Sunday, August 31, 2008

From Toro, May 2005


PEI baseball sensation Cass Rhynes was a national cause celebre when the Dodgers draft pick was convicted of hooking up with some underage girls. By the time his case was thrown out a year later, not only had the press forgotten about him, so had baseball

It’s bad news for the three ballplayers who share Room 305A in Connors State College’s residence. Their home date against Eastern Oklahoma was rained out this morning and it’s still pissing down. Everybody else in residence has gone home for Easter, so the cafeteria is closed. The boys’ television is down and the tube was just about their only amusement. They have no wheels, no money. They’re captives in a dingy apartment without even a couch to stretch out on. Understandably Elvin Vargas, Angel Cabrera, and Cass Rhynes are punchy from boredom and homesickness.

Then again, it’s always bad news here in the hamlet of Warner,
Oklahoma, where heritage landmarks are third-generation mobile homes and frame shacks right out of Green Acres. The locals’ conservative values are spelled out in Merle Haggard’s country-and-western classic “Okie from Muskogee” (Warner is in the heart of Muskogee County): They don’t smoke marijuana; they go to church in cowboy boots; and, when it comes to courtship, they believe in holding hands and “pitch and woo.”

Connors State, a little two-year junior college housed in the only brick buildings in town, is a long way from the glamour of professional sport; and Elvin, Angel, and Cass, three members of the CSC Cowboys baseball team, are a long way from home. Elvin, a rightfielder, was born in the Dominican Republic. Angel, a shortstop, is New York-born but as Puerto Rican as Menudo. The two draw stares around town because of their skin colour and accents. Cass, a catcher, gets attention when he opens his mouth. He’s an islander himself - Prince Edward Island, which he describes as “just about the last place people go lookin’ for ballplayers, like findin’ hockey players in Florida.” Rhynes is so soft-spoken and his accent is so thick that he sounds like Popeye muttering under his breath.

The roommates see their time at Connors State as a ticket to pro-baseball contracts. “It’s Elvin’s second year here and he’s gonna get drafted in June,” Angel says. “He can really play. Cass and me, we’re probably gonna have to wait a year. Maybe we get drafted this year. Scouts are at every game. We gotta hope.”

They gotta hope and, when they’re not hoping, they gotta bitch. They bitch about baseball not even being the big sport on campus; bragging rights belong to real cowboys, CSC’s rodeo team. They bitch that their coach, Perry Keith, is the hard-ass to end all hard-asses. All the batting helmets are cracked. The can on the bus is an environmental disaster.

“The good news is that we haven’t had any tornado warnings this
weekend,” Angel says. “The other day we had one during practice. Hail’s coming down, like softballs, then all of a sudden it stopped and the siren starts. Coach says, ‘Tornado.’ He gets the hell outta there, just leaves us.”

“It can’t get worse than this place,” Elvin says.

“No,” Cass says, talking through his chaw, spitting tobacco juice into
a plastic cup. “Don’t kid yourself. It can get worse.”


There’s a bad-news story that we’ve come to expect in the sports pages. It begins with the athlete who seeks gratification like it’s just another game to play. It could be drugs or sex or crime, but it all goes the same way. He’s never quite accountable and never runs out of second chances. And if the going gets tough, the athlete throws money at any legal issue that arises out of his indiscretion.

When Cass Rhynes’s story first broke in the Canadian media in June
2003, it seemed to fit the mould. The eighteen-year-old Rhynes, a draft choice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was charged with “inciting” two young girls to give him oral sex. But the story was too shocking to be kept in the sports pages; for one thing, the girls were twelve and thirteen at the time of the incidents. That alone was enough to make it national news, but it got even juicier - the whole thing started on the Internet. Instant messaging led to hookups. And a final twist: This story came out of P.E.I., the closest thing Canada has to a theme park for family values. People presume the mores there haven’t changed since the days of Anne of Green Gables and horse-drawn carriages.

Newspapers across Canada went to work turning Rhynes into Canada’s Kobe Bryant.

In a feature evocatively entitled “Good Girls Do,” The Globe and Mail suggested that Rhynes’s case was symptomatic of ever more precocious teenagers in an ever more sex-saturated culture. The article cited alarming figures: “One percent of the Grade 7 girls . . . were willing to divulge that they had engaged in oral sex.” By Grade 9, though, “it was one-third of all students.” According to anecdotes provided by incredibly worldly tweens, oral sex was the key to popularity in junior-high society. Subsequent Globe stories included accounts of rainbow parties - teenage girls leaving all shades of lipstick on the boys’ penises - and had readers reflexively dialing up their daughters on their cellphones.

First prize for vitriol went to an editorial in Montreal’s Gazette: “Cass Rhynes neatly personifies all the worst vices elite athletes can fall prey to so easily: arrogance, an attitude of entitlement, and a conviction [that] talent puts them above the law and the judgment of mere mortals who lack their preternatural skill at such socially useful activities as hitting, catching, and throwing a hardball. . . . Rhynes’s main concern at the moment seems to be [prevailing in court] so he can play baseball in the United States. In a way we hope he’s successful. A multi-million-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers might seem too rich a reward for a child molester; on the other hand, it gets him out of this country, which would be a good thing. It also puts him in a game where sooner or later, he’ll face a fastball pitcher with a twelve-year-old daughter.”

When you’ve been portrayed in the media as a sexual predator and your mother has burned up her life savings to prevent her only child from going to jail, a dreary holiday weekend at Connors State doesn’t look so bad after all. Bring on the tornadoes.


It’s Easter Sunday night. To break up the boredom, Elvin, Angel, and Cass head to The Barn, the rickety aluminum shed that serves as the team’s bare-bones indoor practice facility. Watching them work out, you’re reminded that baseball is a game for stoics. Rhynes has his game face on, but, then again, most of the time he seems to have an expression that’s hard but otherwise blank. His emotions seem as flat as plains. Excitement and sadness are almost indistinguishable.

“Yesterday was the anniversary,” Rhynes says, waiting his turn while Elvin takes his cuts, hitting into a net. “Easter weekend. I was nine, out playin’ street hockey with all my friends. I was havin’ a great time. I just saw all these cars comin’ over to my house. I was wondering what was happenin’. My mother called me in, all serious, and told me that my father had died. She told me that he’d gone to a better place. I couldn’t comprehend that. I remember him takin’ me to my hockey games, my baseball games. And then he was gone. One night he was feelin’ sorta tired and the next night he’s gone.”

Rhynes steps inside the nets. Elvin tosses balls to him and he works on his swing. “After my father died, my great-grandmother died . . . .” Swing. “ . . . and my mother met a fellah, Bruce Affleck, a great guy, and they got engaged . . . .” Swing. “ . . . we got along great. I was looking forward to havin’ a father again – ‘least a stepfather. But one day he had a heart attack . . . .” Swing. “ . . . and he died. My mother got sick. She had cancer . . . .” Swing. “ . . . but she got through it. She’s so strong. Nothing knocks her down. She kept right on with her security business that she started . . . .” Swing. “Still, there were times when I’d come home . . . .” Swing. “. . . And I’d say, ‘Hello,’ just hopin’ that there was gonna be someone to answer. Through all those tough times I tried not to cry, just so that I wouldn’t upset my mother. I just kept it all inside.” Swing.

Rhynes steps out of the nets. Ninety-nine percent of the time he looks like the tough ballplayer, all six-foot-two and 220 pounds of old-school attitude. But just for a moment he lets the cool, hard pose drop. “I’m not lookin’ for anyone to feel sorry for me,” he says. His voice is quaking. “Those things were worse than the court case. All those deaths aren’t an excuse for anything. I made a mistake. I did something immoral, but I didn’t do anything criminal. I believed that all along.”

Out in the parking lot, a bunch of the Cowboys are gathered around the back of a pickup truck. One kid has a prize from a trip out to the back forty of his family’s property: a beaver. He skins it in about a minute. He tells Cass and Angel dinner will be served shortly. Rhynes winces when he looks at the pelt and says, “I know how he feels.”


When Cass Rhynes arrived back in Cornwall, just outside of Charlottetown, in May 2003 from a baseball showcase in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he found a note that his mother had left for him. “Call the RCMP.” He worried that a friend had landed in trouble. Or that he had rolled through a stop sign or speeded. And even when he phoned the RCMP, the officer he spoke to didn’t seem in any rush to have him come in. Rhynes was tired so he decided to crash for the night and show up the next day.

As soon as the questioning started, his heart sank. An officer asked him about the girl who’d called him to pick her up at the gas station. And about the other girl who came by his friends’ hangout, an abandoned club, when his buddies were there. Rhynes said that the girls had told him they were legal, fourteen and fifteen. Well, those girls weren’t legal, the officer told Rhynes. They were twelve and thirteen. One of their mothers had overheard her daughter talking about how she had serviced the boys and called the RCMP.

As a catcher, Rhynes is used to reading situations and calling the shots. “I had done some stupid things,” Rhynes says. “Right then I did one smart thing. I asked to speak to a lawyer.”

That meant calling home and telling his mother, Velvet, the whole story.
Cass caught hell from Velvet, of course; she only eased up on him, she says, because he “was bawling his eyes out.” He thought that would be the worst of it. After talking to his lawyer, John Mitchell, he was confident that the charges wouldn’t amount to much - probably a day in court, probably a discharge.

The whole situation didn’t really sink in for Rhynes until he and a friend drove down to Boston for another showcase a few days later. He was pumped about getting a chance to play on the sacred lawn of Fenway Park. But at a U.S. border crossing in New Brunswick, Rhynes and his friend were pulled over. “Did you ever have trouble with the law?” a U.S. customs officer asked him, after calling his name up on a database. All at once it hit home. They already knew about his fix.

The customs officials let Rhynes and his friend go on to Boston and Rhynes played like he wasn’t rattled at all. He played like there was nothing going on behind that game face. He hit the shit out of the ball, parking one pitch over the Green Monster.

But the episode at the border was weighing heavily on his mind. He had already accepted an athletic scholarship to St. Petersburg College, a small school on Florida’s Gulf coast. His ride would go up in smoke if the charges stuck. And so would his dream of playing pro ball.


Even though he was committed to going to St. Petersburg, Rhynes was still eligible for major-league baseball’s June draft in 2003. Twelve big-league teams had talked to him. The charges against him hadn’t yet been reported, but they were likely common knowledge among scouts. Most teams were scared off him. Their intelligence network is right up there with the U.S. Customs Agency’s. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles Dodgers rolled the dice, selecting him in the forty-fifth round that June. More than 1,300 players were scooped up before Rhynes.

The day after the draft, Rhynes was featured in two stories in the
Charlottetown Guardian. The front of the sports section was dedicated to his dream of becoming the first Prince Edward Islander since 1884 to make the major leagues. The story on page one was about the month-old charges.

“[The Guardian] had to have known that I’d been charged before they were asking me about getting drafted,” Rhynes says.

The dubious celebrity of a selection in the nether-rounds of the draft offered the media a chance to torque the story. The Guardian described
Rhynes as “an aspiring pro baseball player”; CanWest News Service tabbed him as a “major-league prospect”; and The Gazette made it sound as though a million-dollar contract was in the mail.

It was all ridiculously overstated. “Only three percent of forty-fifth-rounders ever make the major leagues,” says Blake Corosky, an agent who represents Pete Orr of the Atlanta Braves and advises Rhynes. “And out of that three percent, maybe half the guys stick around long enough to make any money.”

“All this stuff made me the most famous forty-fifth-round draft pick ever,” Rhynes says.


Rhynes thought things were going his way when his trial began in August 2003. His lawyers gave him the impression that they were playing with a four-run lead. He had never been in trouble with the law. The worst thing on his record was a school suspension for chewing tobacco.

Rhynes wasn’t disputing that he had been in contact with girls who weren’t legal, but that wasn’t what he was charged with. Just engaging in a sexual act with them could have brought about a charge of sexual interference. Instead he was charged with “inciting” sexual touching. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, either charge carries the same maximum penalty, ten years. “If opening a car door is inciting, then I incite people all the time,” he says. “I didn’t do anything . . . going out of my way. I didn’t know [that the girls weren’t fourteen, the age of consent], and I couldn’t tell. I had no way of knowing.”

He told the court that he had resisted the girls’ advances, and that they persisted. The thirteen-year-old girl backed up Rhynes’s testimony. The younger girl testified that Rhynes hadn’t put up any fight but didn’t suggest that he had come on to her. Their victim-impact statements made it sound as though they weren’t victims in any conventional sense.

The thirteen-year-old noted, “We willingly did this stuff. I feel I was never forced to do anything and it makes me really mad that Cass is getting in trouble . . . . I feel that is old enough to make that decision. I knew what I did . . . . [Rhynes] didn’t know I was thirteen. He thought I was fifteen. Cass is a nice guy and a good friend. [If] he forced me to do anything, then I’d want him to be in the situation he’s in right now. But he didn’t. . . .”

The twelve-year-old’s account defined how social acceptance hinged on sexual initiation: “I did it four or five months after my friend. I kind of wanted to but didn’t at the same time. I felt at the time that everyone was doing it, so I did it because I didn’t want to be left behind. I felt it was my time.”

The girls arranged the hookups on MSN Messenger. In one girl’s virtual address book, Rhynes’s was just one name among 150. And no evidence indicated that Rhynes was the organizer. He maintained that he was just one of three young men along for the ride with another guy, a seventeen-year-old, assuming the role of “ringleader.”

According to the girls’ testimony, this boy played matchmaker, organizing the “hookups” and pushing them for blow jobs. The ringleader fell under the jurisdiction of the Young Offenders Act and, after pleading guilty, was fined and placed on probation for two years. The two others, also Young Offenders, were handed alternative punishment and did no time in a juvenile facility. Rhynes, alone among them, was tried as an adult.

Rhynes says the newspapers mis-read him - his game face - when they portrayed him as unmoved by the proceedings. From The Globe: “Mr Rhynes left the courtroom laughing with his lawyer.” Or, “On occasion [he] seemed to stifle a smirk.”

“My mother told me that I had to show respect for the court,” Rhynes says. “But I was damned no matter what I did. If I showed any emotion, they’d say it wasn’t real. If I tried to keep things in, they’d say I didn’t care.”

Judge Nancy Orr didn’t think Rhynes was remorseful at all. Worse for Rhynes, she didn’t think he did enough to distance himself from the girls. She found him guilty. Judge Orr accepted the account of the younger girl, who testified that she didn’t lie about her age to the boys, but seemed to discount the testimony of the older girl, who admitted that she lied about her age. Judge Orr said Rhynes should have done more to check on the ages of the girls and that he should have also realized one girl wasn’t of age simply because she wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather.

“Anything that could have hurt my case, she chose to believe,” Rhynes says. “She threw out anything that backed me up. There’s nothing my lawyer could have done to win that trial.”

Judge Orr ordered that Rhynes undergo a psychiatric assessment before sentencing. The assessment included penile plethysmograph testing, which measures a man’s involuntary responses to pornographic images. Rhynes’s results indicated that “he is interested in consenting females of his own age and does not take an interest in females who are younger or in sexual activity that is not consenting.” He had limited sexual experiences and had not yet engaged in intercourse. He was rated a low risk to reoffend.

Three days before Christmas 2003, Judge Orr sentenced Rhynes to fifteen days on one count and thirty days on the second, with the sentences to be served consecutively. She also gave Rhynes a year of probation and 100 hours of community service. She dismissed the psychiatric assessment, stating that Rhynes “would pose a risk to the community, if he were to serve his sentence there.”

Rhynes’s lawyer, John Mitchell, got him out of jail within a few hours, pending appeal. In March of last year, P.E.I. Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Matheson heard Mitchell’s appeal and six weeks later overturned the convictions against Rhynes. Justice Matheson ruled that “the trial judge erred in finding that a failure to resist constitutes incitement”; that making plans to “meet up” is not the same thing as arranging to “hook up.” Justice Matheson also noted that Rhynes might have been successfully convicted if the RCMP had charged him with sexual interference.

The Crown took another swing at it, taking the case to the P.E.I. Supreme Court Appeals Division. Crown Attorney John McMillan denied that his office had been pressured by women’s groups to appeal to the province’s highest court. Instead, he claimed moral high ground, suggesting legal precedent was at stake; according to McMillan, no court had properly defined the word “incite” as it applies in the Criminal Code of Canada to sexual contact with children.

The Crown’s case was finally punched out last August. The P.E.I. Supreme Court’s Appeal Division upheld Justice Matheson’s decision. Justice John McQuaid supported the ruling that inciting would have required “some positive act on the part of [Rhynes] to cause the complainant to engage in sexual touching.” He reiterated Justice Matheson’s conclusion, which was, “that there was no evidence before the trial judge which could reasonably have supported the trial judge’s verdict that [Rhynes’s] actions incited the complainants to touch him for a sexual purpose.”

And with that, Rhynes swept a doubleheader in appeal. All that was left to Rhynes was to try to restart a baseball career that had stalled. “The
Dodgers hadn’t talked to me since they drafted me,” he says. “I was a ballplayer who hadn’t hit off a live pitcher in two years.”


At first the only pitches he saw came from the media, including overtures for a movie-of-the-week deal. Even though his mother rang up a $70,000 bill in covering his legal fees, Rhynes shook them off. “When I’m convicted, I’m on page one; but the appeals, you can’t even find them in small print,” he says. “They done me dirty. I’m never talking about this thing again.”

Though Rhynes says he received support from the good people of Prince Edward Island, he was disappointed by a others he felt had bailed out on him. Rhynes had been a member of the Canadian junior baseball team, but his former coach Greg Hamilton speaks of him in the past tense: “He’s not even on the radar when it comes to the national team program.”

St. Petersburg ultimately pulled its scholarship offer. The school president received letters from concerned individuals in P.E.I. that detailed Rhynes’s court case and contained newspaper clippings. Rhynes says the college balked because of the letter-writing campaign. Athletic director Lars Hafner confirms that the letters did reach the president’s office but won’t identify the senders. Hafner denies that the letters had anything to do with rescinding his scholarship. “We couldn’t hold his scholarship indefinitely,” Hafner says.

Rhynes thought about filing suit against St. Petersburg for breach of promise. Ultimately, though, he cut his losses and sent out letters to twenty U.S. junior colleges in September. He used his selection by the Dodgers as his calling card. One of the schools was Connors State, which has been the destination of twenty Canadian ballplayers over the years, including George Kottaras, a catcher from Toronto who signed for a US$300,000 bonus with the San Diego Padres. When Rhynes contacted Connors State, the Cowboys had just lost a catcher for the season because of injury.

Rhynes told coach Perry Keith he’d commit to two full seasons, to get his game back, to raise his stock again. “It was an easy call when Perry offered me a ride last fall,” Rhynes says. “Warner isn’t St. Petersburg for weather or social life, but I didn’t sacrifice anything when it comes to baseball. There’s a couple of guys in the majors right now who went here. At Connors there’s just school and baseball. That’s all I ever wanted.”


El Reno, Oklahoma, is an improvement on Warner. Sure, the highrises in town are grain elevators and on the outskirts you’ll find oil derricks. But, there’s an actual town there - stores, restaurants, even a weekly paper. And El Reno’s Redlands College looks like a big improvement on Connors State. The school is housed in new buildings set in a high-priced subdivision. And the Redlands Cougars have the best in uniforms and equipment. They look like they stepped out of a catalogue.

Yet Redlands is leagues below Connors State when it comes to baseball. Redlands plays in a lower junior-college league. Connors has a dozen players who’ll land scholarship offers to major four-year universities, while Redlands has only one who’ll get a sniff. By late spring, Connors will be the top-ranked junior-college team in the United States. CSC will be a favourite to make the Junior College World Series in Colorado - the big bus ride at the end of the season.

Perry Keith says his Cowboys excel not despite hardship, but because of it. “We play a lot and practice a lot,” he says. “I push everyone hard, and the best players I push the hardest.” On the Monday after the Easter weekend the Cowboys head to Redlands for a doubleheader. A two-hour bus ride and two seven-inning exhibition games - those are Keith’s wake-up calls to players who relaxed too much during the break.

And so, even though the Cowboys run out to a 9-0 lead in game one, Keith is barking: “attaboy” for the lesser talents; browbeating for Elvin, Angel, and Cass. Things get a little sloppy at the end of game one: Redlands scores four runs to make the score look almost respectable. In game two, Cass is behind the plate and he’s like a big puppy, desperate to please his coach. Every ball is run out. Every blocked pitch in the dirt is blocked like the season’s riding on it. And when he screws up a foul pop-up in a gale-force wind - the ball lands with a thud behind him - Rhynes hangs his head.

That “E2” in the scorebook will throb when he looks at it. At the end of the game, a 5-2 win, the Cowboys gather around Keith, drop to one knee, and join in prayer. A scout with the Kansas City Royals takes notes in the stands. He says more scouts will show later in the season, when the competition heats up. He likes what he sees in Elvin (“best arm I’ve seen in this league in years”) and Angel (“good speed down to first base”). Cass doesn’t pique his interest. “Coach told me he likes him, though he’s a bit rough behind the plate,” the scout says.

Rhynes emphasizes the positive in his own scouting report. “Three for seven,” he says. “I lost one foul ball. Just rusty, but that will come. Most
of all we won. It’s just great being out here.”

Rhynes’s faint grin hints that this is a good-news day. Out there against
Redlands, he didn’t look like a future big-league millionaire. Drenched in sweat, sunburnt and windburnt, he looked an awful lot like a forty-fifth-round draft choice, just another young man playing through the long odds of making the majors. Given where he was a year ago, though, that passes for good news.
From Saturday Night Magazine

Canada is racist, says Bob White, a promoter of black athletes. But does he offer his kids a clean shot or a fast break to nowhere? By Gare Joyce

Woofin’, the ritual discourse on city basketball courts, consists of macho bluster, territorialism, contempt for an opponent, embellishment of fact, and padding one’s own legend. Before a game or a one-on-one showdown between neighbourhood heroes, each side bad-mouths, rags on, and runs down the opposition. Though a layman who can’t make a lay-up might mistake this for adolescent name-calling, sports psychologists would attest that the practice of woofin’ builds the woofer’s confidence and feeds doubt in the woofee. ‘Course Freud couldn’t hoop at all—when he looked at inkblots he probably saw guys jammin’ right in his beard.

On the asphalt playground beside the Negro Community Center in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood, summer pick-up games usually start at 4 p.m. and the woofin’ at half past three. On this May afternoon, one seventeen-year-old is toasting an opponent with the blank verse of the blacktop. “You ain’t nothin’,” he says. “I’m gonna kick your ass, fatty.” He then offers in ribald repartee that this will be, roughly, the motherwhatever of all wars. Though the young man is six-foot-six and possesses a body builder’s torso, his cheeky forecasts are improbably brave. “Fatty” is not a corpulent schoolboy, but rather Basil Rose, a 230-pound fullback late of Southern University in Louisiana and the Montreal Machine, the city’s franchise in the World League of American Football. Rose grows angrier with every insult.

After the hyping and psyching the real contest begins, more fierce than polished. On every possession the defender pushes and beats up on the ball handler who responds with elbows swinging face-high. At the other end of the court a dozen young men, ranging in age from eight to eighteen and in height from four-foot-eight to six-foot-eight, have put an end to their shoot-around and for a few minutes will scope Rose and his tormentor. There will be a full-court game in an hour or so and it will last into the night. But this one-on-one challenge is entertainment. When the youngster jams the ball through the hoop and full force of Rose’s face, the audience bursts into laughter until silenced by the fullback’s glare.

On the sidelines stands Bob White. In his Brooklyn Dodgers hat and high-top sneakers the fifty-six-year-old White affects the look of a middle-aged Spike Lee. During the woofin’ he refrains from taking sides. He does not consider himself an arbiter but rather an advocate of the players on the court. “There’s more talent here than on any playground in Canada,” White says out of the side of his mouth as if confiding a hot tip. “There’s no telling what these kids could do with the right facilities, but the city of Montreal, the province of Quebec, the federal government, and all the Canadian sports associations would like to see us go away.”

According to Bob White, the conspiracy is motivated by racism. Bob White is black. The young men on the basketball court in Little Burgundy are black. Bob White submits that his playground heroes can’t get a break because of the colour of their skin. “Canada’s still a white man’s nation,” he says while the game rages in front of him. “It’s a racist fascist country. We’re still the underclass. My kids get better treatment in the States than they do here.”

More young black kids in high-tops file out of the row houses in Little Burgundy and congregate at courtside. Bob White calls them “his kids.” White is the founder and director of the Westend Sports Association. According to its mandate, the WSA encourages “grass roots athletic training programs through local clubs and provinces [sic].” In 1978 White obtained a federal charter to operate the WSA as a charity. Yet in fourteen years the WSA has not received any government grants. The outfit sometimes sponsors a team and occasionally offers coaching clinics, but it has no offices or athletic facilities.

White’s antogonists in the media have described the WSA as “nothing more than a letterhead.” Others suggest that White exaggerates his contribution to the local sports scene. One basketball official in Montreal says: “If you took ten kids White says he helped, one or maybe two actually benefited from his assistance.” One of his claims is beyond dispute: that he has been a mentor to Tommy Kane, a wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League. “Without Bobby I’d have never got out of Little Burgundy,” says Kane, “and there’s a good chance I could have ended up in jail like a lot of my friends.”

Though Kane calls White his “salvation,” coaches, the media and even the police have had problems with Bob White, self-proclaimed “activist and iconoclast.” In turn, all of them have had problems with kane and other athletes linked to the WSA. The difficulty is separating the athletes from their mentor and the facts from the woofin’.


Bob White was born and raised in Little Burgundy. His father was employed by the railroad and later owned and operated a grocery store. “It was the wrong side of the tracks,” White says. “A rough piece of turf. A black neighbourhood where a lot of rogues and rakes would do anything to get by.” White’s career in sport was, by his own admission, unusual for a black man at the time. “I was a swimmer and a water-polo player,” he says. “I competed in tournaments and in buildings that only a few years before banned Jews and blacks.” White says he left Montreal in the early 1950s to become “the acquatics director at the Harlem YMCA, another joint that had been restricted.” Among his treasured memorabilia is a photograph from a 1954 awards ceremony at the Harlem Y; in it, Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major-league baseball in the modern era, is presenting White with an award. White says Robinson was “a bitter man, but he showed me you have to keep on keeping on, to hang tough, and not to take any bullshit.”

White returned to Montreal in the early 1970s and abandoned swimming pools for darkrooms. Today he bills himself as a freelance photographer. Though his client list is sketchy, he does mention that he is a contributor to the Amsterdam News, a black newspaper in New York, and that he receives support from “business investments.”

White explains that most of his time is dedicated to his work with the WSA. “My job is to work on behalf of the kids of Little Burgundy,” he says. His wide-ranging portfolio sometimes entails lobbying for athletic facilities or for hoops in a neighbourhood park; White’s style of lobbying is pure confrontation—heckling at city-council meetings broadcast on a local cable channel. Other times his job might require rounding up turkeys to give to needy families in the neighbourhood at Christmas. But White has gained notoriety as a playground head-hunter, one who finds talented athletes and hooks them up with U.S. college teams. As noted in Raw Recruits, the definitive text on U.S. collegiate basketball, the intermediary between young athletes and schools goes by a few names: “bag man, flesh peddler, broker, third party, street agent, confidant, guardian, family friend, recruiting aide, pimp, or ‘uncle.’” The most unscrupulous seek not only to bask in the warm glow of their proteges’ celebrity but also to get “juiced,” that is, to receive a kickback for safe delivery of the “product.”

For what he describes as “humanitarian reasons and compassion,” White has been an advisor to a generation of young athletes from Little Burgundy. On their behalf and, he maintains, on a strictly pro bono basis, he has solicited athletic scholarships to U.S. colleges. The athlete who made White’s reputation as a street agent and benefited most from ties to the WSA is Tommy Kane.

At twelve Kane was already a phenomenon in Montreal, dominating leagues in several sports. He desperately wanted to attend a basketball camp but it was beyond the means of his mother, Shirley, who was separated from his father. Shirley Kane, who worked two jobs to provide for Tommy and his two sisters, could not justify the expense. “I don’t know how Bob White heard about it,” Tommy Kane says, “but he found me and told me that he could handle the cost of the camp so long as I stayed in school and didn’t get into trouble. From then on Bob White would show up at my school and look in the classroom window to see if I was there or he’d find me in the streets to see if I was messing up. He made me feel guilty if I broke my promise. From then on, he was, y’know, my uncle, Uncle Bobby.”

White’s interest in Tommy was more paternal than avuncular. Like many fathers of athletes, White has the capacity to live vicariously through the accomplishments of a child. “This kid could do almost anything he had a mind to,” White says proudly and excitedly. “In midget hockey he was on Mario Lemieux’s team and he beat out Lemieux for the MVP award. In basketball he played on a Dawson College team that won a national championship. We sent him down to the Five-Star Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania [a showcase event for the best American high school players] and Tommy won the MVP award.”

Under White’s sage counsel, Kane attended Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, to raise his marks so he could attend a U.S. college. While at Fanshawe he played for the London Beefeaters, a junior football team. Though Kane’s experience in football was limited, Syracuse offered him a scholarship on the bsis of a videotape packaged and pitched by Bob White. Kane went on to garner All-American honours for his play with SU’s Orangemen. Subsequently he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and is now a rising star in the NFL. “Everything Bob White says I will follow,” Kane says. “He put me on the right track and kept me out of trouble. He’s what you’d call an advisor or consultant or spokesman but to me he’ll always be my uncle.”

After landing Kane’s deal with Syracuse in 1983, White had no shortage of Little Burgundy athletes applying for status as nephews. Such an adoption was, they believed, a means of acquiring athletic scholarships to U.S. colleges and, down the road, pro stardom. Most of the were basketball players. According to White, he helped the two most prominent talents, Wayne Yearwood and Charles Rochelin,, land scholarships at the University of West Virginia and the University of California-Los Angeles respectively, two heavyweight programs in U.S. college basketball. “Bobby got in touch with West Virginia for me,” Yearwood says. “Years ago U.S. colleges thought no athletes come out of Montreal. With Tommy, myself and others, Bobby put Montreal put Montreal on the recruiting map.”

At a time when he was receiving praise for his good work on behalf of athletes, White chose to do battle with the Canadian sports establishment. He advised the best young basketball players in Montreal from the national and Olympic basketball program. Kane and Yearwood declined invitations to try out for the junior national team because of “prior commitments.” Other WSA players skipped national-team camps claiming they were on vacation. “Jack Donahue [the coach of the national team from 1972 to 1988] is a racist,” White says. “His teams had the same bunch of white guys playing year after year. Black kids never got a fair shot so I told my kids not to bother trying out.”

White substantiated his charges by pointing to an incident early in the coach’s career. In 1964 Donahue was coaching a high school team in New York, the Power Memorial team led by seven-foot centre Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). According to several published accounts dating back to the late sixties, at halftime of an important game, Donahue browbeat Alcindor, telling him he was “playing like a nigger.” “That’s the type of mentality we’re dealing with,” White says. “One of the great ballplayers of all time was just ‘a nigger’ to Donahue.” Donahue has long maintained that race had no bearing on the selection of the national team, yet he does not deny that he called Alcindor “a nigger.” Rather, he explains he “was only trying to motivate [Alcindor].” Bob White discounts Donahue’s story but it appears Abdul-Jabbar now accepts his ex-coach’s explanation or, at least, no longer harbours a grudge. This year Abdul-Jabbar appeared on “Donahue’s Legends,” Donahue’s series of profiles on The Sports Network.

Donahue need not invite White for a guest spot on his show. The street agent’s hostility has endured. “[Canadian] reporters let Donahue off the hook because he gives them good quotes,” White says. “”The media and the sports administration sanctioned his actions by their inaction. They’re as racist as Donahue. He got his job with the national team because no one checked up on his real record with Power Memorial.” Indeed today it’s hard to imagine how anyone who made a well-publicized, racially insensitive remark could have been appointed to a high-paying, high-profile job on the government payroll.


The WSA’s boycott of the national and Olympic teams was not the first sports protest motivated by the fight against racial injustice. White says he was inspired by American Harry Edwards and his Olympic Protest for Human Rights. Though White cuts a small figure on the Montreal sports scene, the six-foot-eight, 250-pound Edwards cast a giant shadow over the 1968 Summer Olympics. Edwards argued that racism in sports was symptomatic of injustice throughout society. Under his direction the best black players from U.S. colleges, Abdul-Jabbar among them, didn’t try out for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Black athletes on the track-and-field team expressed their sympathy for Edwrads’s cause by wearing black berets on the winner’s podium and by giving the Black Power salute during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Though Edwards’s movement caused an international sensation, Bob White’s boycott was ignored by the national press. Still, the WSA stirred up emotions on courts across Canada. In 1984 the starting line-up for Donahue’s Olympic team featured four white players and one black, hardly refuting White’s accusations. But the WSA’s boycott was in fact only a symbolic gesture. It was unlikely that many of White’s players would have made the Olympic roster and even more doubtful that any of them would have improved Canada’s fourth-place finish. But White’s image was enhanced by the boycott. The erstwhile street agent had assumed the role of crusader, a champion for the disenfranchised minority. All this drew more athletes into the fold.

In 1988, Donahue’s last year before retirement, White told his players that they might as well give the national team a shot. Two of his players, Wayne Yearwood and Dwight Walton, made it. “Some of the people that had been picked for the team in other years were probably questionable,” Yearwood says guardedly. “But playing on the team was important for me. The Olympics helped me get a contract to play pro ball in Europe.”

Today White says that he didn’t consider another boycott for 1992, but he bristles at any suggestion that race doesn’t figure into the Olympic team’s selection. “I got a seven-foot-two kid from Haiti, Pascal Fleury, who didn’t even get an invitation to tryouts for the Canadian team,” White says. “I got Fleury a scholarship to Georgetown University [one of the top-ranked programs in U.S. collegiate basketball]. He works out against Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo, two of the best centres in America. My players run into obstacles in Canada, They build their futures in the U.S.”


In February 1989, the Black Business and Professional Association announced that it intended to bestow an award on White in recognition of his work with the youth of Little Burgundy. At the last minute, however, the Toronto-based BBPA changed its plans. The association had not been aware that White was facing charges of possessing stolen credit cards and possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. White had been charged with these offences after police raided a Chinese restaurant in Montreal’s west end in 1986. Police officers testified that they found a package containing forty-two grams of cocaine and eight stolen credit cards on the floor under the table at which White and two associates were sitting. One officer said White was carrying $3,800 in cash. White was acquitted on the charge of hyolding stolen credit cards and, in turn, the charge of cocaine possession was withdrawn.

Still, those who would praise White’s work with the WSA cannot ignore lingering questions about his caharacter. Pat Hickey, the former sports editor of The Gazette, espouses the prevailing opinion among the Montreal media. “Bob White is an ex-con, a sleazeball,” Hickey says. “He makes claims that have no foundation in fact.” White counters: “As a black activist in a racist society I’m a magnet for insinuation and harassment.”

Robert Henry Richard White does, in fact, own a criminal record. In Montreal in 1966 he was convicted of passing counterfeit money and was sentenced to four years. In 1968 he was convicted on five counts of transporting persons for the purpose of prostitution. White says his detractors ignore his work with the youth of Little Burgundy and, as he puts it, “dwell on negativity.”

White’s criminal past does attract “negativity,” but so do his broad claims about his community work. Among the long list of athletes he professes to have helped are those who disavow his claims of assistance. “Tommy Kane isn’t the only kid in the NFL I’ve helped,” White says. “Brian Forde [a linebacker with the New Orleans Saints] and Alonzo Highsmith [a running back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] are two kids from Montreal I helped get started when I got them college scholarships.” Both Forde and Highsmith have denied any association with White and the WSA. “White wouldn’t recognize half the kids he claims to have helped if they tripped over him,” says Earl De La Peralle of Sun Youth, a Montreal group involved in social services and sports. “White brags that he got Pascal Fleury a ride to Georgetown but that’s mostly hype. De La Peralle maintains that Fleury attracted a lot of attention from U.S. recruiters when he played for Montreal’s Dawson College. “I was introduced to White and he made the initial contact with Georgetown,” Fleury says. But he suggests that White is stretching it when he claims that he “got Fleury a scholarship.”

In recent years, ever since stories of White’s legal troubles reached the recruiting circuit, many U.S. college coaches have been hesitant to pursue athletes linked to the WSA. “When we were trying to recruit Tommy Kane and Wayne Yearwood, we first heard some stories,” says Boston College coach Jim O’Brien. “We never tried to recruit his kids after that. We didn’t want to be involved. We never called up Bob White to see if he had any kids worth recruiting.”

In fact, White might be doing harm to kids he has never met. “White might read about a kid or hear about someone on the street,” says one coach in Montreal. “Without seeing the kid, White will send off letters to colleges claiming that he reprsents him. That might encourage some colleges to check out the kid. But the coaches who are leery about White might drop the kid from consideration.”


When White’s character is called into question, his constituency rallies around him and his us-against-them cant is vindicated. “People want to make Bob the issue so they don’t have to listen to what he says or act on what he suggests,” says Earl Devine, White’s close friend. But the personal attacks obscure White’s greatest failure: his unremitting endorsement of U.S. collegiate athletics.
“The U.S. system makes ours look sick,” White says. “Canadian university sports are a joke.” The best-known images of U.S. college sports are those of grand spectacle, whereas Canadian varsity sports are painfully modest. In the States college football bowl games are played in front of 80,000 or even 100,000 spectators; the Vanier Cup, the Canadian championship, draws 15,000 in a good year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s basketball championships eclipse all other sports for three weeks in March and generate $140-million (U.S.) in television revenues for sixty-four participating schools; in Canada, the Canadian university championships aren’t even televised.

For athletes the star treatment accorded them in the U.S. is particularly seductive. They are wined and dined on recruiting visits. College coaches enthuse about their big plans for the prized prospects and have famous alumni call both athletes and street agents to make a pitch for their schools. White brags about letters he has received from college coaches and about talking on the phone to Burt Reynolds who was lobbying for an athlete on behalf of his alma mater, Florida State University.

“In Canada there’s no recruiting,” White says. “The coaches don’t know they have athletes on their campuses until they show up for practice. And there aren’t any scholarships in Canada. Kids are expected to pay their own way—with no help—and lost of kids in Little Burgundy just can’t do that. The scholarships in the States are worth $80,000 [across four years] and athletes get the best coaching there is. What do you think is the better system?”

White offers the question rhetorically, but is he right? Even Harry Edwards, the avatar of black activism in sport, would dispute White’s boosterism of U.S. college sports. “[Black athletes in U.S. colleges] don’t get an education because their primary purpose is to compete,” Edwards told Sports Ilustrated. “Their primary responsibility is to the athletic department and at the end of four years they end up with no degree, no job and no references.” White, however, glosses over the flaws of the “better system.” When he and Burt Reynolds discussed the prospects of a local kid attending FSU on a football scholarship, they probably didn’t discuss the FSU football team’s graduation rate. According to the most recent NCAA statistics, only twenty per cent of balck athletes on football and basketball scholarships graduate. Only thirty-one per cent of black athletes on athletic scholarships believe that their coaches sufficiently stress academics.

The woeful academic record of WSA’s student athletes confirms Harry Edwards’s bleak assessment. A few graduate from the schools White solicits. For instance, Tommy Kane graduated from Syracuse with a degree in retail management and Wayne Yearwood graduated from West Virginia with a BSc in physical education. But the majority of athletes return home with degrees. Charles Rochelin’s story is typical of the “free ride” that star jocks on scholarship receive. As a member of UCLA’s basketball team for four years, Rochelin helped the athletic department earn millions of dollars in ticket sales and television revenues; yet after five years Rochelin left UCLA without a degree and, in the words of a transcripts officer, “under financial obligation to the university.”

Worse still are the stories of athletic vagabonds, kids who bounce from school to school acquiring a few credits but nothing close enough to those necessary for a degree. Trevor Williams, another of White’s proteges, frequently shows up at basketball games in Little Burgundy. Williams began his collegiate career at Dawson College, attended Laurinburg Preparatory in North Carolina, received a “boat ride” to Southern University in Louisiana, transferred to St Peter’s College in New Jersey, and finally landed at Montreal’s Concordia University (at his own expense) in 1989. He left the Concordia basketball team in the middle of last season after a run-in with the team’s coach, John Dore, a run-in instigated by Bob White’s branding the coach “a latent racist.” Dore says such charges are “ridiculous.” He adds, “I’m not sure why Trevor quit. He wasn’t doing well academically but I’m not—and our programs are not—racist. We not only have more black players than any other program in Canada—we graduate almost all of them. Trevor was just an exception.”

“A few of my kids had difficulties adjusting to life after college,” White concedes. Several have run afoul of the law. Tommy Kane, the pride of Little Burgundy, has been the centre of much turmoil away from the playing field. According to White, Kane was only in his teens when a policeman told him: “I have a bullet in here for you, Kane.” At Syracuse he was charged with assaulting a policewoman who had tagged his car. She alleged that Kane attempted to strike her with a car door. The charge was reduced to a misdemeanour and Kane was sentenced to 192 hours of community service. This past spring Kane was hit with a charge of assaulting a pregnant friend of his family. The alleged victim never showed up in court and the charges were dropped. The woman also filed a lawsuit alleging that Kane punched her. The plaintiff testified that kane yelled: “Fuck that bitch. I’ll kick the baby out of her stomach.” The judge ruled that Kane’s denial was more plausible than the plaintiff’s account and quashed the suit.

Other WSA-associated athletes have faced more serious charges. Peter Balfour, once a basketball player at County College of Morris, New Jersey, and later at Southern University, was charged with attempted murder after a dispute over a business deal in Little Burgundy. The charge was eventually dropped. Currently Balfour is facing a single of possessing cocaine. Last April Wayne Yearwood was convicted of dealing cocaine near his alma mater in Morgantown, West Virginia, and is now serving a fifteen-month prison sentence. Other athletes from Little Burgundy, disillusioned when their athletic careers wind down, get into different kinds of trouble. White admits that one ballplayer ended up homeless and later spent time in a sanitarium. “There just aren’t opportunities for a lot of young black people, even good ones,” he says. “This is a fascist, racist country.”

White is quick to credit Syracuse University for Tommy Kane’s success, yet loath to blame U.S. college sports for the disappointments of other WSA athletes. Then again, finding fault with the U.S. system would make White culpable in the most tragic cases. As a street agent, he may not have an official title or an affiliation with any university, yet he’s an integral part of the infrastructure of U.S. college sports. “I don’t dwell on the worst cases,” White says. “I have to give hope to the ten-year-olds, the twelve-year-olds. They have to see Tommy Kane and the good they can do.” As one U.S. basketball coach explained in Raw Recruits: “The street broker’s secret is controlling the product early. It’s just like … modern-day slavery.”


“These kids have dreams,” Bob White says while he watches Basil Rose and the six-foot-six teenager bang each other around the court. “All those dreams start here. A lot of work and sacrifice and determination and guts. And it can all pay off like it did for Tommy Kane.”

The one-on-one battle ends. The tall kid has won easily by backing into the key and shooting over the slightly-too-short Rose. “Unstoppable, I’m flat unstoppable,” the winner enthuses as he accepts the congratulations of the audience. Basil Rose, whose career in pro sports probably cannot be restarted, gets on his bicycle and forlornly rides off. Rose will not stay for the pick-up games. He has night class tonight.

White does not allow the dispirited state of the vanquished Rose to interrupt the street agent’s patter. “Basil could be in the CFL but he didn’t get any breaks,” White says. “The first bad break he got was being born with black skin. If Basil was white he’d be playing in the CFL or on the Olympic tracki team or the bobsled team or something.” Youngsters on the sidelines nod in agreement.

Across the street Tommy Kane walks out of the row houses where he still lives with his mother in the off season. The shooting-around dies down. The kids hush and watch him. Despite standing only five-foot-nine, despite a physique that is not overly muscular, Kane looks like an athlete. It’s his walk, his bearing, the way he holds his head. Anyone who has ever played a game would recognize it. It’s something Bob White recognized a long time ago.

Arriving at courtside, Kane engages in a whispered discussion with White. The media and the sports establishment in Montreal will never approve of this relationship, an old taboo: a professional athlete associating with an ex-con. But no matter what he accomplishes in the NFL Kane can’t forget where he came from and who made his athletic career possible. And now back on the streets of Little Burgundy Kane seeks the counsel of the man who, with no vested interest, looked out for him a long time ago. Kane remains the faithful nephew, White the unlikely guardian angel. After a few minutes, Kane motions to a youngster to pass him the basketball. “You know, we should get a team of guys from Little Burgundy and challenge the Canadian Olympic team,” White says. “We would lay a beating on those boys.”

Without a warm-up, without a change in his deadpan expression, Kane dribbles twice and then leaves the ground, soaring up to the rim. In the air he brings the ball behind his head, then slams it two-fisted through the rim, shaking the backboard. “It would be a serious embarrassment,” Kane says, while the ball bounces down the court. White retreives “the rock” and awkwardly passes it back to Kane. With kids looking on, Kane silently and effortlessly rises from a stand-still beneath the basket and jams the ball.

For that single moment, Kane’s physical gifts allow White the dignity no street agent deserves. After the pick-up game tonight the young me will return to the row houses in Little Burgundy. When they look in the mirror they will try to see Tommy Kane in their reflection. In a few years Bob White will hold the mirror for them and tell them how good they look. Then he will tell the world how good “his kids” look. He will write letters, make phone calls, talk up reporters. The best never have to woof for themselves. They leave it to their street agent, their uncle, the real pro.

RAISING KANE by Gare Joyce
Late last year, a decade after his NFL career ended, a drug-addicted Tommy Kane was charged with killing his wife. Football was supposed to be his ticket out of Montreal’s mean streets. What made him go back?

It’s an anecdote that Don McPherson has told more times than he can count, an anecdote that draws on his time as quarterback of the Syracuse University Orangemen in the ’80s. It’s the short story of a play remembered by many but understood only by McPherson and the guy who caught the most important pass McPherson ever threw. This is how McPherson tells it to me:

“We were undefeated, contending for a national championship, but Penn State was playing us tough. We were driving but trying to save time-outs. In the huddle, I called one play and told everyone to run it two downs in a row. We ran the play on the first down and we were just about do it all over again on the second down. But just before the ball was snapped, I looked at one of my receivers. He was looking at me. He didn’t say anything, but he was able to tell me with just a look that he had seen something on the last play. Because we had spent so much time working together over three years, we knew what the other was thinking. He was telling me that he was going to run another route and he was able to tell that I understood it. Nine guys on our team just went and did what they’d done on the previous down, but he ran a completely different pass pattern, got wide open in the end zone, and caught a pass for a touchdown that won the game.”

McPherson, runner-up for the Heisman Trophy that season, is far removed from the gridiron these days. He’s now a social worker at Adelphi University in New York. He specializes in domestic-abuse cases. He tells this anecdote to those he counsels. He uses it to illustrate how two people can be so close that they communicate without words.

Don McPherson’s story became a cautionary tale last November. That’s when the receiver who was on the end of that pass, Tommy Kane, was supposed to meet his estranged wife, Tammara Shaikh, at his mother’s house in suburban Montreal and, in the presence of a minister, talk about reconciling for the benefit of their four young children. That’s when, according to the accounts of friends, Shaikh tried once again to get Kane onto medication for depression and into rehab for drug use. That’s when Kane’s mother called the Montreal police, when officers arrived to find Shaikh badly beaten, when Kane was taken away in handcuffs. That’s when Shaikh died of her injuries in hospital, and when Kane was charged with second-degree murder. And that’s when newspapers ran a mug shot of Kane, staring a thousand yards away through a drug-addled fog, coming down and bathed in sweat.

“I had seen Tommy over the years,” McPherson says. “I only saw the Tommy Kane that I knew at Syracuse. I never saw this coming and it’s my job to be able to pick up red flags. He’s thirty-nine, but he looks ten years older in that mug shot – ten years older than when I saw him, less than two years ago. I thought I knew him so well.”


What ever happened to . . . ? It’s a fixture in sports sections and broadcasts, a way to mine nostalgia, drop a famous name. Whatever happened to Tommy Kane? Many were asking that question after the news of the murder charge. McPherson and his teammates asked a different question twenty-one years earlier, when Kane arrived on the Syracuse campus.

“‘Who is this kid from Montreal?’” McPherson said. “Nobody was coming down from Canada to the major programs in the States at that time.”

Kane was at first a mystery to his teammates, and then a revelation. “He was behind everybody recruited from the big football states,” McPherson says. “The others had just played a lot more than he had. But his athletic ability was so great that he caught up by the time he played his first game. He was a quick study.”

It took a little longer for Kane’s teammates to piece together the rest of his story. As a freshman, he didn’t volunteer a lot about Montreal. Like any major college program, Syracuse had its share of players who grew up in tough circumstances, but Montreal didn’t have a reputation. To the rest of the guys on the squad, he might as well have come from Paris.

Kane’s background started to emerge in interviews with the media. “Sure, I was in trouble with the law,” he told The New York Times in 1987. “Most of the kids I was with then are in jail or coming out of jail. It’s a vicious circle. They end up in jail, come out and go back again.”
Kane’s teammates learned in time that he had as much street in him as the hardest cases. It wasn’t just the punkish stuff: boosting cars or petty thefts. He had been in knife fights. He’d been in a scrap during which he took a baseball bat to a guy. He said that he would have gone to jail if he hadn’t met someone named Bob White, a “playground agent” who advised young black athletes in Little Burgundy, Kane’s neighbourhood in Montreal’s West End. White, Kane said, kept him in school, paid his way to sports camps, and even sorted through his scholarship offers.

“What he had been through earned him points with us,” McPherson said. “He had his stripes prior to coming to Syracuse. Going to school in the States could have been a cultural or social shock for Tommy, but he was never intimidated. No matter what the situation, he had seen worse. Tommy was cool, always cool.”

“I never saw Tommy even agitated, never mind violent,” says Deval Glover, another wideout on the Syracuse team. “He was not a hothead. He was just about the most relaxed guy on our team.”

Kane was a key player on Syracuse’s 1987 university squad that went undefeated and contended for a national championship. Several times that autumn, McPherson combined forces with Kane to pull Syracuse out of tight contests. He pulled down fifteen touchdown catches that year to lead the nation and set a school record with an average of almost twenty-one yards per catch, a record that is still on the books.

The NFL beckoned but, on the threshold of big things, Tommy Kane lost his cool. Two weeks before the 1988 NFL draft, Kane was scheduled to meet with scouts. On the way to this meeting, Kane got into a nasty confrontation over a parking ticket with a policewoman, Lisa Phelan. Kane was charged with second-degree assault, obstruction, and resisting arrest. Kane would eventually plead guilty to lesser charges, do 100 hours of community service instead of jail time and, years later, reach an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by Phelan (who went on lifetime disability because of her injuries).

“Looking back on it, Tommy had to have been under tremendous pressure,” McPherson says. “He had given up his last year of school. He had everything riding on this. This was the big step up. Just for a moment something inside him snapped and he lashed out.”

Kane’s stock in the draft plummeted. Prior to the incident, some teams might have rated him first-round material, but he was still there when the Seattle Seahawks came up in the third round. The Hawks decided that he represented just too much talent to pass up.

Kane was never the star in the pros that he had been at Syracuse. By his own admission, he had been able to shine at Syracuse on athletic ability alone. That wasn’t going to fly in Seattle. He still had a lot to learn about playing his position, and his progress was interrupted by a spate of injuries, the worst a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in his second season.

In his third and fourth years with the Seahawks, Kane established himself as a starter. Each year he caught at least fifty passes. He had become an integral part of Seattle’s high-flying offence, one that was tearing up the league. And then, on the verge of big things and million-dollar contracts, it was over. Kane never played again in the NFL.

His fifth season was cut short by injury, and the next summer, the Seahawks cut him in training camp. It turned out that he needed surgery on his Achilles tendons. He never received another serious call from an NFL club. They believed either that his game was left on the operating table or that his injuries had made him a bad risk, considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Bob White always claimed that sports were the salvation of his athletes, but sports were over for Tommy Kane by age thirty. If you were writing Kane’s story as fiction, the unfairness of all this would break him, push him down a well of despond. Deval Glover says that just wasn’t the case.

“I don’t think that Tommy was down or depressed about the injuries and his career ending,” Glover says. “An average NFL career is only two or three seasons. Tommy beat the odds by lasting as long as he did. In high school and college, we played with guys whose careers were ended by injuries. You understand that going in, that it can all end in one game . . . on one play. I talked with him at reunions, and he never said anything that made me think he was bitter or broken [or] drug dependent.”

In Montreal, Kane’s friends knew that his athletic afterlife wasn’t all that easy. He never found a niche to settle into: a one-season stint doing radio commentary for Alouettes games; a job in sales with Universal Studios in Florida; a business investment here and there. “Other athletes would have doors opened to get into coaching or television work or business, but not Tommy,” said one friend from the playground. “Still, he didn’t really let it get him down, not from what I could tell.”

Bob White sent a package of newspaper clippings to Toro after Tommy Kane was charged with murder. Most of the stories dated back to Tommy Kane’s days with Syracuse and Seattle. Most touted White’s work as a freelance social worker and spiritual adviser. White also sent along an essay from the Montreal Gazette that, without much consideration for Tammara Shaikh, suggested Kane was a victim of racism in Quebec society. The package included a handwritten note from White, congratulating the magazine for putting together an interesting product but otherwise not explaining the mailing.

White has always welcomed media attention, so long as no one asks questions about his own past. I went to Montreal, to Little Burgundy, to talk to White and Kane in 1991 for a magazine story. Kane was then serving as the celebrity success story for the Westend Sports Association, a loosely organized charity that White had managed to register years before. White imagined that the story was going to be a straight inspirational piece, inner-city Horatio Alger stuff. It wasn’t.

The story detailed White’s recent brush with the law: charges of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and possession of stolen credit-card numbers. (The case was thrown out of court.)
The story also detailed the legal problems of several of WSA’s athletes. One ballplayer had been up on attempted murder, others on drug possession. Then there was Kane’s assault of the Syracuse policewoman.

White threatened to sue me and the magazine. Eventually, though, the matter was dropped without a correction, published apology, or cash settlement.

White has his act down. He paints himself as a mentor, advocate, and crusader. He says his athletes can’t get a break at home because of Canada’s racist sports establishment. He says they have to go to the States to get a fair shake. His message is as old as Jackie Robinson’s rookie card.

Still, some unsuspecting media types swallow White’s story without chewing. Reader’s Digest Canada recently commissioned a feature on White. In his finest rhetorical purple, White described the WSA as “an oasis that springs up every summer in the heart of the ghetto.” The profile was flagged as part of its “Remarkable People” series. The most remarkable aspect of the piece is the fact that Tommy Kane is not mentioned – a first in Bob White’s career. It’s like a history of Johnstown without mention of The Flood.

These days, White’s in a fix. He’ll seem less than loyal if he distances himself from Kane, who donated his entire $65,000 salary from his final pro season, a forgettable stint with the Toronto Argonauts, to the WSA. On the other hand, White lends credence to the notion that his charges weren’t quite angels if he’s too closely tied to an accused murderer and drug user.

So when the call is made to White, and questions are asked about Kane, he dissembles. “I don’t know what happened to Tommy Kane,” White says. “I wasn’t there.”

When other uncomfortable questions are asked, White blows up. “Fuck Toro,” the Good Samaritan says, before hanging up.

Fact is, there’s no connecting White to Kane’s murder charges. The notion that Bob White started any of his talents down a road to drugs or violence just doesn’t wash. It’s as fatuous as his claim that he alone rescued them from a life a crime. Tommy Kane or any other playground hero has to accept responsibility for his life.

Unlike Bob White, Wayne Yearwood knows that silence won’t make trouble or tragedy disappear. Like Tommy Kane, Yearwood was a star on the Little Burgundy playgrounds. He played four years at West Virginia University on a basketball scholarship. He got into worse trouble at WVU than Kane did at Syracuse, a cocaine-dealing conviction that landed him a fifteen-month jail sentence. But Yearwood toughed it out, eventually rejoined the national hoops program, and now coaches the men’s basketball team at Dawson College, where he and Tommy Kane led the team to a Canadian community-college championship in the early ’80s.

Yearwood makes it clear that he doesn’t doubt that Tommy Kane committed murder. “The evidence is overwhelming,” he says. “I don’t think anybody but Tommy will ever be able to explain what he did. Maybe not even him.”

Yearwood stayed close to Kane through the years. He knew Tammara Shaikh. He was around when the children were born. Last fall, Yearwood and Kane drifted apart. They stopped getting together, but, still, Yearwood kept in touch by phone. “The last time we talked was right before Tammara went over there to talk to him,” Yearwood says. “Tommy had been going through some very tough things. His marriage was in deep, deep trouble.”

Yearwood says that he would have been there for Kane if his friend had asked for help. Now he wonders whether Kane was bipolar. “I don’t know about depression, but there had to be something wrong, really wrong,” Yearwood says. “I’m not an expert, but I know Tommy. It’s just not rational to beat to death the mother of your children. I don’t know what it was that pushed him that far. I don’t know what could. It wasn’t the Tommy I knew that did that.”

Yearwood wants it known: He’s not about to offer excuses for Kane nor portray him as a victim. “I was a friend of Tammara, too, going back to before Tommy married her. I knew her, her family too. I know the children. I just never thought it would go like this – that if Tommy had to go out, that he would take away a mother from the children.”

When I was in Little Burgundy for that magazine story more than a decade ago, I went down to the basketball court where the neighbourhood’s best players gather on a daily basis. Writing about pro athletes over the years, I’ve come to expect meeting them in settings befitting their status: in plush locker rooms, in fancy restaurants, in ostentatious new homes. Kane remains the one athlete whom I met for the first time on the playground where he grew up. Our meeting wasn’t arranged. I dropped by the court to get a look at it and he just happened to be there. Kane was in the middle of a pickup game with a bunch of friends and teenagers. It was like your threesome picking up Mike Weir as a fourth at the first tee of a municipal course in Sarnia, or like Wayne Gretzky just happening by your street-hockey game in Brantford.

Kane’s athletic ability was breathtaking. Barely five-foot-ten, he could reverse jam the ball from a flat-footed start. What’s more, he could make it look easy. He could beat everyone up and down the court without breathing hard, without breaking a sweat, smiling. It was a glimpse of the coolness that his old teammates described.

Afterwards, I talked with Kane. He seemed to be an easy-to-like young man, quick to smile and laugh, neither simple nor slick. He said that he moved back into his mother’s home in Little Burgundy in the off-season. He said he looked forward to coming back to the playground. “It’s always good to come home. There are a lot of memories here. This is where I dunked a ball for the first time. And when it’s over for me, I’ll come back here.”

He said that a lot of the kids on this playground were like him, that they came from single-parent homes. He said that he was raised by his mother and had little to do with his father, even though he lived nearby. And he said that he took the ball given to him when he caught his first NFL touchdown pass and placed it in his father’s casket a couple of years before.

Bob White claimed that sports would allow his young men to escape tough circumstances. For Kane, however, something else was in play. When he had a world of options, he ran as fast as he could right back to the street. A patch of asphalt around the corner from his mother’s house was heaven. He was no different than the kids lining the court who had never travelled farther than the Metro could take them.

I tell my own anecdote to Don McPherson. “The Tommy I knew was a great guy,” he says. “I don’t think he was fooling all of us all those years. I don’t think there was a Good Tommy and a Bad Tommy. I do think that he was young for his age. A lot of guys struggle with the basic things after they’re finished with the game, growing up, growing old.”

Don McPherson realizes that he never understood what Tommy Kane had gone through to earn his stripes. He believes he might have been able to help if he’d been able to read the pattern Kane was running. It wasn’t a post, a corner, or an out. It was the pattern that many of Kane’s old friends ran: a vicious circle. Don McPherson couldn’t read it, but Tammara Shaikh sure did.

Footnote: Kane pleaded guilty to manslaughter. A court-appointed physician determined that he was suffering from depression.

DAVID HUDAK MUMBLED. THE WORDS WERE coming out, but so low that the microphone inches away from him on the witness stand failed to pick them up; so fast that the court reporter had to ask him to repeat himself again and again; so loaded with physics-class jargon and government-agency acronyms that jurors were left shaking their heads.

“. . . mmmm, uh . . . energetic materials . . .mmmm, destructive devices . . . RDX . . . DoD . . . TAA, mmm . . . .”

Hudak slumped in his seat. He’s six-foot-two but didn’t look it up on the stand. On a jailhouse diet of rice and beans, he had lost weight, stature, and energy.His blue suit hung loosely on him, his hair had thinned out, and in a town where the sun shines close to 350 days a year, his skin had taken on a jailhouse pallor.

He was looking put out and acting put out, not what you’d expect from a guy who had spent the last fifteen months in yellow jumpsuits at the Estancia Prison, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was diffident with the lawyer who was pulling out the stops to defend him, and patronizing towards the attorney heading up the multi-million-dollar federal prosecution.

Only occassionally did Hudak seem genuinely interested. His back straightened, for instance, when he was presented with questions about the properties of nitroglycerine. He must have felt the way he used to when he was lecturing or presenting a paper to the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. Likewise, Hudak perked up while he described the eight- and nine-figure potential of a business that had started in his basement in Vancouver, when he was talking about his development of the weapon of choice for war in the twenty-first century.

The rest of the time, though,Hudak seemed blase while he testified, less involved than his mother, Sandy, who sat in the courtroom transcribing the proceedings, and not nearly as strident as his father, Bob, who stopped passersby during recesses to tell them his son was being railroaded. It’s hard to imagine that
David Hudak could be so matter of fact: He had repeatedly been denied bail; he was facing a laundry list of charges, including possession of ordnance and training foreign soldiers in secret U.S. military tactics.

Convictions on each count would land him in prison for fifty years without parole.Making matters worse, the people prosecuting him were employed by a hostile foreign state, namely, the United States of America in the post-9/11 era.

DAVID HUDAK WOULD BE THE FIRST GUY YOU’D hire to sink a retired battleship or knock a massive wall of snow off a mountain. There was no dispute that he was an explosives expert. You could read about those skills on his resume. Beyond that, no one could agree on a thing.

In Hudak’s own mind, he was an inventor, businessman, and autodidact. “I didn’t go to MIT for physics or Cornell for business,” he says, as a point of pride. His father had been a pilot and then a fireman. The older of two sons growing up in Vancouver, David Hudak had planned to follow his father into the air, but he came to specialize in explosives instead.He made a study of, as he says, “blowing shit up.”

Hudak had worked up a revolutionary portable explosive package and named it the BEAST (Breacher’s Explosive Access Selectable Tool). It looked like a ground sheet for a sleeping bag. It could be carried around a bayonet. And it could blow a made-to-measure hole in the hull of a hijacked plane with little
collateral damage.

Hudak also developed Hydro Cut entry frames, which go through brick walls like a cookie cutter through fresh dough. Whatever you needed to penetrate with precision – door, glass, boat, or aircraft – Hudak had a breaching device for the job.

He founded two companies – Hydro Cut in Canada, and High Energy Access Tools (HEAT) in the U.S. – that by the late nineties, distributed the BEAST and the other products to foreign-military and law-enforcement outfits and trained soldiers to use them. By bringing in an A-Team of veterans from the U.S. Special Forces, Hudak’s company offered one-stop counter-terrorism training, a growth industry in jihad-happy times.

“People accuse me of being an egotist,” Hudak admits. The point is that others haven’t held him in as high regard as he holds himself.

To the military hard-asses he recruited, Hudak was no visionary.He was a wannabe in charge of soldiers whose boots he couldn’t even shine, guys who inhabited the shadowy, never-reported-on world of Black Ops.

The lawyers defending Hudak portrayed him as an absent-minded professor. Privately, they regarded him as a pain in the ass. They told him – probably more than once – that, if he knew as much as he thought he did, he should try defending himself.

To the U.S. Attorney General’s office, he was “a greedy Canadian” who broke the law by possessing military ordnance, bombs that could be fired with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers; by shipping explosives abroad without federal permits; by training foreign troops in restricted military services, stuff right out of classified files, without approval from the State Department. The federal prosecutors were inclined to believe that his supposed counter-terrorist operation was training foreigners who might take up arms against the U.S. The prosecutors wouldn’t make that case to the jury, though. They figured they needed far less to lock Hudak away for the rest of his life.

THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THINGS APPEARING one way in the light and another way in the shadows – counter-terrorists became terrorists; demolition charges became bombs; and applications for licences became admissions of high crimes.

In many ways, though, this is a story about two friends getting into a fight. Hudak’s misfortune was precipitated by a blow-up with Steve Mattoon, the world’s meanest, best-connected bastard, a guy whose three tours in Vietnam were mere tune-ups for the netherworld of Black Ops.

Hudak testified that he couldn’t nail down when he first met Mattoon – back “in the late eighties or early nineties,” by his reckoning –but he remembered that Mattoon phoned him in Vancouver, out of the blue. “I had heard of him and he had heard about me,” Hudak said. “Steve was known as a SWAT instructor and had a background in explosive methods of entry. There are not a lot of people in explosive breaching.”

Mattoon thought that they could do business together, so Hudak drove down to Fort Lewis, Washington, near Tacoma, where Mattoon was training police officers in assorted combat arts.

Mattoon was a man’s man, a soldier’s soldier. He was more than macho. Anyone who stars in lethal-force self-defence videos could hardly be low on testosterone. Hudak’s plan was to eventually get Mattoon to run an explosives-training facility in the United States (and lend his well-known name to it). Subconsciously, though, what Hudak really wanted was to hang with Mattoon, to please Mattoon, to be Mattoon. Hudak had gone to flight school, competed in quasi-military combatshooting competitions, and been around guys in uniform his whole adult life.Now he would be running with a legend.

Mattoon had little use for civilians, but devices like the BEAST – and therefore Hudak – drew him in. Hudak’s specialty was breaching aircraft, knocking out a door without injuring hostages. In other hands, explosives were a wrecking ball. In Hudak’s hands, they were like a sushi knife.

Mattoon recognized right away that inventions such as the BEAST could change everything.

He understood that a new kind of war was going to be fought in the new century.He could visualize Chechens holing up in a Moscow theatre and sniperfire raining on Gis in the streets of Baghdad. The BEAST was meant to defuse those very moments. U.S government, law enforcement, foreign military – they’d all want the BEAST. Was it worth millions? Only if you were thinking small.

For a few years, Hudak and Mattoon built HEAT from the ground up. They recruited retired Special Forces experts with the promise of more money than they’d ever earned in the service. Some, such as explosives expert Mike Payne, had already come up to Canada to work with Hudak. Others, like sniper Frank Fish, heard second- or third-hand about the outfit.

In 1997,Hudak and Mattoon rented a space at the former Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico, remote but ideal for business. The town of 50,000 in the state’s southeast corner, famous for its visits from little green men, is home to one of the largest aircraft scrapyards in the United States. In Roswell, HEAT had a ready supply of formerly airworthy shit to blow up.

Hudak and Mattoon did nothing on the hush-hush. They made friends with the mayor, the police chief, city councillors. They gave the local FBI agent a set of keys to HEAT’s offices. They were written up in the Roswell Daily Record. They didn’t want the townies calling 911 whenever they heard a bang.

Hudak and Mattoon put out the word about the training they could offer.An explosives unit from the Canadian military flew to Roswell for training. So did forces from Singapore and the Republic of Ireland. The Israelis came, and their million-dollar bill was footed by a defence fund financed by the U.S. government.

HEAT’s business outgrew the space in Roswell, so in early 2002 Hudak lined up a spread about forty minutes west, 8,000 acres of hills bleak enough to simulate conditions in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mattoon was pitching HEAT hard. Genuine overheard conversation: “Give me the King of Jordan. Tell ’em it’s Mattoon.”

Next thing you know, by the spring of 2002, Hudak is in deep negotiations with the United
Arab Emirates, lining up a breakthrough contract, US$12.8-million for everything on the HEAT menu: explosive breaching, sniper training, work with night-vision tech, as well as some strategic stuff out of the Fort Bragg playbook.

Throughout 2002, Hudak was bouncing back and forth between the UAE,New Mexico, and Vancouver. There were long stretches during which he went without seeing his wife, Leslie, and his two young sons, but Hudak figured they’d be sitting pretty after this deal. He wasn’t going to pocket the whole $12.8-million, mind you A third of that was going to be spent on “shit to blow up.” Another chunk would pay the sixty people on staff. Still, he assumed other Arab allies of the U.S. would follow the UAE’s lead. By his projections, HEAT was going to draw three times as much revenue within a year. “I saw myself sailing the Pacific for a month or two with my family,” he says.

David Hudak was both a big-picture and small-picture guy.He courted the Emir in Abu Dhabi one day and hired a janitor in Roswell the next. Often, he didn’t get around to the stuff in the middle. Like paperwork.

HEAT had a lobbyist named Hank Lavery in Washington to advise the company on any federal red tape. Lavery reassured everyone that few forms and licences were needed for training the troops from Canada, Singapore, Israel, and Ireland.

Hudak depended on Mattoon more than Lavery. Hudak trusted his friend with clearing HEAT’s training – formally or informally – with the big hitters at the State Department and the Department of Defence. He also trusted Mattoon to know who they needed to know. Mattoon always assured him that “we’re with the good guys.” Mattoon knew everybody who counted. He went fly-fishing with Dick Cheney, for crying out loud.He had Colin F-in’ Powell’s home number. One time, HEAT was short some sheet explosives. Mattoon made a call and U.S. Marshals showed up with some, as though they were bringing a casserole over to the neighbours for a potluck dinner. It was easy to be impressed.

HEAT’s business mission was riding on Mattoon. If he bailed, things could come undone. And that’s precisely what happened.

JUST EAST OF THE NEW MEXICO METROPOLIS of Hondo, you happen upon Tinnie, the point at which the desert hills give way to the desert flatlands and the site of HEAT’s ranch. Here you get a different picture of David Hudak than those offered in Albuquerque’s federal courthouse. In Tinnie, he was seen as too friendly to be reviled, too pitiful to be scorned, too comical to be forgotten.

“It might sound unkind, but folks ’round here will tell you that David was the biggest sucker ever to blow into Tinnie,” says a woman named Ruby, the proprietor of the Tinnie General Store and Texas Embassy B-B-Q.

Tinnie’s townspeople will talk about Hudak but won’t give their names. It’s not just because of their usual suspicions about outsiders; it’s that many had done work for Hudak and had never been paid. The Feds blew out of town once they “secured” the property with padlocks and tape – not nearly enough to keep out the locals, especially when they had a grievance. Thus, HEAT property, whether it’s furniture, appliances, or hardware, can be found in many nearby residences.

Ruby knew one contractor who might be a good source of info about Hudak, but she says he won’t talk “because he’s still driving a HEAT truck that he drove off the ranch the day before the Feds came to town.”

Many locals didn’t like what HEAT was up to. “It wasn’t safe, blowing up explosives a half mile from the highway,” one farmhand says. “This is a big hunting area. All that stuff would be killing deer and scaring them off.”

Still, the townies seemed to like Hudak. They still laugh at the way he tried to do everything himself: driving a bulldozer and blowing two engines in a week; giving the keys to the bulldozer to another novice who
immediately rolled it. “Green Acres with explosives” was how one local described it. Nonetheless, they thought he was a regular guy when he kicked back, had a few beers, and worked through a pack of smokes.

Mattoon was another story. The locals could see how Hudak was drawn to him. “Mattoon was the real-life GI Joe action figure that David had when he was a boy,” Ruby says.

“Mattoon tried to intimidate us, saying how many guns and explosives he had,” continues a young man behind the counter at the general store. “I just told him, ‘Boy, you don’t have any idea where you are. We all got guns and explosives.’ ”

“It was sad, the way Mattoon and them treated David,” Ruby says.“David would bring in his guys and they would order up food and beers and he’d pay the full ticket out of his own pocket. As soon as he was out of earshot, they’d be making jokes about him and saying how they were going to squeeze him out of the business.”


It began with the trainees, about three dozen in all, from the United Arab Emirates. They were looking to blow into Roswell early. Their passports and visas were a mess. Were they who they said they were? The brass at HEAT sure hoped so.

The rush had all the HEAT staffers wondering if they could fulfill the contract with the UAE. They didn’t have all the required high-tech equipment. The paperwork was underway but not approved. Hudak rounded up his top men for a straight up-or-down vote: Go or no? A unanimous go. These guys didn’t win medals by “waiting for paperwork.”

A complicating issue: David was fielding calls from HEAT’s financial officer in Vancouver. The company’s cash flow was non-existent. Contractors weren’t the only ones stiffed. The instructors were missing paydays. (You want to know pressure? Tell a guy with a sniper’s rifle that his cheque is in the mail.) Still, the instructors knew that fulfilling the UAE contract was their best chance of getting paid.

The trainees were unhappy, but that was to be expected; princes’ sons used to sitting on palace commodes were going through training exercises in the middle of the desert, having to dodge scorpions while taking a dump. More ominous, though, was the UAE command’s dissatisfaction with the program. They claimed they weren’t getting the promised goods. They threatened to stop payments and pull out.

It got worse. HEAT started to get calls from Lavery. Initially, he was only raising a yellow flag. Some of the training might require approval from the State Department. The UAE brass wanted more, but Lavery was telling Hudak,Mattoon, or whoever else would listen that HEAT would have to scale back until the paperwork was handled.

Hudak’s dreams were in danger of blowing up in his face like a joke-shop cigar. He needed Mattoon to hold them together. And it was at precisely this time that Hudak was starting to get under the pink-coloured Kevlar that is Steve Mattoon’s skin.

On one occasion,Mattoon ordered Hudak away from training because he didn’t have U.S. security clearance. Hudak says he wasn’t alarmed by the fractious atmosphere. “These guys had been trained to fight,” he says.“When they weren’t fighting the enemy, they were fighting among themselves. They’re Triple A-type personalities.” Hudak would sometimes side with Mattoon against Mike Payne and sometimes back Payne against Mattoon.
Still, the dissention was evident. Doris Cherry, a reporter with The Lincoln CountyNews, attended an open house at the Tinnie ranch on June 29, 2002. “You had government and law-enforcement officials there but [HEAT] couldn’t get its story straight,” Cherry says. “Ask two different people there a question and you’d get two entirely different answers.”

It reached a breaking point in July, 2002. There’s no agreement about the cause and some dispute about the outcome. This much everyone agrees on: Hudak, Payne, and Frank Fish were in a trailer on the Tinnie ranch, when Mattoon barged in, enraged.

Mattoon:Who’s running the show?
Hudak: I am.
Mattoon: I quit.
Hudak: You’re fired.

Hudak told the court that Mattoon then took a swing at him. Fish disputed that, saying that if Mattoon wanted to hit Hudak, “he’d still be unconscious.”

The townies in Tinnie recall Hudak walking around with a black eye following the showdown. Mattoon was gone the next day, and that very morning, things went from bad to couldn’t-be-worse.

IF HUDAK DIDN’T GIVE MUCH THOUGHT TO the legal repercussions of Mattoon’s departure, Mike Payne surely did. Payne inherited all the paperwork. Lavery, the lobbyist in Washington, D.C., was now telling him that some of the United Arab Emirates training fell into a “grey area.” He told them to stop training with night-vision tech and to call off the sniper work until they had licences in hand.

Once the cold sweat dried, Payne realized that he was in over his head. He went to the FBI’s offices in Roswell. He made phone calls to officials, the most plaintive of them to Special Agent Gary Ainsworth of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) on August 7, 2002. What Payne intended to be a fact-finding inquiry turned into an interrogation. From the transcript of that call:

Payne: Is this the point where I need to start asking for an attorney? . . . Or is this just conversation? I mean, I’m not getting paranoid but I’m just asking about where we’re going with all this? … It sounds like we’re getting to . . . an investigation.

There’s no transcript of other calls to HEAT, calls from SAIC, a giant in the defence-services industry. With retired generals on its board, SAIC enjoys favoured-outfit status with the Bush administration. SAIC representatives were sniffing around – maybe looking for a piece of the action, maybe to buy Hudak out altogether. Ever the optimist, Hudak believed SAIC’s interest meant that HEAT was on the verge of something big.

Two days after the last call from SAIC, search warrants were executed on the HEAT offices in Roswell and the ranch in Tinnie. Payne found out that he shouldn’t have counted on the ATF agent Ainsworth to tell him to get in touch with a lawyer. Hudak thought that he knew the drill, having been written up for a couple of violations in Canada. He thought he’d get a slap on the wrists. Instead, Ainsworth slapped on the cuffs.

HUDAK HAD BEEFS WITH OTHER GUYS WHO blew out of HEAT in a huff, and there had to be one or two rivals in the business who would have wanted to sic the Feds on Hudak. But alone among Hudak’s former associates, Mattoon had what they call “stroke” down New Mexico way. Elsewhere, it’s known as clout. “If Mattoon made a call to federal officials, they’d follow things up,” said Russ Hart, a retired major in the Marines and founder of an explosives-training business based in Yuma, Arizona. “I’m surprised how hard the Feds went after Hudak.”

In fact, the Feds involved did seem to have their own reasons for running hard with the ball. Timing was bad for Hudak – pieces of the World Trade Center were still being ferried out of Manhattan – but timing was only part of it.

Hudak had made the assumption that the UAE trainees would get State Department clearances. After all, the UAE had granted the U.S. permission to set up military bases within its borders, and several retired highranking U.S. military officers, Mattoon’s pals, were in the UAE working with its servicemen.

No official – not those at the State Department who had spoken to Hank Lavery, not FBI Agent Robin Smith, who checked out the UAE trainees at the Roswell airport, not even intelligence-agency types who visited the Tinnie ranch – ever suggested that HEAT’s freshman class might be chock full of terrorists.

Yet it would have been hard to cast the UAE as entirely “friendly.” The State Department had warily turned down a request from the UAE for training similar to that which HEAT was contracted to perform.Weeks before the raid on HEAT, FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that money that financed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 flowed through the UAE. Federal attorney Mark D’Antonio alluded to this point in a pre-trial motion, noting that the UAE “at least facilitated the banking of funds” for the terrorists.

For its part, the ATF was motivated by a slap in the face. The Bush administration was trying to get all the major players – the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defence – to throw their shoulders behind the new Department of Homeland Security. The ATF, the redheaded stepchild of federal bureaus even before the Waco and Ruby Ridge debacles, was left on the sidelines. Compounding the misery, the FBI was lobbying to take over ATF’s jurisdiction over explosives. The ATF needed high-profile busts to rehabilitate its reputation, and this case seemed made-to-order: A traitorous Canadian was supplying and training foreign nationals – maybe even Mohammad Atta’s cousins – in explosive technologies that might be turned against the U.S.

Hudak’s father has a simple explanation for the prosecution.“It’s about money,” he says. “The U.S. government wanted the BEAST and this was one way to get it. Get David behind bars and get everything that he has. They wanted to subpoena his computer in Vancouver for this trial and get all his research on the BEAST’s design. They convict him and [SAIC] gets all the contracts that David would have got.”

The elder Hudak’s theory might sound far-fetched, but an ATF agent in a taped interview with Lavery backs the idea that seizures figured large in the Feds’ plans.

Lavery: . . . The money part isn’t important.
Special Agent Barr:Well, actually, it is important to us.
Lavery: Oh.
Barr: It’s very important to us.
Barr: Because we are going to seize the money.
Lavery: Oh. Uh.
Barr: Either in criminal or civil forfeiture, we’re gonna go after the money. So it’s really important to the
Treasury Department of the United States . . . . Basically, if there’s any of these funds out there, United States Customs Service is going after it.

So the U.S.Attorney General’s office, the FBI, and the ATF chased Hudak and Payne. They even threatened to charge Hudak’s wife, Leslie, for her participation as HEAT’s Vancouver- based business manager if she crossed the border to visit her husband. They didn’t go for half-measures. Four federal officials went
to the UAE to interview the students in the HEAT course; others travelled to Vancouver to question everybody who had dealings with Hudak. Timothy Padilla, Hudak’s defence attorney, ballparked the public costs of the trial at US$3-million. But the Feds figured they could recover all of it and more. If they convicted Hudak, they could foreclose on the ranch, seize his other assets, and empty his offshore accounts, which they presumed to hold millions.

WHEN DAVID HUDAK APPEARED IN THE FEDERAL courthouse in Albuquerque for a pre-trial hearing in August 2003, Judge John Conway advised him to think hard about a plea bargain to hedge the risk of a half-century behind bars. Judge Conway gave Hudak a chance to meditate on the decision by denying him bail.

Tim Padilla discussed a plea bargain with his client. Leslie Hudak urged her husband not to take it, but he did mull over the idea of doing, say, three years, so long as he didn’t have to forfeit his assets. “David told me that he needed something to come out to,” Padilla said. “But [the prosecutors] were pushing for six years, all his assets seized. David said he didn’t want to plead guilty to something he didn’t do.”

Hudak’s problem was that Mike Payne, his former right-hand man at HEAT, agreed to do precisely that. The U.S. Attorney General’s office threatened Payne with the same fifty-year stretch that Hudak was facing, but offered him an out: Plead guilty on markeddown charges, roll on Hudak, do a short stretch, and hold onto your army pension. Payne had a wife and six kids back in North Carolina who could use the medical coverage on his pension. After twenty years in the Army, he had become accustomed to following orders, not sorting through options. Federal prosecutors knew from his call to Ainsworth that Payne wanted desperately to do the right thing. And they convinced him that doing his time and selling out his old boss -- a civilian, not even an American – was the right thing to do for his family and his country.

The prosecution’s case largely hinged on Payne’s testimony.He told the court he hadn’t known that State Department-issued licences were needed to instruct the UAE soldiers, but, once he did, Hank Lavery had assured him the approvals were being rubber-stamped. Unfortunately for the prosecution, Payne never indicated that he or Hudak was trying to pull a fast one. “Payne wasn’t too damaging,” Padilla says. “He looked like a fall guy.”

What the prosecution did have was physical evidence: about 2,400 Thermos-sized aluminum canisters filled with RDX, the second-most potent form of ordnance-grade explosives. According to the prosecution’s expert witnesses, these were “warheads” or “destructive devices” or “bombs” designed for use in shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, the type that were downing helicopters in Iraq. ATF Agent Ainsworth testified that the “warheads” were licensed for sale only to the U.S. military and were bought by Hudak “on the black market.” That sounded damning but, instead, it ended up biting the Feds in the ass.

The trial lasted almost six weeks. It featured dozens of witnesses. It featured hundreds of pieces of itemized physical exhibits: deactivated grenades, rockets, Claymore mines, and bombs. It featured 140,000 pages of transcripts and printed evidence for the lawyers to sort through. It featured a judge, Christine Armijo, who had been appointed to the bench by George W. Bush.

It also featured “minders,” observers who sat in on the proceedings. The Department of Defence’s minder looked like he was authorized to kill to prevent classified documents from being aired in court. A young lawyer from an Albuquerque firm was “the lady in black”; she wasn’t about to volunteer her interests no matter who tried to finesse her.

What the trial did not feature was Steve Mattoon. The prosecution didn’t call him. The defence subpoenaed him and intended to call him. “It would have been risky because he refused to talk to us [prior to the trial],” Padilla said. At the last minute, Mattoon informed the court that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. The jury was told that Mattoon was legally unavailable to testify. “In the end,” Padilla said, “nothing Mattoon could have said would have helped us more than him taking the Fifth.”

As it turned out, the least effective defence witness was Hudak himself. Reciting specs on explosives, describing the tax advantages of setting up HEAT’s offshore accounts, Hudak often lost the blue-collar jury, which Padilla and his co-counsel, Robert Gorence, a former rising star in the U.S. Attorney’s office now in private practice, had stacked with minorities and Democrats. He might have scored regular-guy points if he opened up the way he did down at the Tinnie General Store. Instead, the egotist emerged. When John Crews, the lead prosecutor, asked Hudak if it would have been difficult to rig up the explosive charges into weapons, Hudak responded, “Most people wouldn’t be able to . . . but I could.”

Padilla had told Hudak that if the jury convicted him, it was going to be because the jurors didn’t like him. The defence team considered not calling Hudak, but, in the end, his testimony neither helped his case nor hurt it. Padilla believed it was necessary, though, to open the door to call other witnesses.

Chief among these were four former employees of JRC, once a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton, the multi-billion-dollar company that was under the stewardship of CEO Dick Cheney a few years ago and that these days lands government contract after contract now that Mattoon’s ol’ fly-fishing partner is serving as Dubya’s caddy. Back in the eighties and nineties, JRC had contracts to manufacture ordnance for the Department of Defence, including the 2,400 units of aluminum-encased RDX that were recovered from HEAT’s storage magazine.

The first three former employees of JRC –intentionally referred to as “Halliburton” by Gorence during questioning – testified that the charges sold to Hudak weren’t bombs or explosive devices. Though ordered by the U.S. Department of Defence, DoD inspectors had rejected them. Their serial numbers were painted over so they wouldn’t be confused with real ordnance. The employees testified that what was sold to Hudak wasn’t functional, not without fuses or delivery systems. As one juror concluded,“If you had one down in the trenches and were hoping to deploy it, you were shit out of luck.”

A fourth employee of JRC, Mitchell Hambright, reluctantly testified that the charges were sold to Hudak on direct orders from above, on the day that JRC was sold to Tennessee-based explosives manufacturer Accurate Arms. A fax sent by Hambright to HEAT was entered into evidence: It offered 2,400 units of RDX-filled aluminum canisters – described as “charge, demolition” – for a little more than a buck a throw, the price of the box they came in. The fax was labelled “BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL,” an allusion to Kmart’s signature sale. The deal spared Accurate Arms the cost of destroying the charges. Hambright admitted on the stand that the sale was, to his mind, illegal and that he proceeded because he was concerned for his family’s welfare.

The BEAST itself couldn’t have blown a bigger hole in Ainsworth’s “black market” claim. At this point, the lady in black, who had worked on crosswords for much of the trial, started taking furious notes, looking for the world like a minder for Halliburton.

The jury was provided with heaps of evidence regarding Hudak’s attempts to comply with regulations. It heard Payne’s desperate call to Ainsworth, and Barr’s damning admission that the motive for the prosecution was money. The clincher for the defence, however, was Frank Fish.

In the hallway, before Fish walked into court, John Crews put the heat on him to follow Mattoon’s lead and refuse to testify. Fish didn’t blink. Instead, he told the court that he had already stood before a grand jury that did not return an indictment for his involvement in HEAT; those prosecuting Hudak had advised him that he was still a target, and Fish was forced to testify without immunity.

He told the court about contacting his friends in the military to check out HEAT’s reputation before joining the company. He had first met Mike Payne on a tour with the Army in Japan. “Before I signed on, I asked Mike, ‘Is everything State Department–approved?’ and he assured me it was,” Fish said.

As a witness to the “fight” between Mattoon and Hudak, Fish knew best the heat between them. Fish told the court that Mattoon “said he was going to do something after he quit.” Nothing specific, mind you. The jury had to imagine what it would be like to be threatened by a guy who could kill you with his bare hands, with explosives, or, for that matter, a phone call.

It was in cross-examination that the trial’s defining moment occurred: Crews, whose sneering courtroom manner turned off jurors, kept pushing Fish’s buttons. Eventually Fish tired of it and responded with the clinical cool that he needed to pop enemies as a sniper. He told Crews,“I’m trying to answer the questions to the best of my ability, but I resent you suggesting that I would do or even consider doing something against the interests of this country.”

Crews kept on sneering. “Are you finished?” he asked Fish.

Crews had his back to the jury.He couldn’t tell that he was the one who was done.

In his closing statement, Gorence apologized to the jury for frequent interruptions related to the admissibility of evidence that had jurors cooling their heels in the waiting room for hours at a time. But Gorence said he wouldn’t apologize for trying to get as much evidence as possible into Hudak’s defence – a play to the jurors’ sense that they were only getting part of the story. They thought the prosecution’s case was full of holes, the largest being the absence of Steve Mattoon.

At the end of six weeks, the jury deliberated for only six hours: Not guilty on all counts.

When the verdict was handed down on November 25, Bob and Sandy Hudak were overjoyed. “Our other son took his life when he was in his twenties,” Sandy said. “I don’t think that I could have taken losing another son. [A conviction] would have killed us all.”

David Hudak breathed a sigh of relief and told his mother not to cry. The U.S. Marshals in the courtroom told him not to leave just yet; some paperwork needed to be taken care of before they could release his passport to him. Hudak asked Padilla for a cellphone to call his wife. Then he turned to the reporters and said, “I can’t wait to file for my next explosives licence.”

Outside the courthouse, the prosecutors dodged the press. They declined comment other than to say they were “disappointed.” They had to be even more disappointed when they heard that the jury was drafting a letter to the judge presiding over Mike Payne’s sentencing. “If Payne does one day in jail, it would be a tragedy,” said juror Brian McMahon. (Payne is awaiting sentencing this summer.)

As it turned out, the Feds denied Hudak a timely victory lap and sent him a message that his acquittal wasn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. They held him for six more days on a trumped-up visa beef, kept him from the media, and shipped him down to El Paso, Texas. They finally released him on bail pending an immigration hearing but held onto his passport. The ironic footnote: Hudak’s release was finally granted on the day the incoming prime minister Paul Martin boldly declared that American authorities must respect Canadian passports.

THREE MONTHS LATER, IN FEBRUARY, HUDAK was still in southeastern New Mexico, still waiting for his immigration hearing, trying, he said, “to put my life back together.” Leslie and his two young sons were with him, but this was no ocean cruise. He was rooting around the Tinnie ranch, taking inventory of what little the looters had left behind. He’d already applied for a licence – Singapore wanted a shipment of the BEAST, an order he could fill now that the U.S. government had returned his seized property – but the State Department was taking a lot longer than usual to get back to him.

“Right now, I wonder whether I really want to be in this business any more,” he said after a disheartening day spent walking about the looted compound.

Hudak said there was no going back to Roswell, either. The authorities there had leased HEAT’s former space at the Walker Air Force Base. It was probably for the best. In a town famous for conspiracy theories, Hudak’s acquittal didn’t quell rumours about HEAT. Supposedly, some trainees hadn’t landed at Roswell’s airport. Supposedly, they parachuted into Mexico and were smuggled across the border. Supposedly, they were from some terrorist hothouse in the Middle East.

Jim Bullock is just one of the Roswellians who had a close encounter with suspicious aliens affiliated with HEAT. In the spring of 2002, three Middle Eastern men moved into a ranch house next door to Bullock, a retired teacher who lives near the old air base. “After 9/11, I was keeping an eye with David Hudak, HEAT, and the whole mess. They didn’t send out the Welcome Wagon for him and eye on everything,”

Bullock says. “They wore HEAT jackets leaving for work. One day I took over some bread that my wife had baked. They didn’t volunteer much about [their work], but when I asked them, they said that they were from Jordan and not [the United Arab Emirates]. They said they spent time in Georgia and Virginia before coming out here. Didn’t say anything about flying into Roswell from the UAE.”

Bullock says he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. “They got outta Dodge,” he says. On the day the Feds descended on HEAT’s facilities in Roswell and Tinnie, the three left for work and never came back. They left behind their clothes in the closet and their furniture in the living room. They left the lights on and their neighbours’ suspicions burning.

Out in Tinnie, the townies have always figured there was less – not more – than meets the the missus on their return, but they seem glad enough to have him back. On the record, he can’t talk about any civil actions that might be filed in coming months. He can’t talk about Accurate Arms or Halliburton. He can’t talk about his immigration hearing. He can’t talk about Steve Mattoon. Or won’t. But you can be sure that they’ve heard all about it at the Tinnie B-B-Q.

He will go on the record about some of the things he tells the locals over mesquite and a beer during bull sessions at the general store. He will say that the U.S. Department of Defense would be crazy not to let him train its soldiers, not to prepare them to wage war as it will have to be waged in the twenty-first century. When he gets on a roll, the old resolve is back and even the BEAST couldn’t knock a hole in it – which explains why he went to war in a New Mexico courtroom. And why, in the end, he was more resilient than at least a couple of America’s toughest fighting men.

Footnote: A federal judge threw out Payne’s plea out of court. Hudak’s lawyers filed suits on his behalf against Accurate Arms and Halliburton among others, but according to Timothy Padilla his client “is years away from seeing a dime.”