His name is Anthony Bergamo, and he's an executive-level employee of would-be Washington Redskins owner Howard Milstein. But for a while this year, Bergamo took on a phony name, "Anthony Burke," and went undercover in an unusual effort to dig up dirt against Milstein's rival John Kent Cooke.
Using the Burke pseudonym, Bergamo posed as a businessman and tried to strike deals with Cooke and former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly. Along the way, he tried to steer conversations to the sale of the Redskins and hoped to catch one or both of the men maligning Milstein. He even tried to use a hidden tape recorder in a meeting with Cooke in Bermuda.
Instead of helping Milstein, Bergamo could wind up hurting the New York real estate magnate. Not only did his activities apparently fail to yield the evidence he sought, they've created an obstacle in Milstein's lawsuit alleging Cooke and Casserly doomed his bid to buy the team.
"Ironically, it boomeranged, and resulted in evidence that shows there's no merit to Mr. Milstein's claim that John Kent Cooke interfered with his bid to buy the Redskins," Joseph M. Hassett, an attorney for Cooke, said yesterday. "This is an issue that we believe taints the ongoing litigation."
David Boies, Milstein's lead attorney, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. His co-counsel, Alan B. Vickery, said this week that he didn't view Bergamo's actions as an issue in the case. Bergamo declined to discuss his role, saying, "I'm sorry, I have no comment."
Milstein filed suit against Cooke and Casserly on May 17 in U.S. District Court, alleging they conspired with friends in the National Football League to derail his $800 million bid for the team. According to Milstein, Cooke and Casserly sabotaged his efforts to win the required support of NFL owners. Cooke and Casserly repeatedly have denied any wrongdoing. Daniel M. Snyder, a former Milstein partner, wound up buying the team in late May.
On Monday, the case moved to D.C. Superior Court with a complaint that names only Cooke as a defendant. Milstein's premise is the same: Cooke, the former Redskins president and son of the late owner Jack Kent Cooke, disparaged Milstein in hopes of prevailing with his own bid.
Bergamo's role came to light Nov. 12, when attorneys for Cooke and Casserly questioned him in a pretrial deposition. A transcript, which has yet to be filed in any court, was obtained this week by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and describes how the seasoned executive turned into a relentless private eye for Milstein's Washington Sports Ventures Inc.
Bergamo, an attorney, testified that he told Milstein of his trip to Bermuda and got reimbursed $6,500 for it, but he insisted that he didn't act in concert with Milstein's lawyers. Making an important distinction, he said he was acting as an employee of Milstein's, not as a lawyer.
Lawyers generally are barred by ethical constraints from trying to contact the parties they are suing, and rules typically require them to deal only through the targets' attorneys. Although the encounter in Bermuda with Cooke took place eight days before Milstein's suit was filed and before the team was sold, Boies already had written to Cooke's attorneys and threatened legal action. Bergamo met with Casserly three months after the suit was filed.
Hassett vowed yesterday to find out more about Bergamo's role, maintaining the staged meetings with Cooke and Casserly were "inconsistent with the fair conduct of litigation."
Casserly's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said: "This troublesome conduct will undoubtedly play a significant role in the Superior Court action. I'm pleased Charley Casserly is out of this very nasty case."
Bergamo is managing director of the Milford Plaza Hotel, a Milstein property in New York, and heads a massive development project for Milstein in downtown Niagara Falls. He testified he has worked four years for Milstein, that they often talk and that he has much autonomy.
"Mr. Milstein said to me, I believe in late January, early February 1999, [that] there was a barber in Washington who was telling people that Mr. Cooke had the deal locked up," Bergamo testified at the deposition, saying Milstein understood the barber and Cooke had made insulting remarks about Milstein.
"He was upset by it," Bergamo said. "I said to him, 'I'll look into it.' "
According to the deposition, Bergamo began visiting Cooke's barber at his downtown shop in February, starting a series of regular haircuts, shaves and manicures. He said he eventually got close enough to the barber to find out when Cooke was coming in for an appointment.
Posing as Burke, Bergamo was in the shop April 7 when Cooke showed up. Bergamo said he told Cooke he viewed him and his late father as football "legends," hoping to relax him. He testified that they discussed a potential business deal and that Cooke told him he had moved to Bermuda.
Bergamo followed up with a telephone call to Cooke, again pushing a fictitious business opportunity. Then, in early May, Bergamo traveled to Bermuda, spending a week there before managing to see Cooke at a restaurant. He testified that he got a table next to Cooke, sent Cooke and his wife a bottle of wine and finally joined them, secretly taping them.
Bergamo said that he talked with Cooke about the Redskins sale and that Cooke told him he believed Snyder had the "liquid finances" to get the team.
The conversation with Casserly took place in August at "a small little pub in Virginia," Bergamo testified. He said he approached Casserly, who was in his waning days as general manager, under the guise of finding him a job as a consultant, and that despite his efforts, Casserly wouldn't discuss the Redskins dispute.