- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Things between Chet and Dennis started out bad and never got better," says Chuck Howard, who was head of production at ABC Sports when Cap Cities came in. Things were bad between Howard and Swanson, too, and Howard left in November 1986. Most of Arledge's old team also left.
Forte lasted through the '86 season and then negotiated a buyout of his contract. It was rumored that he had been fired.
"A total lie," Forte says. "The truth was, I needed to get my hands on some money to pay gambling debts. The buyout looked like quick money, so I took it." Also, he was not getting along with Al Michaels, the now Monday Night Football play-by-play man, and he missed Cosell, who had quit two years earlier. Forte also missed Arledge, whom he never saw or spoke to anymore. He missed the old élan that had made ABC Sports so much fun before the bean counters arrived.
"I wanted to get out and make some money," Forte says. He went into independent production with a partner, who did entertainment while Forte did sports.
Two months after he left ABC, Forte had a heart attack and was in surgery for nearly four hours. He could not work for almost six months. While he was recuperating, he did not gamble. But when he went back to work, he began calling his bookmaker again, with a vengeance. "I'd bet 40 college basketball games in one weekend," Forte says. "Teams I'd never heard of."
Forte, who had directed coverage of the Olympics, was now doing arena football and a syndicated show called Roller Games, a souped-up version of the old Roller Derby. This show and, eventually, Forte's business, failed. His only work was free-lance, and there was less and less of that, so Forte stayed at home in front of the television set, cutting from channel to channel with the remote, the way his eyes had flashed from one monitor to another when he was lining up the next image he would send out live from the TV van. Instead of talking to the cameramen and technical directors, he called his bookie or phoned the score service for the outcome of games he had bet. There were, as always, more losers than winners.
Even before he left ABC, Forte had begun borrowing against his house in Saddle River, N.J. He had moved his mother into the house after his father died in 1973. Forte married in 1977—Cosell was his best man—and he and his wife had a daughter two years later. Their lives were wrapped up in that house, six bedrooms and seven baths on 2½ acres in a neighborhood drenched in wealth. People like Richard Nixon lived in Saddle River. But the house could not sustain the kind of pressure Forte's gambling put it under—almost $1 million in loans. One $200,000 mortgage was based on a fraudulent loan application in which Forte overstated his assets and understated his liabilities, including gambling debts. In one trip to Atlantic City, Forte lost $208,000.
In 1989 he learned that he was under federal investigation. Because of a complaint by an investor, authorities became interested in Starkives, a talent agency that promised to revolutionize the business by using a computer data base. Forte was listed as a director of the New York-based company, along with 49er quarterback Joe Montana, fashion model Carol Alt and others. Forte brought friends and wealthy neighbors in as investors, showing them a promotional video during a Christmas party at his home in 1985. The founder of Starkives was Jeffrey Troncone, who was with Forte in Atlantic City the day he lost the $208,000. Troncone pleaded guilty to three counts of federal fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of May. Troncone and Forte had used Starkives funds to gamble, and Forte had used at least one investor's money to pay gambling debts.
Forte had also borrowed heavily from Anna Perrin, his first cousin, and her husband, Louis. They were his daughter's godparents. In 1989, when Forte could not repay a $280,000 note the Perrins had cosigned, they filed a civil suit and stopped speaking to Forte and seeing his daughter. Nor could Forte repay contractors, credit card companies, department stores, hospitals, the telephone company, Atlantic City casinos.... He was tapped out.
When he learned that he was the target of a federal investigation, Forte sought legal advice and was told not to cooperate with the feds, that he could win in court. But he could not pay his lawyers. Nor could he find work. He had sold his wife and daughter's horses to help pay debts and now had nothing left to sell, no assets against which he could borrow, no one to whom he could turn. His mother, who was co-owner of his house, declared bankruptcy in an attempt to prevent foreclosure.