LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – Prominent thoroughbred racing jockey Julien Leparoux is the fourth professional athlete that the U.S. Department of Justice alleges was defrauded by former Kentucky basketball staffer turned financial adviser Leon Smith, Yahoo Sports has learned.
Leparoux is referred to in the federal indictment that was handed down earlier this month in Lexington, Kentucky, only by his initials, “J.L.” Multiple sources confirmed to Yahoo Sports this week that it is Leparoux who had business dealings with Smith several years ago.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Leparoux told Yahoo Sports on Thursday at Churchill Downs, before the day’s race card got underway.
Asked if he was indeed the “J.L.” in the indictment, Leparoux shrugged and said, “Maybe,” and walked away.
Currently sixth nationally in earnings for 2017 at $5.6 million, Leparoux rode Classic Empire to a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on May 6. He is scheduled to ride the colt again on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
The other three athletes mentioned by initials in the indictment were identified by sources to Yahoo Sports as professional basketball players: Shelvin Mack of the Utah Jazz and former Kentucky players Darius Miller and Josh Harrellson, both of whom are playing overseas.
The indictment charges Smith with transferring $14,000 from an account in Leparoux’s name to an account opened in the name of Legacy Sports Management, which was Smith’s company, in September 2012. The U.S. Department of Justice also charges that Smith forged Leparoux’s signatures on two Internal Revenue Service tax refund checks and misappropriated the funds, one in December 2012 and the other in May 2013.
There are 11 other felony counts of fraud levied against Smith in the indictment: seven involving Harrellson, who has filed a civil suit against Smith; two involving Mack; and one pertaining to Miller.
Smith made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Lexington on Monday, pleading not guilty to the charges. A trial date was set for July 18. He is charged with defrauding clients of nearly $1.3 million from 2011-15.
Smith played football at Kentucky in the 1990s and subsequently worked 11 years in the school’s athletic department: two of them as a special assistant to then-basketball coach Tubby Smith (no relation); five as director of basketball operations under Smith; and three as an assistant athletic director serving primarily as the men’s basketball team administrator. Leon Smith worked for a short period of time at Kentucky under John Calipari in 2009 before being replaced by Martin Newton, now the athletic director at Samford.
Smith also worked for two years at the NCAA as an assistant director of championships, and had a brief stint with USA Basketball.
After leaving UK in 2009, Smith moved into providing financial services for athletes.
Incorporation filings with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office indicate that the majority of Smith’s business dealings were with athletes pertained to football and basketball players, and many of those had ties to Kentucky or Lexington. Mack, for instance, is a Lexington product; and Smith also at one point in time opened businesses bearing the names of former UK football player Keenan Burton and Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo.
Dealings with Leparoux represented an attempted expansion of Legacy Sports Management’s business into horse racing. On April 6, 2011, Leparoux tweeted his thanks to Leon Smith for apparently helping arrange an introduction between the jockey and then-Boston Celtics star Rondo: “Had a great day in Boston yesterday and had the chance to meet Rajon Rondo, thanks to Leon Smith!!!”
Leparoux’s agent, Steve Bass, said on Thursday, “I don’t know anything about [the alleged defrauding of his client].”
Smith could not be reached for comment on Thursday. A voice message left at the office of his Lexington-based attorney, Elizabeth Hughes, was not immediately returned.
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