Gold Glove Defense
How Robert S. Fink kept Yankees legend Mickey Mantle out of IRS trouble
Published in 2020 New York Metro Super Lawyers magazine
on October 28, 2020
Updated on October 30, 2020
In the 1990s, an IRS investigation into cash payments at autograph and memorabilia shows—some of which were never reported as taxable income—ensnared a few baseball Hall of Famers.
“I don’t think anyone went to trial,” remembers Robert S. Fink. “People like Duke Snider pled guilty. It really surprised me. If he’d had a trial with 12 men in Brooklyn, I can’t imagine anyone would convict him.”
Fink, founder of Kostelanetz & Fink, had his own base to cover: Yankees great Mickey Mantle.
When Mantle’s name came up in the investigation, his lawyers reached out to Fink, who had already established a reputation as a preeminent criminal tax defense attorney. “I thought he was innocent,” he says. “He was like a child. He had a manager, the manager got the money, and then the manager would give some to him, like an allowance. But he didn’t know that it was taxed, untaxed—he didn’t know anything about that.”
And that’s exactly the pitch Fink made to the Justice Department. It worked. “They brought cases against Willie McCovey, Duke Snider, a lot of people,” Fink says, “but not Mickey Mantle.”
While the case was active, Fink saw Mantle regularly. “He was a lovely fellow,” Fink says. “He used to come to the office, and I’d see him, and then I’d go out of my room, maybe an hour later, and I’d see him on one of the secretary’s desks, having an audience. Everyone in the law firm adored him.”
One day, Mantle brought a box of baseballs, signed them and gave them out to the staff. “I’m sorry I never kept one,” Fink admits. “He was very affable with general people. He was not at all presumptuous.”
After Mantle’s death in 1995, Fink was hired again in a Mantle-related case. “The family brought a lawsuit against his mistress, who was selling at auction his personal belongings—things like his jockstrap,” Fink says. Fink’s job was to cancel the auction. “I claimed it was his property, that he didn’t give his jockstrap to her as a gift. It happened to be in her apartment, but it was his.” Several personal items were ultimately pulled from the auction.
Mantle isn’t the only headline-grabber Fink has worked with. When he was younger, he repped Miles Davis in a case that was similar to Mantle’s. “The defense in that case was, again, the agent,” Fink says. “He had an agent that handled his money. … They all testified that they paid the money to his agent, and there was no testimony the agent ever gave it to him so they couldn’t go forward with the case.”
If you don’t remember hearing about these cases, well, that’s how Fink likes it. “The idea is, when you win a case, you don’t want to publicize it,” he says.
While a famous client certainly attracts more media attention—which Fink tries to avoid—it doesn’t change how he approaches the case. “Your defense of the case is from the facts of the case,” he says.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t perks. “I used to hang out with Miles Davis,” Fink recalls. “The first time he saw me, he said to me, ‘Why aren’t you flying kites in the park?’ And I was taken aback. I thought it was an insult to my youthful age. But then I realized he was serious. Why am I wasting my life as a lawyer? Why am I wasting my life in an office? Go out, you know, and fly a kite.”
So did he ever go out and fly a kite? “No, but it was tempting,” Fink says with a chuckle. “I just didn’t know how I’d eat.”