Former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis has been keeping busy in retirement, but his busiest activity has turned upside down. Shortly after retirement, Willis joined Eren Niazi at his Silicon Valley company Open Source Storage, working as Vice President of Partnerships. However, in the two years since Willis and Niazi first became acquainted things have gone south, and Willis is now suing Niazi for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and quiet title.
The folks at Inc.com have a great article about the lawsuit and the developing relationship. According to the lawsuit (embedded below), Willis and Niazi first became acquainted late in 2014. As Willis mentioned in a previous interview about his work with Open Source Storage, the two of them lived in the same neighborhood. While Willis was dealing with his toe issue, he was pulling some bags out of his car and Niaza approached him to help. It was a quick interaction, but led to a more significant relationship. According to the lawsuit, Niaza appears to have convinced Willis that he could help the former player with investments. That led to more businesses being created, and a lot of the usual fraudulent stuff we hear when people are getting bilked by a con man.
Willis alleges Niazi kept him in the dark on the investments, and also on the development of Open Source Storage. The company’s website went offline in October, according to the Inc.com reporting. As Niazi continued hiding the true nature of things, things apparently grew more erratic. Willis alleges Niazi “became increasingly erratic and paranoid, talking of unspecified government agents ‘coming to get him,’ which talk escalated into fear of snipers. Also this month, Niazi made an unhinged phone call to [Willis], in which he stated, among other things, that ‘they think I stole your money!’
Willis says his suspicion that Niaza was either dealing with mental illness or a guilty conscience led him to investigate Niazi and their financial deals. He found various property purchases that he started to believe he was entirely financing, but was not being reflected in the legal title.
According to Inc.com, Niazi is actually in the San Benito County Jail, being held without bail for a seemingly unrelated criminal charge. They say he has been charged with, “use of a firearm, discharging a firearm, and endangering a child.”
This whole thing is really weird. Professional athletes should probably be immediately suspicious when a “friend” talks about investing money on your behalf and getting you into business dealings. I don’t think all friends are out to con the professional athletes they know, but I’d recommend any person who has quickly come into money should probably maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about many people who want to help them make money on their money.
We’ve seen this happen over and over again. The NFLPA is going through a controversy following a recent 60 Minutes segment about the sketchy folks that have scammed NFL players for millions, while remaining fully registered with the NFLPA. I can see how a player would think, “OK, the NFLPA has my best interests in mind,” and willingly go along with a registered financial adviser. When they find themselves out millions though, they’re left holding the bag. In light of that and the stories of players broke shortly after their careers end, financial planning might be the most significant non-health issue facing players. The NFLPA and NFL offer programs, but there is a lot of work left to be done to help put players in a position to avoid ending up broke and destitute.