Lawsuits

Star Pitcher Drops South Florida Agency From Embezzlement Lawsuit

Aroldis Chapman pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.
Aroldis Chapman pitching for the Cincinnati Reds. Photo by Keith Allison
The herd is thinning in relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman's lawsuit over a multimillion-dollar alleged fraud at the hands of his former South Florida financial consultant.

Chapman, who holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest baseball pitch, has agreed to drop a Coral Springs financial management agency and its owner from the lawsuit, which claims that a onetime employee of the agency, Benito Zavala Jr., bilked Chapman out of $3 million.

The longtime Yankees ace hired the agency, Pro Management Resources, in 2011 to help manage his money around the time he bought his mansion in Davie. The company handled Chapman's financial affairs for nearly a decade, with unfettered access to his accounts, until the alleged fraud was uncovered in 2020.

Under the deal, Chapman's claims against Pro Management Resources and agency owner Anthony Chiricosta have been dismissed, with each party bearing their own attorney fees and legal costs. "By entry of this Stipulation the parties do not admit any liability for any claims alleged in this lawsuit and, in fact, specifically deny any liability for such claims," the agreement states.

Pro Management Resources and Chiricosta previously argued in court that Zavala was a rogue employee whose scheme was "orchestrated without their consent or knowledge." The company said that it contacted Chapman upon noticing irregular withdrawals and helped him discover the embezzlement.

Before dropping his claims against the agency, Chapman had alleged that it failed to monitor his account balances and supervise Zavala.

Chapman is still pursuing his claims against Zavala and two others who allegedly received the spoils of the fraud.

The lawsuit states that while working for Pro Management Resources, Zavala exploited his access to Chapman's accounts to siphon off the pitcher's money through Western Union transfers. Zavala sent the money to himself, his associate Chandler Costa, and her brother, the lawsuit claims. Zavala also took out unauthorized Chase Bank and Saks Fifth Avenue credit lines in Chapman's name and made purchases on his personal American Express card without his permission, according to the lawsuit.

Some of the money was funneled off to fund the purchase of an $836,000, 4,800-square-foot Valrico-area home for Costa, with whom Zavala was romantically involved, according to court documents submitted by Chapman.

The embezzlement stretched from 2016 to 2020, the pitcher says.

After Chapman's lawyers argued that Costa's camp was engaged in a "transparent effort to impede and delay" the case, Broward County Judge Martin Bidwill scheduled a trial for mid-December 2022. The parties later agreed to hold off on trying the case until March.

On January 4, Chandler Costa's attorney James Gibson received permission from the court to withdraw as her attorney. Gibson had told the court that he could not continue to represent her because she "was refusing to communicate."  

The judge entered a default order against Zavala this past March, finding that he had failed to file responses in the lawsuit.

Costa's address in the latest court documents is still listed as the Valrico home that Chapman claims was purchased with the pilfered funds. In a cross-claim filed last year, Costa argued that she didn't know the money was allegedly stolen from Chapman, and that Zavala led her to believe it was his own money.

Chapman, who has the third-most saves among active relief pitchers in Major League Baseball, is now a free agent after pitching for the Yankees for five years. The Yankees reportedly held him off the American League Division series roster last season in response to his decision to stay in South Florida instead of attending a mandatory workout with the team.

According to MLB.com, Chapman's five-year, $86 million contract penned in 2016 with the Yankees was "the largest deal ever issued" to a relief pitcher at the time. The seven-time MLB Allstar and 2019 American League Reliever of the Year, threw the fastest baseball pitch ever recorded in September 2010 in a game against the San Diego Padres, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
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Izzy Kapnick is the news editor at Miami New Times. He has worked as a legal news reporter in South Florida since 2008, covering environmental law, white-collar crime, and the healthcare industry.
Contact: Izzy Kapnick

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