It’s bad enough for Lonzo Ball that his Los Angeles Lakers, despite the presence of LeBron James, are about to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season and might not even match last year’s win total of 35.
But even worse, and hitting closer to home, Big Baller Brand business partner Alan Foster, whose son has been friends with Lonzo since the two were chums in middle school, allegedly swindled the eldest Ball child out of $1.5 million of his earnings, ESPN reported Saturday.
Foster, it turns out, might have a criminal past that he did not disclose to Lonzo or his father, LaVar, in the course of befriending the elder Ball and becoming a key, trusted part of the family business.
According to the report, Lonzo said Foster “used his access to my business and personal finances to enrich himself. As a result, I have decided to sever all ties with Alan, effective immediately.”
Big Baller Brand formed in 2014, although it only became a part of the public conversation in 2017, when Lonzo was at UCLA and making a run toward eventually being taken second overall in the 2017 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was in the months leading up to the draft that LaVar Ball started to metastasize into the media pest that so many NBA fans love to hate.
Foster, it seems, was one of the voices in LaVar’s ear who persuaded the family patriarch to form his own shoe and apparel company with his three sons as keys to the brand’s development rather than go the traditional route of negotiating an endorsement deal with the major players already in the market.
If what Lonzo alleges is true, Foster’s motives may have been far more nefarious, since it is harder to embezzle from Nike than it is to steal from a company that you own 16.3 percent of, as Foster does in Big Baller Brand.
The Ball family financial adviser, Humble Lukanga of Life Line Financial Group, first raised concerns in October 2018, according to the ESPN report.
At issue, the report said, was an upcoming tax filing that “could not be completed” due to the $1.5 million that had gone unaccounted for and that Lonzo is now accusing Foster of having appropriated for his own use.
Making matters worse, Lonzo reportedly tried more than once to communicate to his father that he had concerns about Foster, his words falling on deaf ears before LaVar once again showed why he has a reputation for being, in his own mind, the smartest guy in the room who makes the decisions.
LaVar, of course, got blindsided, according to the report, and when he finally got around to reading the emails from Lukanga this week, after returning from a trip overseas with younger sons LiAngelo and LaMelo, he was “stunned” and said little other than to call the news “devastating.”
“I’ve always believed in the best in people. Regretfully, I put my complete trust in Alan Foster to manage my son’s business affairs,” LaVar said in a statement, according to ESPN. “At the end of the day, family comes first, and I support Zo wholeheartedly. Together, we will make this right.”
ESPN initially tried to contact Foster for an interview, one Foster claimed he would grant alongside LaVar at the Ball family home in Chino Hills, California.
Foster has since been evasive, avoiding ESPN and the media at large, the report said.
Foster was sentenced in 2002 to over seven years in prison for mail fraud and money laundering in a scheme that stole a total of over $4 million from 70 investors. Foster himself ended up on the hook for $3.7 million in restitution.
Lonzo, when told about that fact by ESPN, claimed to have no idea that his family’s business was in part run by a convicted felon.
Lonzo’s personal manager, Darren Moore, raised further questions about Foster insofar as the tax implications of revenue from the family’s Facebook Live series, “Ball in the Family,” were unclear. Foster, it seems, was unable to account properly for that revenue in a way that would comply with IRS accounting rules.
“Alan Foster was more than a trusted adviser,” Moore said, according to ESPN. “He was a mentor, a father figure and someone Lonzo and I respected, loved and listened to. … I’m proud of Lonzo for waking up and taking back his power. Together, we will fight for justice.”
The bulk of this falls on Lonzo mostly because Lonzo is the majority owner of Big Baller Brand; he owns 51 percent of the company, with the remaining 49 percent divided almost equally into thirds between Foster and Lonzo’s parents.
There remains no word how Foster will be relieved of his stake in the company should Lonzo make the final decision to indeed completely cut financial and business ties with the alleged swindler.
Lukanga, in the October email, wrote with great urgency and profuse use of capital letters, according to ESPN.
Of the $1.5 million that had gone missing, Lukanga claimed Foster “won’t show any invoices or documentation of these expenses. He won’t even give me the number to the vendors he says he paid. I’VE NEVER SEEN A COMPANY OPERATE BY WITHDRAWING MILLIONS IN CASH … Only you and Alan can withdraw cash and I know you didn’t take out $1.5 million dollars … SO WHERE IS THE MONEY???”
Lukanga was no longer in the employ of Lonzo Ball by November but has since been rehired.
“My purpose in this lifetime is to protect, serve and educate families; especially black families,” Lukanga wrote in his October email. “It’s breaking my heart to see the Ball family being taken advantage of; I love the family, things aren’t right with the companies. …”
Lonzo has dispatched Lukanga, Moore and his agent, Harrison Gaines, to take charge of the investigation.
“This has been a very difficult decision as I had a great deal of love and respect for Alan,” Lonzo said. “But the time has come for me to take responsibility for my own career both on and off the court.”
If Foster is guilty of the charges Lonzo is making against him, he may be priming himself for another stint as a guest of the California prison system — and another court-ordered restitution payment running into the seven figures.
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