Dealer testifies at Simpson hearing
EmptyLAS VEGAS -- A memorabilia dealer accusing O.J. Simpson of robbing him testified Thursday that the former football star burst into a hotel room with a handful of other men, including one wielding a gun, and carried off hundreds of collector's items.
Bruce Fromong, one of two dealers allegedly robbed, said he had expected to meet with an anonymous buyer on Sept. 13, when Simpson arrived with others "in a military invasion fashion" and shouted that the items belonged to him.
"O.J. was screaming, 'This is all my s---. This all belongs to me. You stole this from me. Let's pack up. Let's get out of here,"' Fromong said.
Simpson, 60, and two co-defendants are charged with robbery, kidnapping and other offenses. Thursday's hearing was to determine whether there is enough evidence to take them to trial.
During an aggressive cross-examination, Simpson attorney Gabriel Grasso sought to show that Fromong was less traumatized than excited about the chance at a big payday at the expense of Simpson.
Fromong acknowledged that he has gone to the online auction site eBay in an effort to peddle items he has dubbed as "identical to the items O.J. stole from me!"
He also said that when he suffered a heart attack days after the incident, he called a TV show from his hospital bed but said he just wanted to make sure he wasn't lumped together with "unsavory characters" in the case.
He also confirmed that he has discussed the idea of a book with various people.
Grasso also asked Fromong whether he called the television show "Inside Edition" before contacting police.
"Nine-one-one was already being called," Fromong said.
Grasso also noted that in his statement to police Fromong said Simpson had told the others: "Get my ... . Leave the other stuff alone."
Fromong, who testified he has known Simpson since the early 1990s, said the confrontation lasted no more than five or six minutes and ended with the group stuffing hundreds of items into pillowcases and leaving the Palace Station hotel-casino.
Fromong said some of the items had nothing to do with Simpson but were lithographs of football great Joe Montana and items signed by baseball stars Duke Snider and Pete Rose that he thought he could sell.
At one point, as everything was being packed up, Fromong said he told Simpson: "O.J., those are my Joe Montana lithos.
"I said, 'O.J., that's my stuff. That doesn't have anything to do with anything."
Throughout the confrontation, Fromong said, one man pointed a gun at his face and told him at one point: "I'll shoot your a--."
"I wasn't cowering in a corner, but having a gun pointed at me is an uncomfortable feeling," he said.
Fromong told how he and Simpson met in the early 1990s when Fromong and another memorabilia dealer, Mike Gilbert, formed a company, "Locker 32," using the number on Simpson's football jersey, to sell items on his behalf.
Shortly before the hotel confrontation, Fromong said, memorabilia dealer Alfred Beardsley told him he had several Simpson-related items to sell to an anonymous buyer, including the suit Simpson wore when he was acquitted of murder. Beardsley arranged the meeting, which Fromong thought would be with an anonymous buyer, he said.
At one point, Fromong said he thought the Simpson material for sale could fetch as much as $100,000 at retail. But he also said, "I have always believed much of this stuff should go back to O.J.'s family."
Fromong was the first of eight witnesses prosecutors expected to call. The hearing was to continue Friday.
Beardsley, who has been in custody in California on a parole violation, has been transferred to a Las Vegas jail and is expected to testify, defense lawyers said.
In Simpson's mind, according to a close friend, the Las Vegas charges are rooted in the former football star being acquitted in the 1994 slayings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
"He believes he's being tried for that now," said Tom Scotto, 45, a North Miami Beach, Fla., auto body shop owner.
Simpson has maintained that he wanted to retrieve items he knew had been stolen from him, including the suit Fromong mentioned.
Simpson and co-defendants Clarence "C.J." Stewart and Charles Ehrlich face 12 charges, including kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and coercion.
A kidnapping conviction could result in a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole. An armed robbery conviction could mean mandatory prison time.