Longform

Keeping Score

Page 4 of 7

Macey remembers Monus showing up at a cocktail party at the Women's Bank with a gun-slinging bodyguard in tow. The short and stocky Monus wowed the ladies with a silk shirt open at the chest to reveal three gold chains.

"When you talked to him," says Macey, "you knew he was a slimeball."
Monus would later be convicted of 109 felony counts and sentenced to nineteen years in prison as part of a $1.1 billion corporate fraud-and-embezzlement scheme that devastated his Phar-Mor drugstore chain. But by then, he'd already pulled a fast one at Coors Field, pushing through a lease that ensured the new ballpark would become a taxpayer-funded money machine for the Colorado Rockies.

By late 1990, negotiations were in high gear. On March 14, 1991, McHale signed a memorandum of understanding with the team for a lease at Coors Field. The owners showed off the agreement to National League officials just 48 hours later, when they flew into Denver to meet with the team's management. The sweetheart deal greatly impressed the league, which granted Denver a team in July of that year.

Williams believes Monus and Antonucci persuaded McHale that Denver would never get an expansion team without a lease that would assure a gusher of green. "I don't doubt that in John's mind, he thought they had to do this to get a team," she says. "I think Monus and Antonucci were crooks. They worked very hard to convince John they couldn't get backing for the team without a lease like that."

"They asked for the sun, moon and stars," she adds. "John decided they should only have the sun and the moon."

Besides the revenue from parking, advertising and concessions, McHale agreed to give the team the money from the sale of naming rights for the ballpark. The Coors Brewing Company had paid $15 million to slap its name on the stadium, money that voters had been told would be used to help fund construction of the ballpark. Instead, it went to the owners of the team, who apparently used it to pay part of the National League's $95 million expansion fee. And despite pre-election promises that no taxpayer funds would be used to build luxury boxes and club seating, McHale agreed to let sales-tax revenues be used to build those facilities.

By the fall of 1991, terms of the lease began to leak out. Upset that their original intent had been perverted, some state legislators made noises about replacing the stadium district board. To prevent that from happening, the Rockies hired an all-star lineup of lobbyists, who collected on favors owed from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. "They hired every heavy-hitter lobbyist they could find," says Williams.

National League president Bill White got into the act and sent a letter threatening to cancel Denver's expansion team if the terms of the lease were changed. It was later revealed that the letter was written by Rockies officials, who faxed it to White for his signature.

The lease negotiated by the baseball stadium district board stood.
And chairman McHale's hard work was rewarded: In the summer of 1992, with opening day less than a year away, he was hired by the Colorado Rockies as executive vice president.

The man who had been appointed by Governor Romer to protect the taxpayers' interest in negotiations with the team's owners was now sitting behind a desk in the Rockies' front office.

Macey still seethes over what he sees as McHale's conflict of interest. "He was part of the Antonucci team, in effect," he says.

Sam Suplizio, who was a member of the baseball stadium district board and now sits on the football stadium district board, also regards McHale as a Benedict Arnold. "I thought John McHale was totally self-serving," says Suplizio. "He signed a lease with Monus and Antonucci and then immediately quit and took a job with them. I thought what McHale did was a terrible abuse of public trust. His job was to construct a ballpark and bring a team, not to have a hidden agenda to seek a job for himself. If he wanted a job in baseball, he should have gotten a job with a team and worked his way up, like everyone else does."

A lifelong baseball fan, McHale used the Rockies position as a stepping stone to his dream job: president of the Detroit Tigers, a position he holds today.

"The reason the Tigers hired him is because of his expertise in getting the stadium built here," says Macey. "They're trying to get a new stadium in Detroit."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers