LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It came as a big development in the NBA 2 Louisville effort. Co-founder J. Bruce Miller resigned Thursday morning from the group that's trying to bring a NBA team to town, the Louisville Basketball Investment and Support Group.
Miller has dreamed of bringing an NBA franchise to Louisville for decades. He resigned in a letter and the details were released to media outlets in a statement early Thursday afternoon.
President Dan Issel told WAVE 3 News he hates to see Miller go, but the group and the effort will go on.
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WAVE 3 News has covered Miller's efforts for years that ranged from meetings with prospective owners to those with former NBA commissioner David Stern. For nearly 40 years it has been the Louisville attorney's dream. That dream got a big push when University of Kentucky and NBA great Dan Issel recently came on board as president, and began talks with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Silver told WAVE 3 News not long ago, "there will come a point when we will look to expand and I have no doubt that Louisville will be one of the markets we would look at."
Thursday, Miller announced he was gone after seeing an internet story a few weeks ago about Louisville Basketball NBA group Chair Joe Steier, the CEO of Signature Health Care, dealing with several lawsuits alleging Medicare fraud for unnecessary claims.
"I didn't believe it at first," Miller said. "I was like, 'is this a fake news thing or what?' I found a Justice Department statement, a two page statement indicating they [Signature Healthcare] had ripped the public off of $244 million."
In June, the Justice Department settled with Signature for more than $30 million in a Tennessee case. Miller said as a co-founder of the group and a member of the Kentucky Bar Association, he felt compelled to keep digging and found another suit in Indiana.
"I sent an e-mail to Steier saying 'I want an affidavit from you stating that that there are no more cases existing.'"
Miller said he didn't get a response, and he can't be associated with Steier because the NBA won't either.
"I wasn't prepared for that," Issel told WAVE 3 News.
Issel went on to say he hates that Miller, his friend, resigned. But he and other investors believe Steier is a good man and that he settled the suits before spending millions to restructure his entire company last month. Issel does not believe it will impact NBA efforts.
"I don't agree that this is a death watch for our effort and we have a lot of momentum," Issel said. "We have meetings with prospective majority owners and we're going to keep going forward to be NBA ready."
Issel said it's a majority owner who would come under great scrutiny once that owner is identified, not Steier.
A spokesperson for Joe Steier released this statement to WAVE 3 News on Thursday afternoon:
"I probably teared up 15 times," Miller said, acknowledging that giving up his NBA dream was a tough decision to make.
Despite the difficulty, Miller said he did what he had to do.
"My parents taught me this is not the thing to do," he said, referring to the Signature Healthcare situation.
All the Louisville investors WAVE 3 News spoke with Thursday are still on board, including businessman Mark Lampkin who said, "My full confidence is in Joe Steier and his abilities."
Miller posted the following response on his Facebook page Friday:
"Friends: There's no way that our City deserves to have this happen to it. We have a legitimate chance to accomplish an NBA franchise. Here's just a 'smidgen' of my efforts:
There is a large hedge fund in Chicago, which has expressed interest in considering the opportunity but the Medicare fraudster's "gal Friday" who for some unknown (and peculiar reason) is on the Board of the LLC) wouldn't provide me with the contact information of our Investor who knows the gentleman - so an opportunity was lost (which is one of several reasons why I was growing frustrated with the incompetence of the people, who were on the Board of this LLC [all friends of the Medicare fraudster]). I've spoken with the American representatives for one of the richest men on the African continent, whose money is clean and is considering the purchase of a Premier League Soccer team in England and would consider this opportunity. I've met with the American representative for 2 oligarchs inthe Ukraine (with Dan Issel and Sherman Henderson present) and those conversations were continuing. Additionally, I've spoken with these oligarchs' wealth management adviser at Barclays' Bank in London and he is aware of their interest and capability of funding the transaction. I've advised the Board of Directors of NBA2Lou about a long-term and acceptable Hollywood celebrity who has basically committed to bring some celebrities along, once a majority partner is selected. On of my Sunday golf partners who is a Nashville banker is prepared to set up meetings with representatives of Country Music stars in Nashville. Another of my Sunday golf partners has indicated a willingness to help with some of the wealthy thoroughbred owners in the country -- whom he knows well. 5 days prior to my resignation I met with the now-retired 13 yearlong CEO and Chairman of one of the largest re-insurance companies in the world (who just happens to be my college fraternity brother and friend at Vanderbilt) that is owned by one of the 10 richest men in America and discussions were under way to create the environment for a meeting with this billionaire and the Governor of Kentucky. A lengthy meeting has been conducted in NYC with a 40-year friend of mine -- Russell Granik (the former Vice Commissioner of the NBA from 1984-2006) -- who is presently the Vice-Chairman of Galiatoto Sports Partners (one of the largest facilitators of financing major league sports teams in the world) and Russ is prepared to help, if asked "when the time comes." I have spoken at length with the former 5-term President of the Senior NBA Players Association (Arnie Feilkow) and he was preparing to meet with me to arrange for the support of his Association. Discussions have been undertaken with former Commissioner David Stern -- and he is aware of the effort. A contact has been made with a weekend golfing partner of the soon to be retired Chairman of the Board of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein -- and that gentleman was willing to set up a meeting with Blankfein in the near future.
I could go on for another page.
I hope Dan Issel can succeed -- but, as I said earlier, I don't think its possible with the albatross that he has around his neck in the form of a local businessman who THINKS he's going to be a minority financial owner of the Louisville NBA team, who had just authorized the payment of a $30-35,000,000 fine to PARTIALLY resolve a federal criminal case involving the illegal filing of False Claims for Medicare and Medicaid patients in Tennessee that are alleged against his company -- which false claims the Justice Department reports to total $244,000,000 -- and who cannot provide me with an Affidavit that there are no other pending or threatened whistleblower cases alleging the same or similar facts. T-R-A-G-I-C, but true.
As an attorney (whose conduct is subject to the scrutiny of the Kentucky Bar Association) there is no way that I can be a co-partner in a business with a person who has just been involved in a transaction that involves the violation of federal civil and criminal laws. So I have to leave -- as long as he stays.
Such is life -- we've lived a long time around here since the Kentucky Colonels were dissolved -- and I guess we can all live a lot longer with such a 'big city' attraction."