And Agent for the Lord

Jacksonville Times-Union/August 9, 1998
By Margie Mason

The man who controls the financial fortunes of Jacksonville's most prominent Jaguars was a failed Texas real-estate developer who lost millions, declared bankruptcy and came within a trigger pull of suicide.

He also was a stockbroker whose clients filed federal complaints against him that resulted in his suspension.

He is the sports agent for 45 athletes, but he recently tried to negotiate a high-profile contract that would have violated the National Football League's collective bargaining agreement.

His friendship with the leader of a charismatic sports ministry has drawn the scrutiny of the NFL and scorn from his competitors.

Greg Feste has steered some of his clients into promoting companies that he owns.

Those same clients - like the Jaguars' Mark Brunell and Tony Boselli - swear by him. Feste, like those two famous clients, is a born-again Christian.

''I trust him,'' Boselli said. ''I know his family, and I trust the man.''

Brunell agreed. Like Boselli and teammate Bryan Schwartz, he employs Feste as his financial adviser and marketing agent.

''Greg has a lot of character,'' Brunell said. ''I'm impressed with him as a person. Businesswise, he does a great job.''

Feste said he's never tried to hide his past from players or the NFL Players Association, which licenses agents. Though he said the scrutiny of his character is unfounded, it is not unexpected.

Because it was through his failures, Feste said, that he found God.

''It's only when you lift up the name of Jesus does the persecution come, because the Bible said that's going to happen,'' Feste said. ''[People] don't hate Greg Feste. . . They hate what I stand for, and that is Jesus Christ.''

Feste has used the platform of Christianity to build a small empire consisting of a financial advising service, 50 mattress companies, a recording company and a jet-leasing business - all of which share the name Malachi, which means ''my messenger'' in the Old Testament of the Bible, he said.

Feste also heads up the Malachi Foundation, a non-profit that gives money to pastors and various ministries and charities nationwide. In addition, he sits on the Boselli Foundation and the Mark Brunell Foundation, which make charitable contributions.

He recently negotiated a three-year, $9.2 million contract for Chicago Bears rookie Curtis Enis, who came to Feste after joining the sports ministry Champions for Christ. Brunell, Boselli and Schwartz are all members of Champions and who say they donate 10 percent of their substantial salaries to the ministry.

Feste is also a close friend of Champions President Greg Ball, and the ties between the two led the NFL to make inquiries about their relationship and critics to question whether money, not religion, is the driving force in Feste's life.

''Greg Feste is one of the most honest, God-fearing men I know,'' Boselli said. ''I sleep very well at night. I don't worry about my money because I trust him.''

As marketing agent and financial adviser for Brunell, Boselli and Schwartz, Feste is responsible for setting up commercial advertising deals and for making sure their money is invested where it's going to grow. (In addition, he also handles contract negotiations for Schwartz.)

The three players advertise for four Mattress Firm stores in Jacksonville, of which they're part owners, with Feste. And Feste said some Jaguars also are part of Malachi Aviation, a jet-leasing service; he would not disclose their names. He also owns a company, Malachi Ministries, which cut a Christian record in Nashville sung by his friends.

Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, said there are two schools of thought about such close agent-client relationships. Some say there is a conflict of interest, while others say it's actually more healthy - because if an agent's money is at stake, more care will be taken to ensure profits are made.

''What a player does about somebody managing their money is not something we have jurisdiction over because it does not involve contracts or how much money they make,'' Allen said. ''The one thing we tell players is not to give somebody power of attorney. They need to pay attention to and be aware of and monitor their own investments.''

Vann McElroy, the former NFL player who was Enis' agent before Feste took over, said he handles football contracts exclusively and said he is troubled by all of the financial connections Feste has as an agent.

''If you're handling everything, there's a conflict there. We want our players to know that nothing funny is going on,'' he said. ''I wouldn't want to handle people's finances. The best portfolio is very conservative. If they put money away, they'll be set for life.''

Enis fired McElroy and hired Feste because Enis wanted to hire a Christian agent. McElroy, ironically, is a church deacon.

The image of a highly successful agent is a dramatic change from where Feste was nine years ago. In 1989, 29 years old and seemingly a success, he was ready to kill himself.

On the surface, it appeared he had everything: a $425,000 home, drivers to haul him around in long, white limousines, a job running his own real estate and development company, a wife and two children. He had dreams, he said, ''to chase Donald Trump.''

Inside, Feste's emotions were in pieces.

''On April 22, 1989, I said to myself, 'If this is what life is all about, I don't want it,' '' he recalled. ''And I left my wife, went to a hotel room, put the pictures of my two kids on the TV set and put a gun in my mouth - I was going to blow my head off.''

Feste said God kept him from pulling the trigger that night. But by the autumn of that year, his financial life had gone downhill, too. Feste was broke. He's still not sure how it happened, but he believes one of his employees stole from him.

Feste ultimately declared bankruptcy and walked away from $3.8 million in debts. He lost a home in London, a Mercedes, a Jaguar and a Porsche, along with the food and real-estate companies.

Before real estate, Feste worked as a stockbroker. After the 1987 stock market crash, four of his customers filed complaints with the National Association of Securities Dealers. Records show the complaints were filed because he recommended securities without having reasonable grounds for believing they were in the customer's best interest.

Those complaints resulted in settlements of $254,000, a one-day suspension from doing business as a broker, and a $7,000 fine, records show.

Feste said customer complaints are not uncommon for brokers who handle thousands of dollars every day, especially when the economy is bad. He said all but one of the complaints resulted from the crash.

''We had a stock market crash where people lost money, including me,'' he said. ''It's only happened once every 50 years, so you're going to have some people who are pretty upset.''

Since then, Feste has pulled himself back to the top. Today, the tall, slender Texan wears jeans, a Polo shirt and a ball cap to work. He sits in a comfortable suburban Houston office suite that displays autographed photographs of prominent sports figures along with religious decorations.

He has a rebuilt marriage and three more children, his youngest just a month old. But he said he hasn't forgotten how money once consumed him, taking precedence over his wife, children and God.

God, he said, saved his life. But not the night of his near-suicide. His revelation came two years later, when he said he found the Lord while repenting on his hands and knees with an old friend, pastor Greg Ball.

Feste didn't know it at the time, but Ball would also help him find his calling as a Christian businessman.

Feste and Ball had been friends for years, since their days as boys in Chicago. Their families used to vacation together, but the boys grew up and went in separate directions.

Feste became a businessman, Ball a pastor.

The two had been out of touch for a few years and reunited in 1991 when Feste became a born- again Christian. In the months that passed, Feste became more involved with the gospel, and decided he wanted to bring other lost business people to God.

In 1992, he and Ball formed Executives for Christ, a non-profit organization devoted to bringing salvation to non-Christians in the corporate world.

Ball, a former kick boxer, is the founder of Champions for Christ, a campus ministry he started in 1985 which now has 20 chapters nationwide. Its members include professional athletes from the NFL, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and various other professional and collegiate sports.

Champions also is a branch of MorningStar Ministries International, a charismatic church and ministry that shares the same goals of world evangelism and campus ministry. One of its most notable members is Brunell, who began the Jacksonville chapter by holding meetings at his home.

Feste said he and Ball are both connected with professional athletes, but they work in different capacities. Ball and Champions are about religion. Feste and his sports agency are about helping players make money through a Christian atmosphere.

Their relationship, though, raised the question that Ball may be persuading players to seek Feste as their agent. Feste, Ball and the players involved say such notions are absurd.

Though Feste and Ball deny any business links, Executives for Christ is listed as a related organization on Champions' tax returns.

Tax records also show Feste's non-profit group, The Malachi Foundation, gave Ball $16,464 last year. Another $76,000 was given to other ministers and charitable organizations, and Feste said that's what it's all about.

He said he sees no problem between the mixing of faith and money. In fact, Feste said he travels the country preaching tithing or the giving of 10 percent of all annual earnings to the church. Feste said it's mandated by God in the Bible and if people aren't giving, they're ''robbing God.''

Feste, Ball and several players say they became upset when questions arose about Champions' motives for preaching tithing.

''It's a commandment from God, number one, and you can't say you're a disciple for Jesus without recognizing that he owns it all,'' Feste said. ''If you recognize that he owns it all, the first fiscal manifestation of that is to tithe back what God required of us which is 10 percent.''

That message, along with the connection between Feste and Ball, has sports psychologist and theologian Don Beck worried that money may be more of a driving force than the gospel.

''It's that close proximity between the religious movement and the agent from Sugar Land that continues to trouble me - that basing of a financial business on biblical circles,'' he said.

Beck, of the National Values Center in Denton, Texas, said he was contacted by the NFL for information about Champions. Beck said he drew his conclusion from talking to someone at Champions' Austin headquarters and from reading the group's literature. He said he's spent a lifetime analyzing such religious groups worldwide and has taught students the same skills.

Boselli and Schwartz said Beck's analysis is unfounded.

''To say that it's a money-making scheme is a lie. It's just like any other church,'' Boselli said, responding to earlier comments made by Beck. ''The bottom line is that no one is seeing the results. Lives are getting completely changed and marriages are getting restored.''

The NFL has refused to comment on whether it investigated the group, but spokesman Greg Aiello said such action would not be uncommon and would not necessarily mean the league suspected wrongdoing. Initial reports said the Jaguars and Bears requested a probe, a charge both teams deny.

Aiello has said the league tries to look out for players' financial well-being because of past incidents of fraud.

He noted that John W. Gillette Jr. is serving 10 years in prison for scamming more than two dozen players out of $11 million in God's name. Boselli lost $250,000 in that deal.

Ethan Locke, an agent for ProServ Football in Phoenix, said it's hard to compete with God. Locke lost Schwartz to Feste.

''We have helped Bryan from the beginning. This guy has no experience,'' he said. ''If you've got a guy and you like him, stay with him. To use religion is just disgusting in my mind.''

Feste said other agents have criticized him because he is new to the business of negotiating contracts for professional athletes.

''It's not easy. It's a tough job. If I wasn't called to it, I wouldn't do it,'' he said.

But while he did land Enis a $5.6 million contract and $3.6 million signing bonus with the Bears, he had earlier asked for a clause that Enis be made an unrestricted free agent at the end of the deal. That would have violated the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, which prevents players from becoming unrestricted agents until after their fourth year.

Feste ended up dropping the free-agent demand.

''If I didn't know what I was doing,'' he said, ''I wouldn't have got a contract through.''

Besides, Feste said, he's only in the football business to negotiate for God. He wants to expand his sports agency by adding more Christian players. Eventually, he would like to expand Executives for Christ moving to help fallen professionals in business.

His own benefit, he said, is secondary.

''My personal goal in life is to give away most of what I have before I die,'' he said. ''I want to be able to give 90 and keep 10 percent for myself. I challenge corporations to do what we do.''

He also hopes to one day find time to preach tithing on a regular basis nationwide, because he said if Christians aren't giving to God, they're robbing him.

''I'm not about athletes, I'm about the Lord,'' he said.

And the past is history.

''My clients know about my past. I'm not ashamed of my past,'' he said. ''Any businessman has made mistakes in his life, and I would challenge any person challenging me and tell them to go through the same scrutiny that I've gone through.

I'm coming out on top because God has blessed my life."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.