Basketball team owner's past could derail dream
Records check shows Jeremy Brice of Oregon Riptide is a registered sex offender
Aspiring entrepreneur Jeremy Brice envisioned creating his own basketball kingdom, one that would not topple the Trail Blazers but would give fans an alternative.
He formed the Oregon Riptide, invested about $100,000 and joined the American Basketball Association, a fledgling knockoff of the ABA of the 1960s and '70s.
Brice, who lives in Salem and goes by 'J. Brice' in official Riptide business, planned basketball camps for boys and girls. He announced that his first camp would be on Aug. 11 and that the Riptide would play home games at Warner Pacific College.
Brice promises to be a real community guy; he promises the Riptide will be a real community team. Joe Newman, ABA co-founder, calls him upstanding.
But a simple background check by the Portland Tribune revealed something about the 32-year-old Brice: He is still on probation for a 2002 sex offense conviction in El Dorado County, Calif., and is registered as a nonpredatory sex offender in Oregon. His probation runs through Sept. 26, 2007.
Authorities say Brice cannot have contact with girls under age 18, except his daughter, without adult supervision. After being asked Wednesday about the conviction, Brice canceled his plans to run the kids camp.
And Warner Pacific Athletic Director Bart Valentine, previously unaware of Brice's background, quickly declared Wednesday night: 'The camp is definitely off.'
On Thursday, Valentine said Warner Pacific 'no longer is negotiating' with Brice to hold Riptide games at the college.
Newman said he had not researched Brice's past and 'I'm not sure what to do with this. I just found out about it. I'll look into it.'
Newman said he would not suspend Brice from the ABA, but that Brice would 'absolutely not' have grounds to have his $20,000 franchise fee refunded. 'I feel sorry for Jeremy; it's a terrible thing to have to live with,' Newman said. 'Sex offenders are allowed to be in business and have a life. But it is what it is.'
Brice, a Las Vegas native who lived in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., pleaded no contest to oral copulation of a minor in El Dorado County in 2002. He was sentenced to 10 months in county jail (serving 180 days, he says) and five years probation, and he was required to register as a sex offender.
He coached girls basketball and softball and had been hired as football coach at Whittell High School, just outside Lake Tahoe, Nev., and he was program director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Lake Tahoe.
Authorities said that Brice provided alcohol to two underage girls over several weeks. El Dorado Deputy District Attorney Anthony Sears said Brice knew the girls from Whittell High. According to a news account, Brice took one of the girls to his residence in March 2002, where the oral copulation took place while the two drank beer.
The victims told authorities that Brice questioned the girls about their sexual history and experience with drugs and alcohol and asked them not to reveal the conversations because 'we will all get in trouble,' according to a probation report quoted by the Tahoe Daily Tribune at the time.
Plea deal reached
A second charge of child annoyance was dropped with the plea agreement. Authorities said Brice and the girls played Truth or Dare, with Brice daring the girls to take their tops off, after hours in the Boys and Girls Clubs office.
Brice said Wednesday the girls told him they were over 18 and that the behavior was consensual. He said 'it was a mistake' on his part. He said an overzealous prosecutor and judge, eyeing elections, pushed the case.
'He may be reinventing history,' Sears said.
At the time, Sears said that Brice preyed on the teenage girls. 'She'll be living with this and probably thinking about it for the rest of her life,' he told the Tahoe Daily Tribune, of the sex offense victim. 'That's the reality.'
Brice took up residence in Marion County after his jail time; his case transferred to Oregon. He is on limited supervision, communicating with Marion County authorities via mail.
'He's done a great job, completed treatment, done a very good job on supervision,' said Tammy Nims, Marion County parole and probation deputy. 'Unfortunately, a piece of our position is you can never tell what somebody will do. It's not that easy to predict.'
Brice said he and his attorney are working to have the conviction and sex offender status expunged from his record; authorities say that sex offender status cannot be expunged in Oregon.
Brice said extensive psychological testing, including polygraph tests, has concluded that 'I'm not a threat. I'm allowed to be around anybody. It's not an issue with me and youth and girls under 18.'
But it must be contact with supervision, Nims said. 'My interpretation is he doesn't have blanket permission to be around anybody he wants.'
Trying to move on
There is a stigma, Brice said, 'but, it happened, I moved on and I'm trying to start a business. I never thought my personal life would come into play.'
He thought about being a silent partner in the Riptide, but 'it proves my character and who I am. … I wasn't trying to hide anything.' But Brice now says he may look into selling the team.
Brice said he got his communications degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, ran sports leagues for Clark County (Nev.) Parks and Recreation and worked for the Boys and Girls Clubs in Las Vegas. He recently worked for the Salem Stampede of the International Basketball League.
Another ABA team, the Portland Reign, played at Warner Pacific in 2004-05 before folding.
Newman said Brice has the option of starting his ABA team next season, but Brice said this week: 'We're going to play this year. I'm not jumping the gun. I'm eager.'
Brice had tried to arrange home games at Liberty High in Hillsboro or Portland State.
Before being told of Brice's past, Newman said: 'In our eyes, everything we've asked from him he has done in total good standing. I have no cause for concern.'
The Oregon Riptide would play in the ABA's Red North Division with Bellingham, Bellevue and Tacoma, Wash.; Vancouver, British Coulmbia; and Salt Lake City. Brice wants to add Las Vegas, Beijing and Tijuana, Mexico, to the schedule, the latter because he says former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman occasionally plays for the team.
Brice said his players would make $100 to $1,000 per week.
'We're not going to have knuckleheads,' he said.