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But if the commissioner's office had taken that duty seriously, baseball could have and should have halted the Spira-Steinbrenner relationship during Ueberroth's tenure. Spira told Steinbrenner as early as December 1986 that he had damaging information about Winfield. Steinbrenner flew Spira to Tampa and turned him over to McNiff, a former special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa office, who questioned Spira about matters involving Frohman, the Winfield foundation and the death threat. As for Winfield's possible involvement in gambling, McNiff says that in his first meeting with Spira he learned that Spira was betting on baseball and that Winfield knew he was betting; that Spira owed more than $1 million; and that Winfield had lent Spira money.
Steinbrenner repeatedly talked to Ueberroth about Spira's charges, as well as about Steinbrenner's concerns that some umpires were involved in gambling. In sworn testimony taken by Dowd last May, Steinbrenner said, "[In the late '80s] I had lunch with [Ueberroth].... He told me...that certain umpires were known to be staying and being entertained and dining at the houses of gentlemen who were involved in gambling on the West Coast. I said, Peter, this is very serious.... He told me, with regard to Boston...somebody went up from the Commissioner's Office and...went into the umpires room at Fenway Park. That upon going into that room there were several men in there with the umpires, which is irregular...." SI has been told that when he said "somebody," Steinbrenner meant baseball security men. In his testimony Steinbrenner said Ueberroth told him one of the men with the umpires looked at one of the baseball representatives "and he made the statement, I am not standing here with that guy; he put me away for gambling at one time." Ueberroth told SI on Sunday, "I won't comment on anything that Steinbrenner says."
While taking Steinbrenner's testimony, Dowd told Steinbrenner that he had looked into the Boston incident and that it had been "dealt with specifically in detail and disposed of by this commissioner [Vincent]." A former Ueberroth associate told SI that baseball had previously investigated the same incident during Ueberroth's tenure. He expressed surprise that Dowd had reinvestigated. Neither Dowd nor the source indicated what action, if any, baseball had taken.
Ueberroth said in sworn testimony during the Steinbrenner probe that he found much of the information brought to him by Steinbrenner to be vague. Some of the allegations that McNiff provided to Ueberroth's office were more specific, but they were slow in arriving. Ueberroth's staff became aware of the then 10-month-old relationship between Steinbrenner and Spira on Sept. 3, 1987, when Ueberroth, at Steinbrenner's urging, sent Hallinan to Yankee Stadium to meet with Bill Dowling, the Yankees' general counsel, and McNiff. McNiff and Dowling gave Hallinan a number of documents, including McNiff's December '86 interview of Spira, a transcript of a taped phone conversation between Spira and Slamka and the results of polygraph tests of Spira and Slamka.
In the documents Spira stated that he worked for the Winfield foundation and claimed to be more than $1 million in debt to bookmakers. He said that he, Slamka and Whitton were all present when Frohman allegedly wrote the phony World Series death threat. Spira unloaded a fusillade of other charges: that Frohman had told Winfield about the fake threat shortly after writing it; that Winfield had then lied about it to the FBI (Winfield denies that); and that he, Spira, had twice borrowed money—$7,000 on one occasion and $15,000 on another—from Winfield at usurious interest rates. Slamka stated that Frohman had been misappropriating Winfield foundation funds. The polygraphs—which baseball claims were badly flawed—purport to show Spira and Slamka to be truthful in their claims that Frohman wrote the fake death threat. Spira also is shown as telling the truth about his gambling debts and his loans from Winfield. During the polygraph, Spira is asked: "Were you involved with Joey Caredi [sic] in any actions that would embarrass the Yankees?" Spira's answer is no, and the polygraph indicates that he is being truthful.
Upon receiving this information, the commissioner's office logically should have 1) warned Winfield that his agent might be ripping off the foundation; 2) found out who "Joey Caredi" was; and 3) told Steinbrenner to let baseball handle the matter from there on.
As best as can be determined, baseball did none of these things. In fact, according to Ueberroth's sworn testimony, Hallinan never told him that Dowling and McNiff had provided baseball with any documents. In testimony last May, Hallinan said he failed to take notes of the meeting and didn't write a memorandum about it until 1989. Ueberroth said that Hallinan informed him in general terms that Steinbrenner's representatives had brought up some charges but that "there was nothing to Mr. Steinbrenner's allegations that he could see. No substance, and so we let the matter drop." Ueberroth did not ask Hallinan to explain why he felt Spira's and Slamka's information wasn't believable. "It is not credible; I don't need to know why it is not credible," said Ueberroth in his testimony.
In his testimony Ueberroth made Steinbrenner sound like the little boy who cried wolf, always coming to baseball with allegations that couldn't be corroborated. As a result, Ueberroth said, he came to assume that any and all allegations raised by Steinbrenner were untrue. "George regularly came to us with a litany of things that were wrong," recalls the former Ueberroth associate. " 'This guy's bad. This owner did this. This umpire's bad.' Frankly, looking back, maybe we did throw water on things that were important."
According to Hallinan's sworn testimony, he did little to check out the allegations brought to him in 1987. He testified that he talked to the New York County District Attorney's office, to which Steinbrenner had provided the same documents he had given baseball, and was told by a detective there that Spira's credibility was shaky. Hallinan also called the FBI to see if it had investigated the Winfield death threat, but received no immediate answer. By the end of '87, according to his testimony, Hallinan considered the case closed. At some point in the next year, he testified, the FBI told him that it had not looked into the death threat.
"Caredi" turned out to be Caridi, a reputed associate of the Colombo crime family, who is now serving five to 15 years in an upstate New York prison for robbery, assault, coercion and criminal usury. According to a law enforcement source with knowledge of organized crime activities, Caridi was in charge of Colombo gambling operations from 1983 to '85.