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GrapeSox strike out

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Posted: Friday, September 19, 2008 10:00 pm

Bringing baseball back to Lodi wasn't a tough sell for Lodi GrapeSox owner Stevie Mac.

A community passionate about the game welcomed Mac and summer collegiate baseball with open arms, and he delivered with a winning product on the field.

However, after a financially disastrous first season in which he struck out in his business dealings, many in the community remained sold on baseball but few embraced Mac's return.

Among those pushing for Mac's ouster was Rick Souza, a local businessman and dissatisfied investor who pulled his stake in the team after learning that Mac had a criminal past. Concerned that Mac was unfit to run the team and wouldn't be able to pay employees and vendor's debts, which now total more than $50,000, Souza decided to take matters into his owns hands, forming his own team and essentially running Mac out of town.

"It's a classic example of someone hiding behind their religious beliefs, but it's simple greed," Mac said of Souza, a missionary and former pastor. "(Souza) made a deal with me and then leveraged my past against me to get his own club in Lodi.

"He hides behind the guise of a Christian man. He systematically set out to destroy my business and my family, and he's going to be held accountable," said Mac, adding that he has filed a $850,000 lawsuit against his former co-owner.

Souza said he has been in Lodi for a long time and that his reputation speaks for itself. "How do you respond to that?" he said of Mac's comments. "If he had been honest and did his business with integrity and didn't pull the things he did, I would have been a happy investor and the team would have been back next year. Not one person involved with the GrapeSox this year would have been back next year if Stevie were involved again."

When asked if he was worried that people may perceive that he intended to take over the team all along, Souza said it wasn't a concern.

"It was in the back of my mind, but it really comes down to reputation."

Souza recently formed the Lodi Baseball Club and the Delta Dawgs, another summer collegiate team, applied for the use of Zupo Field next summer and put down a $6,390 deposit. Mac also recently applied and put down a $3,000 deposit.

Souza learned on Thursday that the city approved his request, which ensures Mac and the GrapeSox will not return to Lodi next year.

Lodi recreation supervisor Mike Reese, who oversees field rentals in the city, said that Souza's request was approved because he submitted his application first.

"It's first come, first served," Reese said on Thursday afternoon. "I called Stevie and let him know that we chose not to accept his application for next year."

Mac says Reese told him that priority would go to whoever paid his deposit first, and that after speaking to Reese late Tuesday night and learning that Souza had yet to pay a deposit, he showed up at the Parks and Recreation department early Wednesday morning with a $3,000 check.

Reese said that he did receive a $3,000 check from Mac and that it will be returned. He also denied telling Mac that he would get first priority if he paid his deposit first.

Mac said that he will ask the city to reimburse him for improvements the GrapeSox made at Zupo Field, including a $6,000 sound system that was installed before the season.

When reminded that Dynamic Audio owner Carlos Chan had yet to be paid for the equipment, Mac said that it's still the GrapeSox's property.

Financial mess

Thursday's decision may come as bittersweet news for former GrapeSox employees, umpires, equipment providers and vendors who have yet to be paid tens of thousands of dollars nearly seven weeks after the GrapeSox clinched a championship in the final game of their inaugural season.

For those left wondering if they will ever be paid, baseball's return to Lodi was anything but priceless.

"We're a family trying to get by," said Branda Stanfield, a mother of two who says she and her husband, Jeremy, both worked for the GrapeSox and are owed $986.

Stanfield says Mac twice issued bad checks, and that she and her husband are now on the hook for the money after taking out a cash advance prior to receiving one of the checks.

"We're getting hounded every day because of it," Stanfield said.

According to information provided by former GrapeSox community relations director Duane Simpfenderfer, who helped Souza spearhead an effort to drive Mac out of town, as many as 18 employees are still owed amounts totaling as much as $8,642, and vendors are owed as much as $37,000. (The News-Sentinel contacted numerous employees and vendors, and all confirmed that they are still owed money.)

Those figures don't include $8,000 that umpires are still owed, according to Sarjeet Singh, who assigned umps for GrapeSox home games.

"I want to see these people get paid," Simpfenderfer said.

Mac disputes the numbers. He says he still owes four employees about $900, and his total debt is around $36,000. He said the umpires were paid for the first half of the season and are still owed $3,200.

Mac purchased the San Luis Obispo Blues last March for $500,000, and that team is also facing financial difficulties. He says the Blues are currently $11,500 in debt.

"The basic fact is we ran out of money," said Mac, who attributes the GrapeSox's fiscal shortcomings to lower-than-expected attendance figures, a lack of sponsorships, a bloated payroll and a severe underestimation of start-up costs.

Mac has also said that the purchase of the Blues was bad timing, and that the GrapeSox were mismanaged while he was tending to business in San Luis Obispo.

"For someone to make more of it is wrong," Mac said. "We didn't have enough money. There's no excuse for it."

He insists that the franchise was beset by struggles encountered by most start-up businesses, and says the fact that he paid out more than $15,000 in recent weeks proves that he's making every effort to repay his debt.

Lodi city spokesman Jeff Hood confirmed that Mac recently paid the city the remaining $6,597 owed for the rental of Zupo Field. Hood also said that the payment was late and that Mac had previously issued a bad check.

Linda Fitzgerald, a recreation manager in San Luis Obispo, confirmed that last week Mac paid off the remaining $11,300 owed for the rental of SLO Stadium. She said that while the payment was late, Mac never bounced a check. She added that the previous ownership had struggled to pay the rent and had issued bad checks.

"The only problem we had this year was that bills were not paid on time. The condition of the stadium was better and the relationship with the team was better," said Fitzgerald, who added that she is aware that Blues employees were not paid on-time and that the city will consider that before negotiating another lease with Mac.

Jason Minatre, the owner of Party Works, a Stockton business that supplied bounce houses at GrapeSox home games, said that he recently settled with Mac for $1,200, about 60 percent of what he was owed. The payment did little to soothe Minatre, who had aggressively pursued the money.

"He's a snake in the grass," Minatre said of Mac. "These are hard times, and anything you can get out of a scam artist like that, you have to feel lucky."

When asked why he would pay rental fees and Minatre when he still has unpaid employees, Mac said there are discrepancies about how much the employees are owed.

History repeating itself?

Mac, who lives in Sacramento with his wife and three daughters, struck a deal with the city of Lodi in June of 2007. He says he used money from the sale of his sports talk show, "The Sports Attack," to found the GrapeSox and the Sierra Baseball League. (The GrapeSox were scheduled to join the SBL next season.)

However, station officials at KMYC 1410 in Marysville and 1380 AM in Sacramento recently confirmed that Mac was never an employee at the stations, but instead purchased air time, or block programming.

When asked how that was profitable, Mac said that he sold the air time he purchased to other people who wanted those slots.

"We did well with that, and we were happy with that," he said.

Calls to the stations to confirm Mac's assertions were not returned.

Souza first met Mac after Souza and his wife purchased the first pair of GrapeSox season tickets. Souza says Mac would drop by his office and the two would talk baseball. Souza, who fondly remembers taking his family to see the Lodi Dodgers when the city had a minor league franchise, was excited about the prospects of a new team.

Souza, who has called Mac a con man, agreed to purchase a 25 percent stake in the GrapeSox for $125,000 last April but quickly became unhappy with the direction of the team and backed out of the deal in June, after learning of Mac's criminal past. (Souza says Mac has repaid him $9,000 of his initial $35,000 investment.)

According to court records, Mac, whose real name is Steven McPherson, pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft and check fraud after he and his former wife bilked investors out of $160,000 when he managed a golf club in Port Townsend, Wash. in the mid-1990s. He served time in prison or on work release from September 1998 to January 2002.

Mac, who in dealing with the city signed all documents with his full name, insists that he never intended to deceive anyone and that Stevie Mac was his radio persona.

Souza says he learned of Mac's past from a person who had ties to the GrapeSox, and that he kept quiet about Mac's background until the end of the season because he didn't want it to become a distraction to the team. He says that that Mac had repeatedly promised to pay all the employees and vendors.

"I don't think I hurt the team," Souza said of his decision to pull his interest in the team. "Seeing his history, I didn't want to be financially liable for something I didn't have control over."

Souza said that by the end of the season it became obvious that Mac's promises weren't being fulfilled, so he decided to go public with the information.

Looking to get paid

The Stanfields aren't alone in their pursuit to get paid. Employees and vendors alike say they have constantly been lied to and misled by Mac.

Christy Bennett-Head, who did advertising work for the GrapeSox and claims she is owed $3,800, says she eventually became fed up with the run-around and filed a complaint with the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), a stage agency that handles labor disputes.

She said that Mac failed to show for the first hearing in Stockton last week, and that another hearing has been scheduled.

Mac, who says he had a business meeting in Phoenix that day and called in to reschedule, disputed the amount owed to Bennett-Head.

According to Adria Wells, an employee in the communications office at the DIR, there has been only one case filed against the GrapeSox in San Joaquin County, and it remains open. She said eight cases have been filed in Santa Barbara County against the Blues, and that two remain open.

Mac says that Bennett-Head was fired for a "blow-up in the office" in a confrontation with another employee.

Bennett-Head admits that she had an angry exchange with another employee, but says she was told she was let go because she was no longer needed. Regardless, said Bennett-Head, who is married with two children, she should be paid for the work she did.

"I've had to borrow money," she said. "That's three house payments for me."

Lodi High senior Jill McMillen's first job was with the GrapeSox, and she is still waiting for her first paycheck for the 25 hours she worked.

McMillen's mother, Jeanne, said it was a bad experience for her daughter but a good life lesson.

"It was the first job for many of the kids, and they basically ended up dealing with a dishonest person. He couldn't even be up-front and say he didn't have the funds."

Mac's biggest debts are owed to vendors and local businesses.

Maureen Grogan, owner of Athletic Supply of California in Stockton, says her company is owed $2,794 for bats and balls it provided to the GrapeSox. She says Mac always talks about making it good but never does anything about it.

Grogan said she may have to take legal action, but she doesn't want to.

"It's not common to go this long," Grogan said. "You don't like it to happen to you at any time, but it has a greater impact now. You don't expect people to stiff you."

Meanwhile, Mac says that he will move forward with the SBL without a Lodi team.

He claims that 11 clubs have paid a $5,000 founder's fee and signed a three-year contract with the SBL heading into next Tuesday's league meeting in Sacramento.

When asked which teams have made commitments to the league, Mac declined to answer.

"The SBL is still strong," he said.

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Welcome to the discussion.

31 comments:

  • posted at 2:08 pm on Tue, Sep 23, 2008.

    Posts:

    MAC: PAY YOUR BILLS!!!!! No bad checks! No lies! Stand up and be a man...own up! BE HONEST!Simpfenderfer/Souza: No more "Holier than thou - I'm a Christian" garbage! Keep your religion to yourself. Prove it by your ACTIONS! Keep your nose clean and stop playing the Christian card. It just makes you look everything BUT Christian.Geez... shame on all of you for ruining something good for Lodi.

     
  • posted at 9:06 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    Rhodie ... I think you are right. I do believe Mac's character has been challenged over this, and it will continue to be so. The bottom line is that people are owed money, and it is the GrapeSox responsiblitity to work that out, which I know from talking to one businessman that they have been trying to do so. All I have said all along is for people to intentionally try to ruin another man's business is wrong, and I think most people will agree with that.

     
  • posted at 7:37 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    "But now who could blame them if they didn't pay up, especially under the circumstances."So it's okay to run up large bills and then leave with out paying them if things get hard? Sounds like you are the same kind of business person Mac is. Get what you can out of it then split before the last collection notice is filed. It sounds more like a legal form of fraud to hire people for a service without any money to pay them.How about this Joedirt, if Mac was able to come back next year where would his investers come from? Who would want to do business with a man who may not pay them? Who would ump the games if they know they may not get paid? How about the players, who would want to play for a guy who's business sense could shut the whole thing down midseason?

     
  • posted at 7:04 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt wrote "But now who could blame them if they didn't pay up, especially under the circumstances."Mac needs to pay his bills no matter what others "say" about him. This is where Mac's character is revealed. So far it doesn't look good for Mac.

     
  • posted at 6:37 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    The debate will rage on, but one thing is certain. The GrapeSox showed faith in Lodi, had a great team here, and I am sad to see them go. I know they were trying to pay their bills, and they continue to do so. But now who could blame them if they didn't pay up, especially under the circumstances.

     
  • posted at 5:41 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    After playing for the Grapesox this summer I have been keeping tabs on what has transpired since our season ended. I can tell you from my experience that no one can defend Stevie Mac. In my personal opinion i would have done the same things Mr. Souza did by deinvesting in the organization as soon as he found out Stevie's background.

     
  • posted at 5:10 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    That's actually spelled "Simpfenderfer".

     
  • posted at 5:08 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Simfederfer is NO saint (far far from it!), and I don't know Souza, but if people were treated honestly and not written bad checks or not paid at all this would not be news.

     
  • posted at 3:23 am on Mon, Sep 22, 2008.

    Posts:

    To claim Mac was set up for ruin is ridiculous. If he really cares about the mess he personally has made in Lodi, he'd not supposedly sell just one car, or liquidate an asset here or there, he'd exhaust every last resource at his disposal, personal and otherwise, to honor his word, that is if he hadn't lost any shred of integrity years ago.Lodi is not a place outsiders can blow into town and peddle their snake oil-like business tactics successfully. Mac is no victim, he's an opportunist who's brainstorm has failed and now runs away like a child from spilled milk, from the mess he created.

     
  • posted at 6:17 pm on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    When ya don't pay people they tend to get pissed off.

     
  • posted at 2:42 pm on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    Lodian .... one final thought about this GrapeSox mess .... I made a phone call, and while you defend Simfederfer and Souza's actions, what do you think about this ???? It is obvious what Souza's motives were -- like Mac said in the article, simple greed. But Simfenderfer called every employee and every person Mac did business with to complain he did not pay his bills and to "expose Mac" as he told the Lodi News awhile back ... isn't this the same guy who lost his job because he lost several thousands of investment dollars with Edward Jones ????? Everything he did hear was hypocritical and mean spirited ....... maybe people should expose him for what he really is ?????

     
  • posted at 2:30 pm on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    Lodian ..... the GrapeSox were good for this community, and everyone knows that including you. But your stake, obviously, is personal, because you are trying to justify someone intentionally going out of their way to ruin other people's lives .... there is no amount of argument, no amount of excuses, no amount of animosity on your end that can justify such conduct. Mac's problem, and excuse, was that his team ran out of money, which it did .... what is the exuse the other two will use to explain intentionally trying to ruin someone's life ?????

     
  • posted at 12:18 pm on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Mac's failed business is not simply the result of other people sharing Mac's past and present business practices. Mac's troubles come from him not paying his bills. In your opinion, would any of this have happened if the guy would have paid his bills?

     
  • posted at 10:54 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    Lodian ..... Mac has total responsiblity, and he has admitted so. I suspect he feels terrible he cannot pay his bills, and that those things were made public by others who are above "God". But what has happened to him, and his business, as a result of two men's intentional assault on him is, in my opinion, absolutely inexcusable. And nothing will change that because the damnage they have done is irreversable.

     
  • posted at 10:26 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: So, what responsibility do you think Mac should have in all of this? Is he completely innocent?

     
  • posted at 10:25 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Nope, I disagree with you. The bottom line is "pay your bills" and don't write bad checks to people that have done work for you. If you can't afford it don't make the investment. Mac looks like he was in over his head and didn't know how to run his businesses well.

     
  • posted at 7:24 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    Lodian ...... whether the GrapeSox lost money or not, owe people or employees or not, the bottom line is that Souza and Simfenderfer intentionally tried to ruin this man's life and his business. So if they were so concerned about people being paid, maybe they wouldn't try to steal the guy's business in the process. They are disgusting, and so is any notion that small business, especially in these times, is tough. And lets not forget that Mac didn't even run his business, someone else did in Lodi. I commend him for not attack that guy and taking responsibility himself.

     
  • posted at 7:09 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    dogbark: You forgot to add, from this story, that "18 employees are still owed amounts totaling as much as $8,642, and vendors are owed as much as $37,000. (The News-Sentinel contacted numerous employees and vendors, and all confirmed that they are still owed money.)"Also, "Those figures don't include $8,000 that umpires are still owed, according to Sarjeet Singh, who assigned umps for GrapeSox home games."This is terrible. People are working to put food on the table for their family/children and to pay for the roof over their heads and they are NOT getting paid for the work they've already done! How would you like to get a bounced check and then get stiffed entirely? NOT okay.

     
  • posted at 3:50 am on Sun, Sep 21, 2008.

    Posts:

    all I know is what I read in the papers. Such as thousands of people losing their houses statewide. Meanwhile a former missionary/pastor pledges $125,000 for a sport team franchise. Macs may or may not be a be a con man, but he raised an interesting points about religion.

     
  • posted at 8:33 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    Oh, and since when is it a bad thing to know the truth about the past business practices of a businessman, especially when the same bad business practices seem to be taking place all over again? PAY YOUR BILLS and this wouldn't happen.

     
  • posted at 8:29 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    Timothy wrote "radone, my daddy always said that if a business man starts telling you what a Christian he is, do not turn your back on him and bend over. Run. Run as fast as you can away from him."I can agree with that, but when a businessman like Mac does not follow through on his word and pay the people that did work for him there isn't much left to trust in the guy. It's also been found out that Mac had these problems in the past and even spent time in the pokey for his crimes. Why does Mac think he doesn't deserve to be sued right now?

     
  • posted at 8:22 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Knowing Mac's past, why would anyone want to do business with him?

     
  • posted at 8:21 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Are you Mac?

     
  • posted at 2:46 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    radoneHere is what we should do !!!!!! Lets convince a local business to let us invest in them, then work behind the scenes to close them down, then start up our own business in the same line of work !!!!!! You're right, there was a con man at work here, but it wasn't with the GrapeSox.

     
  • posted at 1:47 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    radone, my daddy always said that if a business man starts telling you what a Christian he is, do not turn your back on him and bend over. Run. Run as fast as you can away from him. Sorry to see theGrapeSox go.

     
  • posted at 1:26 pm on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    Like my gran-daddy used to say "once a con,always a con"...

     
  • posted at 11:22 am on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    LodianAll be told, manu small businesses in Lodi lose money, and several have gone out of business. You're right, the GrapeSox should have paid their bills, but if they ran out of money, so be it. I know of at least one occasion where Mac sold his car to help pay the team's bills. Maybe you should team up with Souza and Simfenderfer to go after other businesses, and other families ?????

     
  • posted at 9:36 am on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    joedirt: Who killed the team? It seems some told the truth about this man "Mac" and now he has to face the music and pay people what they are owed. If "Mac" was on the up and up and paid these people then none of this would have happened. It looks like his past criminal business practices are again showing up in his current way of doing business. Looks like he hasn't changed his business practices.

     
  • posted at 8:48 am on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    The Grapesox were good for this community, no doubt about it. Souza and Simfenderfer have been on a mission to kill this team since the last day of the season. Mr. Mac, what they did to you was wrong. To intentionally leak information to the newspaper for your own personal gain, ridiculous. To destroy a man's business, ridiculous. Guess there is a reason he's a "formor" pastor.

     
  • posted at 8:38 am on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    for all the CEO`s who used to be high on the financial chain and are now out of a job, I hope Bruno and Vinny do come after them with baseball bats, not to do serious damage, kneecaps will do.

     
  • posted at 4:57 am on Sat, Sep 20, 2008.

    Posts:

    This Mac sounds like a real stand up guy, I hope they all go after him. And for Brenda Stanfield, were/are you a CEO of the mortage banks or AIG? Borrowing on money you don't have great idea... Hopefully Bruno and Vinny don't come after you baseball bats?

     

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