MLB Player Says Fund Made ‘Unconscionable...

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MLB Player Says Fund Made ‘Unconscionable’ Loan Deal

Cleveland Indians catcher Francisco Mejia, in a Delaware federal court suit claiming an ex-Major Leaguer’s investment fund induced him to sign away more than 10 percent of his lifetime earnings in exchange for a $360,000 loan, was hit with a counterclaim Thursday claiming his suit breached a confidentiality clause in the agreement.

In a suit filed in February, Mejia claimed Big League Advance Fund I LP — founded by former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Michael Schwimer — induced him to enter into an “unconscionable” contract requiring him to pay 10 percent of his lifetime MLB earnings in exchange for $360,000 advanced to him before he signed with the Indians in September 2017.

“At this time, plaintiff is projected to earn more than $100 million in career earnings. At that rate, and if the BLA contract is enforced, plaintiff would be obligated to repay BLA over $10 million — on a $360,000 principal,” he said.

In its Thursday replay, BLA denied the claims and made a counterclaim alleging Mejia violated a confidentiality clause in the contract by attaching a copy to his February complaint. It sought unspecified damages and an injunction barring him from future disclosure of the terms of any of his contracts with BLA.

Mejia’s suit claims BLA approached Mejia in the fall of 2016, while he was playing in the minor leagues. The complaint said the fund, founded by Schwimer, makes a practice of approaching ”young, uneducated and unsophisticated” minor league prospects with offers of cash advances in exchange for a percentage of future earnings.

The suit claims Mejia — who it said spoke no English at the time, had a ninth-grade education and need for money to pay for medical treatments for his ailing mother — signed three contracts with BLA in the fall and winter of 2016 for escalating amounts of cash and future earnings percentages. The final contract, signed in December 2016, came after he had received $360,000 in payments and called for payment of 10 percent of his future income if he signed a Major League contract, he said.

The agreement, which was attached to the complaint, also requires the player to autograph 100 items a year for BLA.

“Although the contract represents that plaintiff was represented by counsel in the transaction, he was not. On information and belief, BLA hired and paid for an attorney to ‘represent’ plaintiff; however, this lawyer served as BLA’s lawyer, not plaintiff’s,” he said.

Meja claimed representatives of BLA sought payment under the contract in December 2017 and that “under duress” he paid them more than $9,000 after they threatened to file suit and prevent him from playing baseball.

In a reply filed Thursday BLA said the terms of the contract are not unconscionable and denied Mejia was not represented by counsel at the December meeting.

Counsel for Mejia and BLA did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday.

Mejia is represented by Anthony G. Buzbee, Peter K. Taaffe and Crystal Del Toro of The Buzbee Law Firm and Richard A. DiLiberto Jr. and Martin S. Lessner of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP.

BLA is represented by Marc Zwillinger, Jeffrey Landis and Nury Siekkinen of Zwillgen PLLC and Philip Trainer Jr. and Tiffany Geyer Lydon of Ashby & Geddes.

The case is Francisco Mejia v. Big League Advance Fund I LP, case number 1:18-cv-00296 in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware.

Rick Archer, Law 360