Miami-Dade County

In $1.2 billion Marlins sale, firm owned by Jeffrey Loria’s deputy got $30 million

Joel Mael, center, then vice chairman of the Marlins, chats with the team’s two top executives: president David Samson, left, and owner Jeffrey Loria at the franchise’s old home at the Miami Dolphins stadium in 2008.
Joel Mael, center, then vice chairman of the Marlins, chats with the team’s two top executives: president David Samson, left, and owner Jeffrey Loria at the franchise’s old home at the Miami Dolphins stadium in 2008. WALTER MICHOT

In claiming he had no profits to share with taxpayers on his $1.2 billion sale of the Miami Marlins, Jeffrey Loria cited a hefty expense tied to the transaction: a $30 million payment to a financial advisory firm called Tallwood Associates. The team’s front office didn’t have to go far for that advice. Joel Mael, a top Loria deputy who served as Marlins vice chairman, founded the New York firm more than 20 years ago.

Loria’s longtime investment banker, Mael helped put together Loria’s purchase of the Montreal Expos in 1999, as well as Loria’s flip of the Canadian team to buy the Marlins in 2002 for $158 million. Mael also was involved with Loria’s $1.2 billion sale of the Marlins to Derek Jeter and partners last October, in which Loria accountants said Tallwood earned 5 percent of the profits.

The $29,988,550 payout to Tallwood Associates that Loria disclosed to Miami-Dade County on Feb. 1 is now cited in a county lawsuit against both the Loria company that once owned the Marlins and a new entity formed by the Jeter group to buy the franchise.

Loria’s 2009 deal for more than $400 million in public financing for the county-owned Marlins Park included a provision that gives Miami and Miami-Dade a 5 percent share of profits from a team sale. Loria’s lawyers earlier this month claimed a $141 million loss on the October deal, based on the calculations allowed in the original 2009 agreement.

marlins park
Marlins Park MATIAS J. OCNER

Miami-Dade is contesting that loss and demanding more details on the Tallwood payment and other expenses listed in the five-page report Loria’s law firm delivered to the county to justify the lack of profit-sharing proceeds. Tallwood’s fee accounted for about 21 cents of every dollar of Loria’s claimed loss.

Mael, who served as vice chairman of the Marlins, declined to comment Wednesday. “I really don’t talk to the press at all,” said Mael, a partner at Brookwood Financial Partners in Beverly, Massachusetts. His biography on the Brookwood site lists him as a founder of Tallwood Associates, and a radio interviewer in 2016 described him as managing director of the firm.

The county does not mention the Marlins connection to Tallwood in the suit it filed Friday, Miami-Dade vs. the Miami Marlins. But it does question the circumstances of the payment and whether Loria was using the $30 million fee to Tallwood to reward the firm for nearly two decades of work at the expense of the county’s claim on profit sharing.

“This contract begs the question whether these expenses relate solely to the 2017 sale of the Marlins,” reads the litigation, “or were instead a fee for Tallwood’s financial services to Loria for the past 17 years, with a payment structured to reduce the net proceeds of the sale of the Team.”

David Samson, the team president under Loria, declined to comment Wednesday. The first hearing in the Miami-Dade suit is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday in Circuit Court.

Jay Rosen, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer with Saul, Ewing, Arnstein and Lehr in Miami, said it’s not surprising to see a deal yield a large payout to an investment banking firm that managed the finances for a major transaction.

“Investment bankers oftentimes are the ones that get the biggest fee,” Rosen said. “That’s where they get their money for putting together the transaction.”

In press reports on Mael’s tenure with the Marlins under Loria, he’s described as a part-time member of the front office. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2015 that he typically was flying to Miami twice a month from his home in New York and would stay in a hotel during his visits. The article also describes him as sharing an office with Samson when he visited the ballpark.

As a Wall Street recruit, Mael also touted the return-on-investment potential for what were the team’s big signings of the moment: Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract and Christian Yelich to a seven-year, $50 million deal. (Jeter traded Stanton to the New York Yankees shortly after taking over the franchise, while Yelich left for the Brewers last month.)

“We assembled a group that we think has real all-star talent on it,” Mael said.

In a 2016 interview with the Charlie Harary Show, a WABC radio program focused on entrepreneurs, Mael described the challenges of being an executive for a business that draws such passion from the public.

“What makes the baseball business completely different is you’re under a microscope. There is nothing you do that is not viewed by the public,” he said. “You are second-guessed, and third-guessed, and fourth-guessed every day.”

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