorld, but said it was less than $20,000.

"They had done that the previous year and had fulfilled their commitment to us, so we secured them again this year, but they didn't do it," said Mr. Guest. "At this point we have not pursued any legal action against them."

Each year, Mr. Katzer and Mr. Moir borrowed money throughout the community, promising repayments after the Masters Tournament.

Acquaintances say the two men are very likable and were able to easily gain the trust of those around them.

"They're the nicest guys you'd ever want to talk to," said a business associate, who asked to remain anonymous. "They just charmed these people right out of their money."

Take, for example, local insurance agent David Alalof. In a suit filed March 15 in Columbia County Superior Court against Mr. Katzer, he claims he loaned Mr. Katzer $25,000 in 1997. The suit seeks the principal amount, plus interest and attorney's fees. Because of the pending litigation, Mr. Alalof would not comment.

On April 3, 1998, Wayne Brown, owner of approximately 60 Taco Bell restaurants in the Southeast, loaned $76,000 to SportsWorld Group.

"The loan was to generate capital to put into SportsWorld Group in order to ensure that its Masters program for 1998 was fulfilled," Mr. Moir testified in a deposition in the civil case.

By August 1998, the men had defaulted on the loan, according to court documents.

Mr. Brown filed the civil case in Richmond County Superior Court on Sept. 18 against SportsWorld, Mr. Katzer and Mr. Moir. On Dec. 8. Judge Albert Pickett issued an order allowing Mr. Katzer's personal property to be sold to settle the debt.

"I have no idea of what the net effect of this is going to be," said Mr. Speese, Mr. Brown's attorney. "Going after personal property is a chancy and unusual thing. But if the property being sold on the courthouse steps does not bring the amount of the judgment, Katzer's still going to have to find a way to make up for it and Mr. Brown is willing to pursue Katzer for as long as it takes."

A rough ride

SportsWorld operated out of 349 Berckmans Road, a converted private residence located across the street from Augusta National's Gate 10. But in January, the company was asked to cease operations by Richmond County because they were operating without a business license. They then obtained a license to operate at 2150 Central Ave., a commercial building Mr. Katzer purchased from Frank Christian Jr.

Ultimately, though, their business relationship would also end in court.

According to Mr. Moir's deposition, Mr. Christian joined Mr. Katzer and Mr. Moir to form Berckmans Management Co. in 1997 to produce and sell golf memorabilia. The three men were also involved in several local real estate transactions.

A silver miniature replica of Gene Sarazen's four wood the company produced is one of the pieces that will be auctioned off Tuesday in the parking lot of the Columbia County Courthouse.

Mr. Christian was out of town and was not available for comment for this article.

Starting in April 1998, Mr. Christian deeded at least four properties to Mr. Katzer, including an office at 406 Eighth St. in downtown Augusta. Mr. Katzer then used the property to secure the loan from Mr. Brown.

When the loan went unpaid and Mr. Brown wanted to foreclose on the property, Mr. Christian cried foul -- filing a suit in Superior Court claiming his deed to Mr. Katzer was invalid because he had never been paid for the property.

"Mr. Katzer has willfully and intentionally and with an obvious intent to defraud taken and mortgaged my real property for which I have never been paid," Mr. Christian said in a deposition.

In January, Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet ruled in his favor and Mr. Christian now operates a wine business out of that office.

Crashing California

In December 1998, Mr. Katzer, Mr. Moir and two others flew to California for the Palm Springs Celebrity Golf Classic. Their flight, hotel room and entry fees were paid by Tony Aguilar, chairman of the tournament.

In exchange, the two men promised Mr. Aguilar two packages to the 1999 Masters, he said, including executive housing for four, badges to the tournament, meals at the hospitality tent and a rental car for six days.

"We received nothing. Just a lot of promises," Mr. Aguilar said in a telephone interview. "I started getting wind of the problem in July or August, that they were in trouble. I started making phone calls and got a lot of promises, but no letter of commitment. It really worked out to about $22,000."

On March 30, Judge Overstreet issued a contempt warrant for Mr. Katzer's arrest for failing to appear in court to answer the civil suit brought by Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown always feared that Mr. Katzer would flee and take his assets with him. He filed an emergency motion to have a locksmith open Mr. Katzer's house and allow the Columbia County Sheriff's Office to remove all contents.

Judge Albert Pickett agreed on March 28. The contents are sealed under court order and have been stored in a warehouse near the sheriff's department since that time.

Mr. Katzer, now 44, has responded to very few of the suits. He left Augusta in March and is now living in Danville, Calif., with his father, Mel Katzer.

"Right now I have no comment," Mr. Katzer said last week by telephone. "I've spoken to a few people and that's been the suggestion for me at the moment."

Mr. Speese said Mr. Moir is now working to pay his share of the debt. The total amount owed to Mr. Brown has risen to $87,515 as of Dec. 1, including 12 percent interest and attorney's fees.

Mr. Moir said he left Sportsworld in February when he discovered money was being diverted away from the company.

Now unemployed, the 51-year-old Mr. Moir, who lives at 3652 Foxfire Place in West Lake, said he plans to stay in Augusta to settle any debt he has accumulated through the company.

"I'm married, I've resided in Georgia for 3 1/2 years, I've been in Augusta for 2 1/2 years," Mr. Moir said. "I'm trying the best I can financially and morally to get on with my life."

Melissa Hall can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.

Staff Writers Jason B. Smith and Walter Jones contributed to this article.