Mayor Kevin Johnson and retired NBA Commissioner David Stern can expect to get called as witnesses in the lawsuit filed against two of the Sacramento Kings lead owners by a disgruntled businessman who wanted to invest in the team.
They wouldn’t be the only ones. In a court filing earlier this week, lobbyist and businessman Darius Anderson said his list of “likely witnesses” would also include Anderson’s longtime business partner Ron Burkle, Sacramento Mayor Pro Tem Angelique Ashby and Kings minority investor Mark Friedman, a prominent area developer. It wasn’t clear whether the potential witnesses listed by Anderson would be called to testify in open court, or just subjected to questioning in closed-door, pretrial depositions.
Anderson is suing Kings Chairman Vivek Ranadive and co-owner Mark Mastrov because he wasn’t allowed to invest in the Kings, despite playing a key role in the effort to keep the team from being sold to a group from Seattle two years ago.
Among other things, Anderson teamed up with Burkle, a Southern California billionaire, to assemble a competing bid for the Kings, and he worked with investors to purchase Downtown Plaza, site of the future Kings arena. Anderson also spoke on behalf of Burkle and other investors in pitching the arena project at a City Council meeting in March 2013, when the council gave preliminary approval to a public subsidy for the facility. The council’s vote was crucial in the NBA’s decision to reject the planned sale of the Kings to the Seattle investors.
Later, however, Burkle withdrew from the Sacramento effort because of a conflict of interest, and Ranadive and Mastrov wound up as leaders of the investor group that bought the Kings. In his lawsuit, filed in December in San Mateo Superior Court, Anderson said Ranadive and Mastrov reneged on a promise to let him invest.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages plus an order establishing Anderson’s “rightful share of the ownership of the Kings.”
Kings officials have called the lawsuit “frivolous” and noted that Anderson already earned “a considerable profit” when he and his partners sold Downtown Plaza to the Kings last year. The Kings broke ground on the arena last October.
Anderson and his partners paid $21 million for the mall and sold it to the Kings for about $36 million. Anderson said in court papers he personally invested $250,000 in the purchase, which suggests he took a 1 percent share of the profit when Downtown Plaza was sold to the Kings.
“Mr. Mastrov and Mr. Ranadive now apparently claim that Mr. Anderson was only involved in a separate transaction to acquire the real estate to build an arena,” Anderson said in this week’s court filing. “To the contrary, well after the terms of the real estate transaction had been resolved, Mr. Mastrov told Mr. Anderson not to worry because he and Mr. Ranadive were working on papering the terms of Mr. Anderson’s ownership of the team.”
Anderson said other potential witnesses in the case include Todd Chapman of JMA Ventures, Anderson’s partner in the purchase and sale of Downtown Plaza; Kunal Merchant, a former mayoral aide who became a Kings vice president; and unnamed Sacramento labor leaders.