Thursday, March 27, 2014

Not "Jerry Maguire"

The headlines scream about State Senator Leland Yee and Chinatown mobster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow.

But there's a fascinating--and perhaps horrifying--story deeper in the massive criminal case unfolding in San Francisco.

It's the tale of a young man named Marlon Sullivan. On the one hand, there's the Marlon Sullivan who became one of the youngest licensed contract advisers for NFL players (at the age of 24), who speaks warmly of his upbringing in San Francisco's Western Addition, whose Twitter profile describes him as "Sports Agent, Entrepreneur, All around great human being! Putting the Personal back into Personal Service..."
Marlon Sullivan, from @msully_84 Twitter profile

That Marlon Sullivan poses with one of his preschool-aged sons and gives interviews in which he praises his girlfriend for helping him "maximize his full potential".

He's the Marlon Sullivan who says he taught himself computer programming as a teenager and wound up with a master's degree in sports management from USF.

But, according to the lengthy affidavit filed by the US Attorney's office, there's a very different Marlon Sullivan occupying the same man's body and mind.

This is the one accused of dealing drugs, illegally selling firearms, and offering to commit a murder for hire.

FBI agents say Sullivan was right in the middle of a number of illegal activities in this case. They say he cranked out counterfeit credit cards (using software bought from Russian criminals with Bitcoin virtual currency), ran major amounts of illicit pot from California to other parts of the country, and readily agreed to a murder-for-hire plot proposed by an undercover agent.

This Marlon Sullivan, according to the federal affidavit, told undercover agents he'd have no trouble pulling off a "hit", saying "I got a hundred niggas, I still got my ties to the street. I got young boys who love me."

Presumably, he wasn't talking about his own boys, who he identified to an interviewer last year as Armani and Tristan. But the same Marlon Sullivan who briefly advised out-of-the-closet football star Michael Sam earlier this year and has a role in the career of up-and-coming San Francisco boxer Karim Mayfield seems to have a much darker side.

How could a young man who appears to be on the up-and-up, whose future seems bright, be living such a shockingly dual existence? The federal affidavit quotes Sullivan as saying he didn't worry about prison time because he had a clean criminal record, bragging "Ten is the max I'll get."

But the telling comments may be these. Quoting from the affidavit, Sullivan told a federal undercover agent, "living a criminal lifestyle was more of a 'power and challenge thing', that Sullivan didn't have to manufacture fraudulent credit cards, but it was fun.'"

from @msully_84 Twitter feed
Just days before the case blew open, Sullivan posted photos from a room at San Francisco's upscale W Hotel, saying, "No special occasion, just felt like it cause I could."

As I write, Sullivan's whereabouts are unknown. He did not appear at the hearing where more than 20 of the defendants were arraigned. Mayfield, who is preparing for a light-welterweight title bout in Atlantic City on Saturday night, told SFWeekly he hadn't heard from Sullivan (with whom he had been planning to sign a management contract) and "is appalled at these charges."

There's clearly much more to Marlon Sullivan than many people knew, and if the FBI and US Attorney are right, none of it is good.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Dodger Experiment

Much of the attention the Los Angeles Dodgers have been getting focuses on their drunken-sailor-level spending.  The Dodgers will enter the 2014 season with the biggest payroll in the big leagues at over $220 million. That's $75 million more than the Giants and a staggering $160 million more than the A's.

But a much bigger story about money may be playing out in the Southland.  The Dodgers have launched their own TV network, SportsNet LA, and are trying to charge the highest rates ever for a regional sports channel.

The Dodgers open the season in about a week (March 22 in Australia against the Diamondbacks), and a rough estimate shows only about a quarter of the households in the LA market will be able to tune in Dodgers games on TV.

That's because only Time Warner Cable, a partner in the new Dodgers network, will be carrying it. There will be no over-the-air TV broadcasts, and neither Dish Network, DirecTV, nor any of the smaller cable providers will be carrying the games.  Why? You already know the answer.  Money.

The Dodgers reportedly want pay-TV companies to pay more than $4 per subscriber to carry the network, a price that's likely to increase in the future. You should understand that in the murky accounting of the pay-TV world, these "per-sub" fees mean the carrier has to pay that price for each and every household, whether they want or use the channel or not.

Essentially, that means cable and satellite TV prices would go up for every home in the LA area, whether the customers want to watch Dodgers games or not.  Pay-TV companies say they don't have anything against the Dodgers, but they'd rather let individual customers decide if they want to pay for the channel.

This standoff over ever-pricier sports programming isn't unique or new. Millions of DirecTV subscribers have been frozen out of the Pac 12 Network's offerings in a similar battle. Regional sports networks in other markets are testing their muscle too.

It's a big wager by each side. Teams like the Dodgers are betting that their product is so desirable that subscribers will lean on their pay-TV carriers to pay the price, raising rates for everyone. The pay-TV companies think they're being strong-armed and say complaints and cancellations are minimal when they stand their ground.

Magic Johnson and his fellow investors may have put together baseball's edition of Showtime, but it looks like the majority of Angelenos will be left in the dark.