Last month, the super-fan who calls himself the "Marlins Man" flew to the British Virgin Islands to find the foreign headquarters that the team is using to avoid a county courtroom in a legal fight with Miami-Dade. His hunt took him to a rented post office.
The fact-finding jaunt by Laurence Leavy — a Fort Lauderdale lawyer famous for wearing a Marlins jersey at major sporting events and feuding with new CEO Derek Jeter — infuriated the team's front office, who yanked the media credentials of radio host Andy Slater, who joined Leavy on the trip and broadcast the results.
Miami-Dade lawyers had a different take, and now are using a deposition of Leavy — along with a selfie he took from an island post office — as evidence that the team really isn't based offshore as the county pursues a share of the profits from Jeffrey Loria's $1.2 billion sale of the team last year to Jeter and partners.
"Inside the Post Office, there were no Miami Marlins signs or logos anywhere, the employees in the Post Office were not wearing Miami Marlins clothes, and the employees stated they had no Miami Marlins forms or stationery," Leavy stated in a signed affidavit county lawyers filed earlier this month in Miami-Dade v. Miami Marlins. Leavy added he tried to call a phone number listed for Abernue, the holding company identified as the BVI entity that owns an undisclosed portion of the team.
"That phone number was disconnected," Leavy said.
Marlins spokesman Jason Latimer issued a statement Friday touting the diversity of the team's largely undisclosed ownership group while rejecting the idea that the franchise is anything but a Miami institution.
"This is an unfortunate attempt to create a circus atmosphere, when the fact remains that this lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with this ownership group – this is a dispute between the County and the previous ownership group," Latimer wrote. "The current ownership group is very proud of the international makeup of its members. We firmly believe our organization must be reflective of the diversity of Miami and South Florida. The name on our jersey says Miami and this ownership group is unwaveringly committed to this community."
The court filings are the latest volley in a legal dispute that primarily pits Miami-Dade against Loria, who in 2009 signed a deal with the county and the city of Miami to share profits from a team sale under certain circumstances. The profit-sharing deal was part of the governments' agreement to build Loria a new $600 million ballpark and parking complex in Little Havana, with the team paying about $155 million toward construction.
Loria paid just $159 million for the team in 2002, but claimed a paper loss of $140 million on last year's sale under the formula laid out in the original deal with Miami and Miami-Dade, which allowed the governments to share 5 percent of certain profits. The two governments rejected the claim and are suing both the buyer and the seller of the team, saying in court filings that "the Jeter Marlins" assumed responsibility for Loria's liabilities after taking over the franchise.
Jeter's lawyers argued the new owner has no role in the court fight, since Loria set aside about $50 million from the proceeds to resolve claims like the county's. The foreign ownership claim surfaced when the team tried to shift the case to federal court. Making it a federal case could make the path to arbitration easier, and bump the suit from a judge elected in a county where the Marlins Park financial deal remains widely unpopular.
County lawyers mocked the foreign-ownership assertion as not only wrong on the law, but also ridiculous on its face. The team "cannot escape that the Jeter Marlins is a U.S. company with its principal place of business in Miami," the county wrote in its filing that included the Leavy affidavit and photographs from his BVI trip.
On his Twitter feed, Slater posted a video of Leavy, in his signature orange "Marlins Man" jersey, handing out Marlins gear to unimpressed employees of the mailbox center that he said houses the address for Abernue.
"Spread the joy," Slater said while filming Leavy's approach to the sales counter. Leavy offered a black-and-orange jersey to the unsmiling woman, who didn't respond to Slater's question of "Do you like the Marlins?"
The team's front office in Little Havana didn't like the reporting, which included Slater on the video holding up the corporate paperwork Abernue filed to claim its post-office location. "Through my investigation, I was able to find exactly where this corporate office is located," Slater said to the camera outside of a storefront named the British Virgin Islands Post as Leavy filmed. "What did I find? It's located in a post office right here. It's a P.O. box."
In an interview Friday, Slater said the team yanked his permission to cover games at Marlins Park shortly after his video aired on Twitter.
"I was in the BVIs, and put the story out," he said. "I get an email an hour and a half later saying I was denied a credential" for the next day's game.
A Marlins spokesman declined to comment on Slater's denial of media credentials, which was confirmed by a screenshot of emails Slater received from the team's press office. The emails indicate he was approved for credentials on March 28, April 5 and twice on April 12. On April 14, the day of Slater's Twitter report, the subject line read "Denial of Credential Request." An email from May 11 also showed a denial. Latimer said Friday that Slater would be cleared for a credential the next time his station requests one.
Slater said the BVI trip was his effort to advance a story first reported by the Miami Herald, which on April 9 had revealed the Marlins legal claim of foreign ownership.
"One of the members of Marlins Teamco is a corporation incorporated in the British Virgin Islands with its principal place of business in the British Virgin Islands," the Marlins wrote in a March court filing, referring to the company Jeter and majority owner Bruce Sherman formed in 2017 to buy the franchise from Loria. "Accordingly, Marlins Teamco is a citizen of the British Virgin Islands" under federal law governing treaties.
"I wanted to see what exactly was going on," Slater said of the claims by Jeter lawyers of a BVI place of business. "This was a big national story."
Leavy is best known for wearing an orange Marlins jersey at expensive seats at the World Series, the Kentucky Derby and the Super Bowl. He's also attracted attention in the Jeter era for complaining to him in person about player decisions and season-ticket prices.
The Marlins Man has also objected to the team dropping orange jerseys on the field in favor of black ones — a gripe that influenced his strategy for the trip to the BVI headquarters.
"My idea was to go to that office and give everyone orange Marlins' jerseys and visors signed by me, take a group photo with Abernue's employees, and say 'look— the Marlins employees in the British Virgin Islands are wearing orange Marlins' jerseys," he said in the affidavit. "Another purpose of my trip was to post the photographs taken on social media with the hashtag: '#BRINGBACKORANGE.'"
Leavy said he brought two dozens caps and jerseys to the islands to hand out at the Marlins entity's address, only to find a few postal shop employees there. He said it was his passion for the orange jerseys that motivated him to join Slater for the mission, and he blames his own friction with Jeter for the switch.
"Orange made me the Marlins Man," Leavey said from Baltimore, where he's attending the Preakness horse races on Saturday. "If it wasn't for the orange, nobody would have noticed me. I'd just be going around in pin stripes."