It was 4:00 AM when the police convoy rolled up on Country Crossing, a new electronic bingo house in Alabama. No fewer than 135 state police cars cascaded into the rural compound.
(You can watch the convoy arrive here; skip to the 0:40 mark.)
In the aftermath, a group of NFL players—including big names like Ray Lewis and Fred Taylor—lost tens of millions of dollars.
CBS’s 60 Minutes covered the story in a segment called “Thrown for a Loss.” It looked into how those NFL players lost so much money in a risky investment spearheaded by a union-approved financial advisor.
Years ago, financial advisor Jeff Rubin solicited over $50 million from the players to invest in Country Crossing. Per CBS, Rubin promised sky-high returns.
Construction of Country Crossing finished in January 2010, and it opened with a full house, rows of bingo machines, and a glitzy party.
Two weeks later, the cops showed up and shut it down.
It turns out that Alabama law on the legality of electronic bingo was fuzzy at best.
When Rubin brought the NFL players into the project, he apparently thought it was legal, as electronic bingo parlors existed in other parts of Alabama. But, in December 2008, Alabama’s governor formed an Anti-Gambling Task Force.
The idea was to reduce the proliferation of electronic bingo in the state.
By the time Country Crossing opened in 2010, it was only a matter of time before it was shut down.
60 Minutes focused on the fallout for the NFL players who invested in Country Crossing, and their union’s endorsement and facilitation of Rubin’s activities.
In this NFL lawsuit, players sought recovery of their failed investment through litigation.
The ensuing lawsuit, trial, and settlement ended up a long, long way from the 60 Minutes story about their case.
A lawyer representing the players spoke in the 60 Minutes piece, but he did not get into details about whether the players’ investment in Country Crossing led to any litigation.
From the players’ perspective, Rubin may not have been worth much as a defendant; he’d been sanctioned by regulators and was underwater on a massive mortgage.
So, who got sued?
Branch Banking & Trust Co. (BB&T), the successor to the bank at which Rubin directed the players to open checking accounts, and out of which their losses occurred. In this NFL lawsuit, the players alleged the bank made unauthorized transactions from their accounts in service of the Country Crossing project.
They also alleged that these transfers violated the terms of their agreements with the bank, and a handful of players also alleged the bank was negligent.
Following discovery, BB&T moved for summary judgment.
First, the bank argued that the players’ depositor agreements barred their claims.
In particular, the bank argued that because it sent the players monthly statements detailing the transactions in question, and the players did not object within the time period prescribed by their depositor agreements, their contract claims were barred.
The Court meticulously crawled through the summary judgment record. It concluded that most of the players had received their monthly statements from the bank and did not timely object to the transactions.
The Court ruled that these failings doomed the players’ contract claims.
Several player victims submitted evidence that someone forged their signatures on account documents.
They argued this meant the bank’s negligence resulted in unauthorized transactions that were the proximate cause of their losses. The Court denied summary judgment on these claims, sending them to trial.
The Court also rejected the bank’s argument that the players ratified unauthorized transactions, and that the bank had no duty to investigate the alleged forged signatures.
The players’ negligence claims against BB&T went to trial in August 2015. After six days of arguments and testimony, the case was settled confidentially.
There were no shady financial advisors (Rubin was not a defendant at trial) and no blinking electronic bingo machines. There were no lines of police cars speeding down the highway at 4:00 a.m.
Instead, the litigation was about whether the players’ signatures on their account documents were forged, whether they had complained about unauthorized transactions in a timely fashion, and whether Florida’s Uniform Commercial Code displaced the players’ common law claims.
In other words, what we saw on 60 Minutes bore little relation to what the jury saw inside a South Florida courthouse in the summer of 2015.
The Insider notwithstanding, the stories 60 Minutes can tell and the stories told in litigation are very different. In the 60 Minutes piece, the players in the NFL lawsuit were angry at Rubin and their union. They were also angry at the NFL for steering them to a risky investment.
Anger, however righteous, is not a cause of action.
Claims against Rubin may have been a possibility. But he was, from all appearances, judgment-proof and not worth chasing.
So the NFL players sued their bank. Despite having some timing and other legal issues resolved against them, several players were able to get past summary judgment and to trial.
Were they ultimately successful? Only those with knowledge of the settlement can know. Litigation, unlike 60 Minutes, does not normally provide narrative closure.
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This is an updated version of an article originally published on January 4, 2017.]
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Adam is Of Counsel with ROETZEL, Chicago, and focuses his practice on commercial and business litigation, representing a wide variety of clients ranging from individuals to small business owners to large corporations. He has a particular focus on investment disputes and business fraud claims and has represented investors and investment companies as plaintiffs and defendants…