FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Mike Miller, a popular and contributing piece of two Heat championship teams before the team released him in July, is strongly considering filing a lawsuit against the team because he believes the franchise bears some responsibility for him being swindled by a con man, his attorney tells us.
Miller, who now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, lost $1.7 million in a scam allegedly orchestrated by Haider Zafar, a South Beach bling king who presented himself as a member of a wealthy Pakistani family.
According to Miller's complaint that has been drawn up but not yet filed, a Heat employee introduced Miller to Zafar, and Zafar used $700,000 of the money he stole from Miller to pay for courtside Heat tickets.
Settlement talks between Miller and the Heat have stalled. Miller asked for that $700,000 back from the Heat, plus attorney’s fees, but “the parties were far apart,” Miller’s attorney, Andrew Fine, said.
In the potential lawsuit, Miller is seeking a lot more: the entire $1.7 million that he lost in Zafar’s scam.
According to the complaint which I obtained, Zafar last December agreed to spend $3 million over three seasons for Heat courtside seats and other benefits but did not submit payment.
A month later, Zafar asked Stephen Weber, who was then the Heat’s executive vice president/sales, to introduce him to “Heat players with businesses Zafar… could invest in.”
According to the complaint, Miller, “at Weber’s urging, met with Zafar at Heat offices,” and Weber told Miller that Zafar was “the real deal.”
The complaint said at the time of that January meeting, the Heat and Weber “knew that Zafar had not paid his obligation to the Heat and had disclosed he was using a false, or at least, unofficial, identity and had disclosed he was under IRS investigation.”
Miller and Zafar then began a relationship in which Miller allegedly was defrauded of $2 million, of which $300,000 was eventually repaid to Miller.
In February, Miller sent Zafar $2 million to invest in what Zafar portrayed as a private investment fund with a high-interest yield. Fine said Zafar had access to no such fund and ended up keeping most of Miller’s money.
Zafar, who is imprisoned in Ohio awaiting trial on fraud charges in an unrelated case, also reneged on a promise to invest $40 million in three of Miller’s businesses.
Miller determined that Zafar was a fraud in late April. Until that point, “Weber continued to vouch for Zafar even though he never paid” some of the $1 million due the Heat, according to Miller's complaint.
Between February and April, Zafar paid $700,000 of the money due for the courtside tickets. Miller's complaint claims that cash was money that Zafar stole from Miller, and the Heat needs to give that money back to Miller.
“Prior to introducing Zafar to Miller and prior to representing that Zafar was a suitable business and investment partner, the Heat… and Weber had a duty to fully investigate whether that patron was, in fact, a suitable partner,” Miller’s complaint says.
“Upon discovering information that would have led a reasonable person to conclude that Zafar was a fraud,… the Heat and Weber had a duty to notify Miller, instead of continuing to endorse Zafar…. Due to the acts and omission of the Heat and Weber, Zafar was able to steal a large amount of money from Miller.”
Besides the Heat, Weber and the team’s seat licensing company are also named as defendants in the complaint. The complaint claims Weber, who left the Heat during the playoffs, “occasionally set up side deals for his own benefit.”
Weber declined to comment.
Asked for a comment about the potential Miller lawsuit, Heat outside counsel Alan Fein said: "We were distressed to learn that the Heat and the members of the Heat family were victimized by an elaborate fraud conducted by an individual currently in custody in Ohio. We continue to remain in constant contact with the appropriate federal authorities investigating this fraud."
Heat forwards James Jones and Rashard Lewis also were defrauded by Zafar and suffered undisclosed losses, but neither is pursuing claims against the team.
Fine said Miller “has good feelings for the organization. He just feels like they should accept their share of responsibility for this situation.”
The Heat used the one-time amnesty clause on Miller because keeping him would have resulted in $17 million in luxury tax payments, president Pat Riley said.
“Losing a guy like Mike Miller didn’t make us better,” Riley told The Souix Falls (S.D.) Chamber of Commerce Tuesday in an appearance to promote the Heat’s NBDL team. “We wish him nothing but the best. I’d like to have him back in the seventh game.”
### We hear the Dolphins are among several teams that have called about four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, who was released by Dallas and hasn’t played this season because of sports hernia surgery.
Ratliff, 32, hopes to meet with teams within a couple of weeks and the Dolphins are among teams that interest him. He hopes to play this season, but it's not determined if he will. He has been cleared medically to resume football activities.
The Dolphins are deep at defensive tackle with Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, but Soliai and Starks are impending free agents and contract talks have gone nowhere.
The Dolphins gave Soliai what they portrayed as a take-it-or-leave-it offer in August, which he rejected. Talks haven't resumed since. The Dolphins' offer to Starks in February was nowhere close to what he's seeking, and his camp expects him to become a free agent.
The Dolphins value Soliai, and nobody should be surprised if they eventually reach a deal. The Dolphins also view Odrick as a longterm solution at tackle. But if the Dolphins are confident that Ratliff is over his health problems -- including a groin tear -- it wouldn't be surprising if they offer him a multiyear deal. Remember, Jeff Ireland was part of the Dallas front office that drafted him, and Ratliff has been a very good player over the years.
### One Hurricanes player said Al Golden got emotional talking to the team after the NCAA saga concluded Tuesday.
### Has UM’s reputation been damaged by the Nevin Shapiro mess? “No,” insisted Leonard Abess, chairman of UM’s Board of Trustees. “It has been enhanced because we handled it well… It’s embarrassing we fell into a position that needed to be investigated, but we handled it as well as we can. Our reputation is intact.”
### Remember that threat we reported last November that the NCAA sent by mail to former Canes, saying if they don't talk to the NCAA, they would be barred from UM's campus?
A bunch of players didn't talk but feared they would be banned from UM's weight room, which many like to use in the offseason. But the NCAA, whose reputation was damaged enough by its improprities in the case, decided not to prohibit any former Canes from going on campus.
### Four-star Jacksonville based power forward Dante Buford visited UM this week and also is considering South Carolina and Oklahoma.
### The Marlins have budgeted a payroll between $40 million and $50 million and will lower some season ticket and individual ticket prices. (Some prices will stay the same. None will increase.)
### Marlins president David Samson, on Thursday: “I promise you this: We’re not going to lose 100 games next year. Not close. Look what the Red Sox did. They had the same record we did in 2012. They turned it around to be in the World Series in 2013. Well it’s time for us to do the same.” He said Marlins Park hasn’t booked October concerts because “we should be and will be playing playoff games.”