Abe Pollin, principal owner of the Bullets basketball team, the Capitals hockey team and Capital Centre, was ordered yesterday by Prince George's County Circuit Court Judge Albert T. Blackwell Jr. to return to Capital Centre $885,000 that had been shifted to the Bullets and Capitals by adjusting license agreements between the teams and the arena.
The decision resulted from a suit brought by Arnold Heft, a limited partner in Capital Centre and onetime close friend of Pollin's, asking that the adjustments be rescinded and the money be returned to the arena.
The money, which Blackwell ruled to be assets of the arena partnership known as the Washington National Arena Limited Partnership (WNA), of which Pollin is general partner, had, in effect, been used by the financially sound Capital Centre in 1982 and 1983 to help the then financially struggling teams.
Testimony during a sometimes emotional 19-day trial in April showed Capital Centre to be an ongoing profit-making arena, so it appears that Heft, who holds one-third interest in the arena, would be entitled to about $294,700 of the money in question.
Pollin said yesterday following a news conference at Capital Centre that he always had viewed the financial arrangements as "a loan" and that the loan "has long since been paid back." Consequently, the $885,000 already has been factored into the arena's operation and that profits due Heft, he said, had "long since been disbursed."
Attorney Peter O'Malley, Capital Centre board member, when asked what funds Heft might receive as a result of the decision, said, "Heft is entitled to a share of WNA's profits. To the extent that the money contributes to the profits of WNA, one-third would go to Heft at such time as the profits are disbursed."
Following yesterday's decision, which also awarded to Heft $90,000 in attorneys' fees and costs, Heft's chief attorney, Stephen Grafman, said, "We're pleased that the court has rendered a monetary judgment and in addition has seen fit to award attorneys' fees and costs to Mr. Heft." Heft was unavailable for comment.
At his news conference, Pollin said: "I'm tremendously pleased the judge found that everything I did was fair and reasonable. He got rid of the charges that I did anything malicious or willfully wrong. This makes me very happy. I have a reputation for honesty, integrity and fair play and to have it attacked was very painful.
"This episode was a tremendous ordeal for me and my family. I'm very happy it's over. I bear no malice toward Arnold Heft, but I feel a tremendous and tragic sense of loss -- loss of time, effort and lots of money."
On the handling of the $885,000, Pollin said, "It's purely a debt. We've always considered it a debt. The repayment has already been made."
Blackwell wrote, " . . . the Court concludes that Pollin did not breach his fiduciary duty to WNA and the retroactive adjustments are not to be set aside on this basis."
The judge went on to say: "If the checks written by WNA to the teams had actually been loans, as the parties suggested, they should have been recorded as such with a precise labeling and should have included a due date, repayment schedule, interest and other businesslike terms. In a complicated fiduciary situation such as this, interactions should not be handled in such a casual manner . . . .
" . . . A limited partner, as an investor, should at the minimum be given a chance to demur by selling his interest if he disagrees with the overall direction a limited partnership is taking. The WNA check transactions will therefore be set aside."
Pollin said yesterday's decision would not affect the "health" of the Bullets or Capitals. "They're healthy," he said, "and they're going to get healthier."