Bita Honarvar / AJC
Cowards usually show themselves. In the end, after they’ve run and tried to hide, they reveal the full measure of their meekness.
Kirk Wright was a coward and a criminal. In what order is of no consequence. Last Wednesday, the 37-year-old Harvard-trained Atlanta-based hedge fund manager was convicted of 47 counts of mail and securities fraud and money laundering, part of a sham in which he bilked more than $150 million from thousands of clients – including several NFL players – to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Three days later, Wright hung himself in his jail cell.
One of the seven players (who collectively lost more than $20 million), former Denver Bronco Steve Atwater, who lost $2.7 mill himself, may have summed it up best: “It’s a tragic deal all around.”
The scam first came to light two years ago when it was discovered that Wright was using lies and fraudulent documents to fool his clients (which included his own family members) that their investments were increasing in value. In truth, the only things rising were Wright’s assets and lifestyle.
There were $50,000 watches, $200,000 cars and a wedding that was tallied at half-a-mil. There were luxury homes in and around Atlanta.
Wright tried to run once his scam was blown. When cops arrested him in May 2006, he was sipping cocktails at the Ritz Carlton in Miami Beach, where he was staying under an alias at a Miami hotel. In his room, the cops found $30,000 in cash, along with several fake IDs and prepaid cell phones. While a fugitive, he bought a Mercedes and a Florida condo.
And he maintained his innocence – blaming mere mismanagement! – until the end. Scheduled to be sentenced in late August, Wright faced a potential $16 million fine and 710 years in prison.
Wright wasn’t the first criminal to scam investors, including athletes. No doubt he won’t be the last, either. As long as there are young men and money, there will be charlatans looking for their share – or all of it.
Thankfully, more safeguards are in place these days. Sports leagues and players’ unions are all hosting seminars on financial management and providing information to help young athletes make the right choices with their money.
Sometimes they listen. Sometimes they hire guys like Kirk Wright.
And unfortunately, there will always be another Wright – young, smart, smooth and, like many young athletes, African American, which no doubt was a factor that may have led some of the athletes to choose him.
Here’s hoping Wright’s cowardice and criminal behavior doesn’t taint the good ones – the young, smart, smooth African American investment specialists who should be chosen to help young athletes make the right choices with their money.