Lawsuits

NY Yankees Pitcher Aroldis Chapman Demands Florida Trial in $3 Million Embezzlement Case

New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman
New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images
New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman — AKA "The Cuban Flame Thrower" — is pushing for a trial in Broward County court to recover millions of dollars he says were stolen from him by an employee at a Coral Springs financial agency that controlled his accounts for the better part of a decade.

Chapman states in a motion for trial filed last month (embedded at the end of this story) that as his claims over the theft wind through court proceedings, a woman whom he's never met is living in a mansion in Valrico, Florida, outside Tampa, and driving a Cadillac Escalade — both of which were purchased with the stolen funds. He claims the money was funneled from his accounts by Benito Zavala, Jr., who had been working for the Coral Springs-based agency Pro Management Resources.

According to Chapman's court filings, Zavala had a romantic relationship with the recipient of the Valrico home, Chandler Costa, and knew her through her job as a dancer at a Florida nightclub. Between 2016 and 2020, the Yankees star alleges, Zavala embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chapman's accounts via Western Union transfers to himself, Costa, and Costa's brother. He allegedly used Chapman's money and American Express card to buy luxury goods and cover personal expenses.

Zavala has not responded to court filings in Chapman's civil case over the alleged theft. The presiding Fort Lauderdale judge is holding him in default for failing to participate in the proceedings after his lawyers withdrew last October.

Chandler Costa has told the court that she did not know the funds in question were allegedly stolen from Chapman. She and her brother filed a cross-claim stating that Zavala led them to believe it was Zavala's money.

Last month, Chapman's counsel Michael Kean professed that Costa and her lawyer are trying to delay the trial until mid-2023 while Costa enjoys the spoils of the embezzlement. Kean argued to the judge that their attempts to push back the trial are "reflective of a transparent effort to impede and delay" the case.

Costa's attorney's "claimed unavailability for trial until June of next year is not happenstance, but reflects a further component of the strategy to delay that just resolution of this action so that his clients can continue to benefit from their receipt and use of funds...stolen from Mr. Chapman," Kean wrote.

Costa's lawyer, James Gibson, has not responded to New Times' request for comment. In correspondence between the attorneys that's included in the court records, Gibson indicates that he's booked for at least nine other trials between December 2022 and May 2023. He emailed Kean's firm stating he would not be able to fit the Chapman case into his trial schedule during that period.

Chapman, who defected from his home country of Cuba to play Major League Baseball in the United States, says he speaks little English. According to the court records, he gave Pro Management Resources free rein to manage his financial affairs for years, and an estimated $3 million was taken from him before the embezzlement was discovered in 2020.

The pitcher has a lis pendens (a type of legal claim against property) filed on Costa's 4,800-square-foot Valrico home. Zavala allegedly wired out more than $830,000 directly from Chapman's funds in order to buy the place, closing the purchase in 2019. It's still held in Costa's name, according to Hillsborough County property records. The home's projected value has risen above $1.1 million since its purchase, according to an automated estimate from Quantarium.

Costa is scheduled for a deposition on July 14 at a Tampa law office, which would mark the first time Chapman's attorneys will be able to question her live under oath.

None of the defendants has been criminally charged in connection with the alleged embezzlement.

In court documents, Pro Management Resources and its owner have described Zavala as a "rogue employee whose alleged actions" were "orchestrated without their consent or knowledge." In a bid to have the claims against it dismissed, the company argued in an earlier motion that Zavala had not previously shown signs of dishonesty or professional misconduct. The company noted that it contacted Chapman when it discovered irregular withdrawals from his funds and that it helped the pitcher discover the embezzlement.

Chapman's lawyers responded that the embezzlement went on for years because of the company's "lack of internal controls, inadequate and deficient recordkeeping" and an "abject failure to properly supervise" Zavala.

Chapman hired Pro Management Resources in 2011 around the time he purchased a 10,500-square-foot home near Davie.

This past October, Broward County Judge Martin Bidwill ruled that Chapman's claims against Pro Management Resources for negligent supervision, among other counts, can move forward to trial. He also rejected the Costa siblings' motion to have the case against them thrown out.
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Izzy Kapnick is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, covering environmental law, white-collar crime, and the healthcare industry. He has worked as a legal news reporter in South Florida since 2008.
Contact: Izzy Kapnick