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MEXICAN STANDOFF

THE MARATHON'S NOT OVER YET: MEXICO PRESSURES DENVER TO PAY THE RACE'S WINNERS.

One year after 2,000-odd runners sprinted or limped across the finish line, the defunct and discredited Denver International Marathon continues to keep the pulse of Denver city officials pounding. The most recent headache comes from south of the border.

Three weeks ago Mexico's consul general in Denver, Ambassador Leonardo Ffrench, sent a letter to Mayor Wellington Webb reminding him how runners from Mexico had dominated the grueling 1993 race--and that not one of them has received a cent of the promised prize money. Ffrench concluded by asking for Webb's help in paying the $21,000 in winnings owed the runners from, if necessary, the city's own checkbook.

Webb spokesman Briggs Gamblin says that city officials have tried--unsuccessfully--to scare up the money from private sources. He adds that because the race was organized by a private corporation, the city has no obligation to pay.

In an October 13 letter, Webb told Ffrench that "such expenditure would be characterized as discharging a purely moral obligation and...the charter forbids the expenditure of public funds for purely moral obligations, no matter how compelling."

Ffrench, however, has interpreted the city's obligation to the Mexican athletes differently. He claims that, at bottom, Webb and the city are responsible to do right by the Mexican runners. "It was not Denver that organized the marathon," Ffrench says. "But the mayor acted as a guarantor."

The Mexican government is serious about collecting the prizes, Ffrench says. Just how serious, he adds, was amply demonstrated recently, when the Mexican Athletic Federation asked the International Amateur Athletic Federation to urge an athlete boycott of all races held in Colorado until the Mexican winners are paid.

Last October's marathon was the first in what was to become an annual gallop through Denver's streets, and most people associated with the race agree that the event itself came off splendidly. Yet it was not long after the last water cup had been swept from the streets that Denver International Marathon Inc., the for-profit corporation that had organized the event, hit the wall.

First came the news that the off-duty Denver cops who worked security for the race had not been paid. Next to come up empty were the race's winners, owed a total of $50,000 in prize money. By the time various vendors and workers had joined the chorus of complaints, DIM's unpaid tab had swollen to nearly $250,000.

Most of the anger was vented in the direction of DIM president Jeffrey Fryer, who came to Denver from Los Angeles, where he had worked for the well-regarded and highly successful Los Angeles marathon. Unfortunately, any lessons Fryer learned there apparently were lost on the way to Denver.

Especially troubling about the trail of debt was that Fryer, an accountant by training, had collected what fellow organizers said was plenty of money to pull off the Denver International Marathon ("Running on Empty," January 26). As of last week, however, the only creditors who have been paid are the Denver police, who last March received an anonymous donation to cover their $47,000 in bills.

As his company unraveled, it was revealed that Fryer was no stranger to federal bankruptcy courts. Over the past ten years he has filed for protection from his creditors three times, in California and in Denver. Despite its overwhelming bills, however, Denver International Marathon Inc. has not yet sought protection under bankruptcy laws. Instead, it has quietly withered and died.

Fryer, who did not return calls from Westword, appears to have simply walked away from the mess. Several people who have spoken to him recently say he claims to have lost $200,000 of his own money on the Denver race. Yet they also contend that Fryer hardly seems to have suffered from DIM's red-splashed balance sheet and jilted creditors.

Lesley Fuller, who worked with Fryer in Los Angeles and then came to Denver to help organize the Denver International Marathon, says her former boss--from whom she parted on nonspeaking terms--currently works for Playboy magazine, arranging for sporty Playmates to run in high-profile races. Fuller says she also heard that Fryer recently returned from a six-week vacation in Australia.

Jane Welzel also has made it her business to keep tabs on Jeffrey Fryer. That's because she was under the impression that her third-place finish in the Denver marathon's women's open category would earn her a $3,000 prize. Since getting stiffed, however, she has dogged Fryer, calling him periodically at his Santa Monica office to ask when she'll be seeing the check.

"He just keeps telling me he has plans to pay us," she says. Welzel last spoke to Fryer in June, when he told her again that she could expect to see her money soon, probably in six months. Still, she's not confident. "I would prefer if he would just say, `Look, I have no intention of paying you.'"

Fryer's reputation was not helped any when, three weeks ago, Los Angeles Marathon Inc. agreed to pay a $436,000 fine to two California election-watchdog agencies to settle charges that the company had laundered $73,000 in campaign contributions between 1989 and 1992. Although Fryer was not named in the investigation, he was LAM's accountant through 1991, when he was fired by director Bill Burke.

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