It's the stuff of urban legend, like sharks swimming through city sewers: the dead catfish delivered to the Reader offices on India Street the day after the paper featured "Are the Padres Married to the Mob?" (January 27). The story linked Padres team owners Larry Lucchino and John Moores to ex-felon Jay Emmett.
Emmett was at the center of the 1980s kickback scheme involving the mobbed-up Westchester Premier Theatre; he turned state's witness in order to save himself from prison. He had been fingered as bagman in cash transactions between the theater and Warner Communications, where Emmett was an executive vice president and closest friend of then-Warner chief executive officer Steve Ross. The scheme involved investment in the theater of more than $200,000 by Warner; in return, Warner executives collected a similar amount in cash; the cash's fate was never officially determined, though there were theories.
Constance Bruck's 1994 book The Master of the Game reports that insiders speculated that the cash was used by Warner's chief Ross to finance his jet-setting lifestyle. Emmett had a reputation as a womanizer who frequently accompanied Ross on the company jet to a lavish vacation hideaway in the Mexican coastal resort of Las Brisas. Others claimed the cash went to buy drugs for Warner Records rock stars. Bruck reported that some Securities and Exchange Commission investigators maintained the money went for under-the-table payments to team members of Ross's and Emmett's Cosmos professional soccer club.
Emmett's attorney in the case was Edward Bennett Williams, who was, in the late 1970s and 1980s, probably the best-connected lawyer in Washington, D.C. Williams, who represented hundreds of notorious defendants, from Bobby Baker to Sam Giancana, arranged a plea bargain for Emmett that saved Emmett from prison and preserved his stock, threatened by racketeering charges.
In exchange, Emmett pled guilty and agreed to testify against fellow defendants in the case. His testimony ended his friendship with Warner's Steve Ross. Emmett then went to work for Edward Bennett Williams's sports empire, which included the Baltimore Orioles.
Emmett's colleague in this enterprise was Larry Lucchino, in the 1980s a Williams protégé. Lucchino took over the Orioles after Williams died in 1988. After the Orioles were sold, and Lucchino, along with money man John Moores, bought the San Diego Padres, Emmett was said to have become a member of the Padres board.
After the story linking Emmett and the Padres appeared this January in the Reader, sightings of Emmett in San Diego abounded. Several city hall sources claimed they had seen Emmett everywhere from VIP parties at Qualcomm Stadium to strategy meetings on the proposed downtown baseball stadium.
After the catfish were dropped off at the Reader's front desk, versions of the incident, some accurate, some not so accurate, began making the rounds of the local media. Here are some questions that have been asked about the catfish incident.
Q. How was the package delivered?
A. By messenger service.
Q. To whom was the package addressed?
A. To Matt Potter, author of "Are the Padres Married to the Mob?"
Q. In what were the fish wrapped?
A. Heavy brown butcher paper. The package weighed approximately three pounds. A card on which the words "Thank You" were embossed was attached to the butcher paper. This card was unsigned. Blood was leaking through the paper.
Q. Were the catfish wrapped in the January 27 issue of the Reader?
A. No. On February 6, Union-Tribune sports editor Tom Cushman incorrectly reported, "The author later received a copy of his work, which was wrapped around a fish."
Q. Did the package contain anything other than the catfish?
A. Yes, two business cards, one imprinted with "Larry Lucchino" and the other with "John Moores." Lucchino's bore his purported initials. Moores's card bore his purported signature. On the back of Moores's card was the inscription "Have a nice day."
Q. Did Moores and Lucchino send the catfish?
A. We can't be sure. Neither man has returned phone calls regarding the fish. Moores's signature on his card appears similar to the signature on his official Statement of Economic Interest filed with the University of California, where he is a Regent. No way exists at this time to verify Lucchino's initials on the card bearing his name.
Q. Did you consider the catfish package a joke?
Q. Did you call law enforcement?
A. Yes, the FBI was contacted, and they took a report.
Q. Has there been any other suspicious activity since the fish were delivered?
A. Nothing that can be linked to Moores or Lucchino. A man was seen digging through the Reader dumpster, apparently looking for documents, but he may have been homeless or simply a disgruntled baseball fan. He fled when approached.
Q. Will this incident dissuade you from writing about Moores, Lucchino, and Emmett in the future?