Billionaire Boys Club

The Scoundrels among the NBA owners

Co-founded by DeVos in 1959, Amway sells household products to millions of small distributors who are told they can strike it rich by reselling the items and recruiting new distributors. Its heavily pushed recruitment scheme has come under tremendous fire: one former distributor told Business Week he lost $15,000 in four years "buying the tapes, traveling to seminars, staying in hotels." Long suspected of running an enormous pyramid scheme, Amway was ultimately cleared of such allegations by the Federal Trade Commission in 1979. But it wasn't so lucky up north, pleading guilty to avoiding Canadian duties by undervaluing exports. The company paid $50 million to settle the charges. Writes Mother Jones of Amway's 750,000-person domestic sales force: "This ever-growing network ...heavily influenced by the company's dual themes of Christian morality and free enterprise, donates money and operates like a private political army."

Flagrant Fouls: Estimated net worth: $1.5 billion (No. 110 on the Forbes 400). A former distributor once said Amway tells "you to al ways vote conservative no matter what. They say liberals support the homosexuals and let women get out of their place."

Abe Pollin, Washington Wizards

The senior owner in the league, Pollin is often portrayed as a sincere man who truly cares about the fans. His "greatest pleasure," he told The New York Times last month, "is to see families and children come to my building to see an NBA game in a clean environment." Next time round, the Times might want to ask Honest Abe if his concern for a proper fan environment extends to the team's disabled followers. They sued Pollin in June 1996 to get his brand-new arena to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. "We alerted the MCI Center to the requirements of the law prior to the onset of construction," an attorney for the Paralyzed Veterans of America told the Engineering-News Record. The veterans won their suit, forcing Pollin to provide 127 to 160 wheelchair spaces with clear sight lines. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the owner's appeal, Abe Pollin v.Paralyzed Veterans of America, cementing the victory for the disabled.

Flagrant Fouls: Estimated net worth: $100 million (in 1996). A major supporter of the Democratic Party, Pollin was co-host of a 1997 function that brought in some $2.3 million for the DNC.

Mickey Arison, Miami Heat

Mickey inherited the team from dad Ted, the Heat's original owner. Ted probably didn't check in with Pat Riley and company much—he renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1990, in part to dodge U.S. taxes on his massive fortune (one of a class of "economic Benedict Arnolds," as a Treasury Department official once put it). Likewise, the Arisons' Carnival Cruise Lines, the world's biggest cruise company, is headquartered in Panama, exempting it from taxes on its revenue—$666 million in 1997. Mickey is managing general partner of the Heat and chairman and CEO of the cruise company.

Carnival was among the subjects of a scathing November 16 Times investigation of the cruise industry, revealing, among other embarrassments, that a Florida court found the company guilty of firing a crew member who refused to lie to protect Carnival in a civil suit.

Flagrant Fouls: Estimated net worth: $3.5 billion (No. 36 on the Forbes 400). Despite his enormous wealth, Arison fought hard to get Dade County to fund a large percentage of the Heat's soon-to-open arena.

Rogues' gallery: Charles Dolan (No. 92 on the Forbes 400), the Knicks' owner, owed the Internal Revenue Service $235 million in back taxes in 1993 but got away with never paying it. Perhaps Dolan and Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen (No. 3) are the pacesetters for a much-criticized trend among Gen-X NBA players—both are college dropouts. Rupert Murdoch (No. 18), who has minority stakes in the Knicks, Lakers, and Clippers, is, well, Rupert Murdoch—a one-stop controversy clearing house. To pick just one recent scandal: his News Corp. paid a mere $103 million in taxes on an operating income of $1.32 billion in 1997. In the words of one journalist, Atlanta Hawks owner Ted Turner (No. 19) has had "a succession of wives and mistresses bumping up against each other like commuters on a rush-hour subway."

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