Archive for November, 2010

How Vince and Linda McMahon’s WWE Beat the 1990s Steroid Charges: A Resource Guide

“Tampering Cloud Over Wrestling Big’s Trial,” by Jack Newfield and Phil Mushnick, New York Post, November 22, 1995 — full text viewable at

“The Fixer: Journalist. Private Eye. Mole. Snitch. It’s All in a Day’s Work for Marty Bergman, the Zelig of New York’s Information Highway,”  by William Bastone, Village Voice, December 19, 1995 — full text viewable at

“Steroid issue not going away,” editorial, Connecticut Post, July 27, 2010,

12/22/09, “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 2 – 1992 Drug and Sex Scandals),”

12/23/09, “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 3 – 1994 Drug Trial),”

12/24/09, “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 4 – The Defense Lawyer, the ‘Fixer,’ and the Playboy Model),”

4/11/10, “Did Linda McMahon Obstruct Justice? Open Questions From the New London Day Investigation,”

4/20/10, “Steroid Doc Prosecutor Accused of Tipping McMahons Says, ‘No Comment,’”

4/21/10, “Linda McMahon Memo Story Leaves Just a Few Open Questions – The Five W’s,”

4/27/10, “Linda McMahon and the Annals of Jurisprudence,”

How the McMahons’ WWE Beat the Rap in the 1990s (Part 2, the Steroid Charges)

(YESTERDAY: Part 1, the Sex Charges,

Before circling back to the conclusion of yesterday’s post, we should reemphasize the single biggest factor in the 1994 acquittal of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute steroids. That was the 1989 tip to Vince and Linda McMahon of the investigation of their Pennsylvania ring doctor, George Zahorian, who would be convicted and go to federal prison in 1991.

Even without the later machinations of defense counsel Laura Brevetti’s “fixer” husband, Martin Bergman – which started with planted smears of prosecutors in the New York media and continued all the way through to witness-tampering – the McMahons would have been nailed if not for the early warning to them that Dr. Zahorian was “hot” and needed to be removed as a WWF-appointed attending physician under Pennsylvania’s newly deregulated state athletic commission procedures.

Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, who has covered the industry and the trials longer and harder than anyone, says, “The key to the acquittal is Linda being tipped off and Zahorian never being hired. Zahorian actually hired and working for the company, and they’d have lost the case.”

Linda McMahon’s December 1989 memo instructing executive Pat Patterson to fire Zahorian surfaced during the recent Senate campaign through the reporting of Ted Mann of the New London Day. But with investigations of what is now World Wrestling Entertainment reviving at both the state and federal levels, more needs to be known about how the government sabotaged the 1990s case. Linda has said that James West, then the U.S. Attorney in central Pennsylvania who was coordinating the Zahorian prosecution, told one of the McMahons’ lawyers, Jack Krill, at “a fundraising event.” West vaguely denied that to Mann and then told me that he didn’t want to talk about the past. Sorry, Mr. West; the past has become prologue.

Incoming senator Richard Blumenthal, coming from the state attorney general’s office, should understand as well as anyone that the integrity of new attempts to reform pro wrestling requires setting the record straight on past efforts. The McMahons habitually and erroneously cite their acquittal as vindication, and one of the things allowing them to continue to run an entertainment death mill is the public absence of an institutional memory. The historical questions “how?” and “why?” still matter.


To resume the narrative started here yesterday, WWF lawyer Jerry McDevitt and his team scored an important victory in their fight for survival when the government decided to abandon the allegations of sexual abuse inside the company and to focus on the steroid charges. But, of course, the McMahons still wanted acquittal at trial and they couldn’t rest on the assurance that their better-late-than-never separation from Zahorian would be enough for a not-guilty verdict.

Fixer deluxe Bergman went so far as to meet with star prosecution witness Emily Feinberg, Vince’s ex-secretary, and bait her with suggestions of six-figure payments for tabloid TV interviews. Incredibly, this story, which was exhaustively documented in 1995 by both the New York Post and the Village Voice, got censored in the 2010 Senate campaign coverage everywhere except on this blog.

A final and decisive factor in the 1994 acquittal was simply the bungling of the prosecutors: on at least one of the counts, they hadn’t even established proper jurisdiction for the trial in the Eastern District of New York. You have to wonder if Bergman’s smears in The New York Observer of Sean O’Shea, chief of the Business/Securities Fraud Unit for the U.S. attorney there, had rattled him. Another possibility: The Justice Department bureaucracy as a whole was conflicted or half-hearted about the McMahon prosecution once the decision was made to confine it to steroid charges, and the result was the undermining of its own case, consciously or otherwise.

Marty Bergman was investigated for witness tampering in the Emily Feinberg matter, but he was never charged. By leaking the story to the Post and the Voice, prosecutors may have been taking their payback against him and the McMahons as far as they wanted it to go: exposing these out-of-bounds defense tactics without further exposing the humiliation of their failed prosecution.

Irv Muchnick

NEXT: Additional related reading from this blog’s archive.

How Vince and Linda McMahon’s WWE Beat the 1990s Sex Charges: A Resource Guide

“Tampering Cloud Over Wrestling Big’s Trial,” by Jack Newfield and Phil Mushnick, New York Post, November 22, 1995 — full text viewable at

“The Fixer: Journalist. Private Eye. Mole. Snitch. It’s All in a Day’s Work for Marty Bergman, the Zelig of New York’s Information Highway,”  by William Bastone, Village Voice, December 19, 1995 — full text viewable at

12/22/09, “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 2 – 1992 Drug and Sex Scandals”),”

4/19/2000, “How Linda McMahon Managed the WWE Pedophile Scandal’s Damage Control,”

5/15/10, “In Bed With the WWF: Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling,”

8/1/10, “Politico Is Latest Media Outlet to Bury the Lead of Its Own Linda McMahon Scandal Story,”

8/3/10, “Politico’s Story on Linda McMahon’s Management of the Wrestling Pedophile Ring Story Closes the Subject … For Now,”

8/3/10, “Pedophile Accuser’s 1993 Complaint Against Linda McMahon’s Wrestling Company,”

10/12/10, “Linda McMahon’s Lawyer Threatens Lawsuit Against Talking Points Memo,”

10/13/10, “EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Kept Vince’s Rape Accuser Employed Longer Than Geraldo Lawsuit Suggests,”

How the McMahons’ WWE Beat the Rap in the 1990s (Part 1, the Sex Charges)

While a much more important story plays out behind the scenes, the Connecticut media remain mesmerized by the nonexistent political future of Linda McMahon, who just blew through $50 million of her World Wrestling Entertainment-generated wealth to lose the U.S. Senate race there by double digits and help drag the state Republican Party down to a shutout defeat in every Congressional and statewide election race.

Commentators with way too much time on their hands are wasting the time of the rest of us speculating about a new run by McMahon in 2012 for Connecticut’s other Senate seat. One variation inexplicably floats her name for state party chair. I haven’t yet seen anyone nominate Linda for secretary-general of the United Nations, based on her sterling Senate campaign, but that’s probably coming.

The much more important story, playing out right under the noses of Nutmeg State journalists, is ongoing investigations of WWE’s business practices. The state of Connecticut is in the midst of auditing what many believe to be the clear misclassification of wrestlers as independent contractors. And when new Senator Richard Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon, takes office in January, he is expected to do something about reenergizing other probes of pro wrestling out of Washington.

As readers of this blog know, there is a long history of government investigations of Vince and Linda McMahon’s company. With the goal of improving general understanding of the challenge of bringing the publicly traded WWE to account for the last generation’s pandemic of industrial deaths, let’s review how its privately owned predecessor, TitanSports/World Wrestling Federation, wriggled off the hook of a two-pronged federal investigation in the 1990s. Back then a grand jury investigated the company both on allegations that it harbored a circle of employees and executives who abused underage boys, and on charges that it brokered illegal steroid transactions between its wrestlers and its already convicted Pennsylvania ringside physician, Dr. George Zahorian.


The WWE legal team was and still is headed by partner Jerry McDevitt of the Pittsburgh law firm now named K&L Gates. McDevitt got a major assist from another current partner at the firm, Laura Brevetti, who defended Vince McMahon at the 1994 federal trial – along with undercover support from Brevetti’s “fixer” husband Martin Bergman, a crony of then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Team McMahon’s basic approach was that the best defense was a good offense. The year 1993 was one of carefully coordinated PR whose purpose was less to tell WWF’s side of the story than to chill the very telling of that story by others.

Tom Cole, the main pedophile accuser, got fired by the company for the second time early that year, perhaps because he refused to coordinate and share his grand jury testimony. (In May, Cole sued the McMahons a second time.)

In March, WWF sued Geraldo Rivera for libel for reporting the claim of ex-referee Rita Chatterton that Vince had raped her.

In September, I was subpoenaed for testimony in another WWF libel suit, against the New York Post and sports columnist Phil Mushnick. I decided to fight the subpoena with California’s journalist shield law, and the McDevittites dropped it. In due course they dropped both the Rivera and Mushnick lawsuits themselves.

Also in 1993, and continuing to the eve of the steroid trial the next year, the company filed spurious claims with the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility against Anthony Valenti, chief investigator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and prosecutor Sean O’Shea. Marty Bergman – posing as an independent freelance writer and not disclosing his relationship with Brevetti – co-authored articles in The New York Observer about these self-generated “investigations” of Valenti and O’Shea. Joe Conason, the executive editor of the Observer, later admitted he had been duped. Bergman’s co-author agreed that he and Conason had been taken for a ride, one designed to throw prosecutor O’Shea off his game.

I’ll get to that last point, among other things, in the second part of this series. For now, it’s important to reflect on how the WWF allegation against Valenti (along with the chilling, if baseless, libel suits against journalists) eliminated the sex charges from both the public conversation and the prosecutorial bill. Valenti was accused of colluding with an NBC investigative producer in leaking secret grand jury information. Ultimately, NBC did not air the story on which it had been working.

The dropping of sex charges was a significant victory for McDevitt and his operatives. The reality is that indictment on those allegations (whether or not they were fair) might well have sunk WWF even if Vince and company were later found not guilty at trial. The steroid charges, by contrast, were far more survivable, even in the unhappy event that there would be a conviction at trial.

Irv Muchnick

NEXT: Additional related reading from this blog’s archive.

TOMORROW: Part 2, How the McMahons beat the steroid charges.

Connecticut Columnist Sketches How Linda McMahon Killed State Republican Party, But Ignores Next Step: Government Investigations of WWE

The always sharp Chris Powell of the Manchester Journal Inquirer talks some sense about the lunacy of a second Linda McMahon run for the Senate. See “Amid  Republican ruins, McMahon plans encore,”

Right on, brother Chris. Unfortunately, Powell – like everyone else at the media throttle in Connecticut – has not gone on to report that there is a government antidote to McMahonism even if there isn’t a political one. The state’s Labor Department is investigating World Wrestling Entertainment for independent contractor abuse, and Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal has at least hinted that he will work to restart investigations of pro wrestling’s occupational health and safety record at the federal level.

More media coverage of all this is on tap for next week. But as far as I know, none is slated in a Connecticut newspaper.

Irv Muchnick

WWE Agent Dean Malenko’s Friendship With Late Eddie Guerrero Involved More Than I Realized

See “WWE road agent Dean Malenko has suffered a hushed up health scare,” Keith Harris, Cageside Seats,


Irv Muchnick

Five Questions Linda McMahon Wasn’t Asked on ‘Face the State’

Linda McMahon’s loss-lap interview Sunday on Face the State, WFSB, Channel 3, is online at

Here are some of the topics that didn’t come up during the nine-minute segment:

1. Linda, the vanity thrill of running for political office and feeling important is understandable. But what, besides your wealth, makes you think another run is at all plausible? You just spent $50 million and lost by 12 points. You were the female candidate, yet garnered only two out of five women’s votes. You lost every single Congressional district in Connecticut – that is to say, your opponent, Richard Blumenthal, got majorities in every section of the state and the five Republican candidates for Congress all lost on an election day in which the party made significant gains across the country. For the first time in 24 years, a Democrat was elected governor in Connecticut, and Republican candidate Tom Foley came much closer to Dan Malloy than you did to Blumenthal – further suggesting that you had a deleterious “reverse coattails” effect. There is talk of replacing the state party chairman, Chris Healy, whose wife Suzan Bibisi was down for a fat paycheck on your campaign staff. What’s wrong with this picture?

2. What is the minimum wage?

3. How many of your wrestlers have died since your  last appearance on Face the State?

4. One consequence of your entry into the political arena is an investigation by the State of Connecticut of World Wrestling Entertainment’s abuse of the independent contractor classification. Some critics think this audit was long overdue. How happy are your husband Vince and the WWE board of directors, including Lowell Weicker, about that?

5. Why in the world are we wasting precious broadcast time on your spin of a failed campaign while the state and the country face pressing policy issues?

Oh wait … That last one is a question Dennis House, the host of Face the State, should have asked himself.

Sorry, Dennis.


Irv Muchnick

Report: Ex-Wrestler Dean Malenko Recently Had Heart Attack

I have been told by a reliable source that in recent months ex-pro wrestler Dean Malenko, who now works for the World Wrestling Entertainment front office, suffered a heart attack.

Malenko (real name Dean Simon, age 50) was a very close friend of the two WWE wrestlers whose deaths most galvanized attention to the company’s occupational health and safety standards: Eddie Guerrero (who died of a heart attack in 2005 at age 38) and Chris Benoit (who committed double murder/suicide in 2007 at age 40).

Malenko was backstage at last night’s WWE Survivor Series pay-per-view in Miami. (He lives in Florida.) No mention was made to anyone of recent health problems.

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman has not responded as yet to my request for comment on this report.


Irv Muchnick

Connecticut Investigation of WWE Involves Unemployment Insurance Taxes

Connecticut Department of Labor spokesman Paul Oates told me today that any audit of World Wrestling Entertainment would be coming out of the department’s Unemployment Insurance Division, not its Wage and Workplace Standards Division.

Oates emailed:

“[A]t this time, I am unable to confirm or deny that there is or was a WWE audit undertaken by the UI Tax Division within this Agency. Section 31-254 of the Connecticut General Statute provides the following: ‘The administrator may require from any employer, whether or not otherwise subject to this chapter, any sworn or unsworn reports with respect to persons employed by him which are necessary for the effective administration of this chapter. Information thus obtained shall not be published or be open to public inspection, other than to public employees in the performance of their public duties, in any manner revealing the employee’s or the employer’s identity…. [Emphasis added]'”

There are two dimensions of independent contractor misclassification. One is  the way it can deprive governments of tax revenues. The other is the way it can deprive workers of benefits. My interpretation of the statement issued by the Department of Labor is that its investigation of WWE originated, or is now oriented, on the tax payment issue.


Irv Muchnick

Coverage in Britain’s Shortlist Magazine

This week’s issue of Shortlist, a widely circulated men’s magazine in Great Britain, has an important article by writer James McMahon (no relation to Vince and Linda, obviously), entitled “Is This the Most Dangerous Entertainment in the World?” The piece covers the Chris Benoit murder-suicide and the pandemic of deaths in the wrestling industry, and quotes both Michael Benoit (Chris’s father) and myself. You can view page images at (go to pp. 54-56).

A photo on page 56 is miscaptioned. That is not Chris Benoit with Nancy. Someone thinks it may be Nancy’s first husband (before Chris and before wrestler Kevin Sullivan). Also, in criticism of the World Wrestling Entertainment wellness policy, I’m quoted as saying, in part, that “the men that make money for them don’t get tested.” What I believe I said is not that the top guys don’t get tested at all, but rather that enforcement of the results is erratic. The prime example is Randy Orton, who did not seem to have any consequences from landing on the Signature Pharmacy customer list, while every other WWE performer on the list got suspended.

All in all, Shortlist has made a valuable contribution to the journalism that will drive the next steps in pro wrestling regulation.

Irv Muchnick

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November 2010