Major League Baseball dashes sports-agent dreams of Chicago businessman charged with fraud

When Chicago entrepreneur Brian Brundage was indicted on federal fraud charges in December for allegedly operating a multimillion-dollar electronics recycling scheme, he turned his attention to salvaging his side gig: professional sports agent.

With a client roster that included Chicago Bears linebacker John Timu and other players, Brundage's nascent Worldwide Career Management seemed poised to offer him a glamorous alternative to the once-booming recycling business, Intercon Solutions, that was derailed amid accusations from a watchdog group that it misrepresented disposal methods.

The federal indictment ended Brundage's recycling business, with a federal judge barring him from the industry as a condition of his release from custody. The Major League Baseball Players Association may have ended his sports agency as well, recently suspending his certification to represent professional baseball players, at least until his fraud trial, which is set for March 13.

"I've been told that I have to relinquish the players that we have," Brundage said last week. "I'm basically getting kicked out of Major League Baseball."

Brundage, whose recycling business touted stringent, environmentally friendly methods, once boasted an impressive customer list that included major corporations and government agencies. A 2011 report by a watchdog group accused Brundage of exporting hazardous e-waste to China, which he said caused him to lose 70 percent of his recycling clients.

In 2012, Brundage founded his sports agency in an attempt to diversify.

"It was going to be the business that I transitioned into 100 percent," Brundage said. "Right now, we're just hanging on for dear life."

Brundage, 45, of Dyer, Ind., was certified as an agent by in 2014, the New York-based players association confirmed. The certification process entails a background check, a written exam and a formal designation as an agent by at least one player.

Told by the association in June that he needed to retake the exam, Brundage received approval from the federal judge overseeing his fraud case to travel to New York for an Aug. 30 test date.

Brundage said the association called him two days before the exam and told him not to come and that his certification was suspended pending the outcome of his trial.

Players association spokesman Greg Bouris would not confirm Brundage's suspension and declined to comment further.

Brundage's NFL agent certification was "suspended indefinitely" on Dec. 22, three days after his arrest on federal fraud charges, said Mark Levin, director of salary cap and agent administration for the National Football League Players Association.

Timu fired Brundage's firm Jan. 6 and signed with a different agent, Levin said Thursday.

While Brundage has attempted to keep his firm afloat with the help of another NFL-certified agent, that didn't stop Timu, a third-year linebacker for the Bears, from bolting, Brundage said.

Timu, who has started several games for the Bears and was assigned to the practice squad this season, declined to comment through a team spokesman.

Worldwide Career Management lists eight active NFL players among its clients, while the NFL Players Association website pegs it at four players.

Brundage's agency lists 17 active professional baseball players, all of whom are in the minor leagues. One of Brundage's clients is Brannon Easterling, who is pitching in the Chicago White Sox organization for the minor league Birmingham Barons.

White Sox spokesman Scott Reifert confirmed Easterling is represented by Worldwide Career Management but said the player declined to comment further.

In March, Brundage faces trial on five counts of income tax evasion, four counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud in connection with his Chicago Heights-based recycling business, whose client roster once included Texas Instruments, Tribune Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to the federal indictment, Brundage fraudulently misrepresented to customers that the electronics the company collected would be disassembled and recycled "in an environmentally sound manner." Instead, the indictment alleges, he caused "thousands of tons" of electronics parts and potentially hazardous materials to be placed into landfills, resold to customers who shipped the materials overseas or stockpiled in his warehouses.

Each count of income tax evasion is punishable by up to five years in prison. The wire fraud and mail fraud counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. The federal indictment also seeks forfeiture of $10 million in cash.

While Brundage believes he will be "exonerated 110 percent" in federal court, the decision by the MLB Players Association to suspend his agent certification until the outcome of the trial may derail his sports agency, regardless of the verdict.

"I don't know if the players are going to sign back with me after they sign with a different agent," Brundage said.

Meanwhile, the once high-flying entrepreneur said he has fallen on hard times.

Brundage, who was featured in a 2011 segment on WGN-Ch. 9 news for buying a limited edition Lexus LFA supercar for nearly $500,000, revealed his net assets to be $15,500 at a December court hearing.

Divorced and recently remarried, Brundage said he is struggling to make a living to support his three sons. He said he has been exploring other career options, with little success.

"I looked at everything," he said. "I even tried to get a job at Home Depot. They wouldn't let me work there."

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @RobertChannick

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