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RUNNING ON EMPTYHOW CLOSE IS THE DENVER INTERNATIONAL MARATHON TO THE FINISH LINE?

Back on October 3, when the Denver International Marathon was still just a race and not a synonym for negative balance sheets, Leslie Fuller, who helped organize the event, was ecstatic. "It was fantastic," she says, recalling her feeling on the day of the race. "It was one of the happiest days of my life."

Now, three and a half months later, Fuller is perplexed. "I don't get it," she sighs. "I swear to God I don't. How this happened, I don't know."

Fuller is not alone: It is still unclear how the first Denver International Marathon veered so far financially off course. Rumors began circulating in December among Denver police officers that they were not going to be paid for monitoring the event. Three weeks ago Jeffrey Fryer, DIM's executive director, confirmed that he did not have the money to pay the cops the $47,000 he owed them. In fact, he couldn't even write checks to the race's winning runners, who are owed $50,000 in prize money.

Since then, it turns out that the cops and the runners aren't alone. Fryer and Denver International Marathon Inc., a for-profit corporation, sport a long list of creditors who provided services and products for the race and who have yet to see any reimbursement. "Everyone I talked to who he might have paid, he hasn't," says Creigh Kelley, owner of BKB Ltd., which organizes and promotes many of Denver's road races.

Fryer, who did not return calls from Westword, has not been accused of any crimes. Nor has anyone directly accused him of mismanagement. Still, an examination of DIM's finances and some educated guesswork--which suggest that Fryer collected, or had access to, an estimated $400,000 in cash--have people connected with the race wondering: Where did all the money go?

By now it is clear that Fryer, a trained accountant, acquired a raft of financial problems well before he hit the wall with the DIM. According to federal court documents filed in Los Angeles, Fryer voluntarily sought protection under bankruptcy laws in 1991, listing $1.2 million more in debts than he had in assets.

Moreover, he twice has sought protection under federal bankruptcy laws over his connection with a building on the corner of Broadway and Speer Boulevard, once in 1985 and again in 1992. The building is owned by KM Developers Ltd. Fryer, who owns a 6.2 percent share of KM, was president of Management Advisory Planning, the managing partner of the development company. The bankruptcy is pending.

Despite his ruffled financial past, Fryer seemed to have the experience to stage a successful marathon. He handled the books for the Los Angeles Marathon for four years. (He was fired in 1991. William Burke, president of the L.A. race, now says that Fryer simply was canned in a moment of anger. "It was an error on my part to discharge Jeff," he says. "I have since apologized to him.")

Fryer also assembled a top-notch team of consultants and managers to organize the Denver venture. As a result, those who signed contracts with him to provide services for the race say they had no reason to suspect he was planning the event with anything but good intentions. "My experience with him up to and including the marathon weekend was nice," says Kelley, who announced the race on Channel 9. "The guy doesn't set off alarms."

In the days leading up to the race, Fryer still projected an image of control and confidence. Recalls Karen Verkutis, owner of Corporate Images, the company that designed DIM's logos and made the official T-shirts: "Within a week of the event he told me that he was going to pay me."

In fact, Leslie Fuller says she didn't learn the money wasn't there until more than a month after the race: "An athlete called me sometime in early November and asked me if the drug tests had come back. [Runners can't collect prize money until they pass the tests.] I told her no, not yet. But then she called me back after she had called the USA Track and Field Federation, and told me that the results had been mailed."

Fuller continues: "I then called the federation and asked for the Federal Express receipts. And the results had come back--on October 26. So I called Jeff, who was in New York for that marathon. He said, `Oh, I didn't know about that.' When I flew to New York I took the results with me. And on Saturday, November 13, we had a confrontation.

"We were riding back to our hotel on the subway. I told Jeff that I was having a difficult time handling this front we were having to put up--you know, that the money would be there. And I asked him, `How do you do it?' because he was doing it remarkably well. Finally, I told him: `I will continue to take phone calls. But if it is from the elite athletes [who were owed prize money], I will transfer it to you.' He said if I did that, I wouldn't be doing my job, and so to clear out my desk."
Fryer's inability to pay his contractors is particularly confusing because the Denver International Marathon appeared to have been adequately financed. In addition to numerous in-kind contributions, Fryer had collected a pile of cash.

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