We’re deep into the second full week since Ted Mann of The Day in New London broke the story of Linda McMahon’s 1989 memo directing an executive of the then World Wrestling Federation not to use Dr. George Zahorian any more.
And also be sure to alert the good doctor (who maintained a cash-and-carry drug dispensary out of the dressing rooms at shows in Pennsylvania) that the feds were investigating him.
The media’s passivity here is puzzling. I admit that I can’t think of a single angle of this story that calls out for further scrutiny – except maybe Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Let’s review what’s known, and why what remains unknown is important in the consideration of the record of a Senate candidate.
1 – WHO TIPPED THE McMAHONS?
Linda McMahon’s memo says an official of the “State Department” spilled the beans on Zahorian. This may just mean that the wrestling company CEO – who has said her early goal in life was to become a French teacher – wasn’t listening during high school civics class. She now clarifies that in the memo she meant to say “Justice Department.”
For decades, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter has been saying the tip came from someone in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.
Without elaboration, the leak has been pinned on James J. West, the federal prosecutor in central Pennsylvania at the time. West, now in private practice in Harrisburg, has denied being the source of the advance information to the McMahons. And on its face it doesn’t make sense that he would have been so sabotaging one, and potentially two, of his own office’s criminal cases.
In connection with WWE statements pertaining to prosecutors, bear in mind that in 1994, when Vince McMahon and the future WWE would themselves be on trial, part of their defense lawyer’s husband’s job was to smear the prosecution team in the New York press. (See the recent reprints on this blog of the 1995 New York Post and Village Voice articles on Martin Bergman, “the fixer.”) Aside from the question of who gave away the 1989 Zahorian investigation info – or even the question of whether Vince and company deserved to be tried subsequently on conspiracy charges – a disinterested observer would note that Sean O’Shea, the lead prosecutor in 1994, was not at the top of his game; for whatever reason, he made several schoolboy tactical errors. Maybe the McMahon operatives, if nothing else, had done a good job of getting inside his head.
In any event, we certainly need to find out more about the pre-Linda memo contacts between U.S. Attorney West and Jack Krill, one of the McMahons’ lawyers. According to the McMahon camp, West told Krill of the Zahorian investigation “at a fundraiser” – and then instantly expressed regret for having done so. But according to West, no such thing happened. (That is, according to West by way of Mann and The Day; to me yesterday, West declined comment.)
Gentlemen, wha’ happened? Where did you see each other, socially or otherwise, in the period leading up to December 1, 1989? And what exactly did you say to each other about Zahorian?
2 – HOW VALUABLE WAS THE TIP?
As soon as we ask the question in boldface above, we’re grading on the curve. Obstruction of justice is obstruction of justice. Still, it’s at least interesting to speculate on whether whatever West allegedly told Krill was incidental or central to both Zahorian’s unsuccessful defense against charges in 1991 and the McMahons’ acquittal on related charges three years later.
Dave Meltzer, the most authoritative reporter of both trials, has never believed that the destruction of records by Zahorian had anything to do with why Vince McMahon and WWE got off. Meltzer says the importance of the Zahorian-is-hot tip was its timing: at the very moment when state deregulatory legislation was kicking in. Under the new rules, appointment of an attending physician at wrestling shows passed from the state athletic commission to the promotion. Had WWE (then called WWF) kept using Zahorian, they would have been more deeply implicated in what the government would later vainly try to establish as a conspiracy to distribute steroids.
Over the years, I’ve deferred to Meltzer on this; he knows a lot about this stuff, and unlike me, he attended the McMahon trial. But The Day’s story gives me creeping doubts. One is on a small point: the court records published by the newspaper are ambiguous on whether WWE did succeed in separating itself from Zahorian before the company had directly booked him even once. The government’s contention about that in the pleading papers may have been flawed, though, and ultimately discredited at trial. The paperwork-shredding does seem to be a bit of a red herring; the feds were coordinating a months-long operation of controlled purchases of steroids from Zahorian by an informant, and they could (and did) produce backup FedEx copies of the doctor’s shipping receipts to Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, and many other WWE performers.
But even so, what the McMahons did seems an awful lot like attempting to obstruct justice, perhaps needlessly. Further, neither Meltzer nor anyone else could foretell how every prosecutorial thread might fit together. In a more competent prosecution that did not screw up the venue for the charges (to cite the most blatant mistake), destruction of records very well could have been contributed to a mosaic of evidence persuading a jury to convict rather than acquit.
3 – WWE’S TIMELINE IS STRANGE – AS USUAL
Set in motion by Linda McMahon’s memo, aide Pat Patterson called Zahorian from a pay phone in December 1989, fired him, and advised him to destroy all his wrestlers’ records because he was under criminal investigation. Zahorian was said to have deposited those records with his attorney. Yet when the feds busted Zahorian at his office three months later, the doctor was in the act of destroying records.
So what’s the deal there? Were these additional records he’d forgotten to secure earlier?
Plus: What was so surprising about a visit from federal agents if the doctor had already been tipped a season earlier?
At an online fan discussion board, laughing at his own joke without explanation, Dave Meltzer, who fancies himself the alpha male of journalists, has dismissed the idea that the voters of Connecticut are owed an accounting by Linda McMahon for her 12/1/89 WWE work product. Meltzer apparently prefers to cling stubbornly to his 16-year-old take on the Linda memo even in light of The Day’s new information. For his own good, someone ought to remind Meltzer that this is not a skit on Monday Night Raw.
As for the Connecticut media, they too deserve darts if they leave at loose ends this basic exercise in the Five W’s.