Lasky rides out success Profile: Offering $500,000 for ball may be way for benefactor to refine image as a former sports handicapper.

September 18, 1996|By Alec Matthew Klein | Alec Matthew Klein,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jason LaCanfora contributed to this article.

Michael Lasky, aka Michael Warren, aka Michael Warren Lasky, was once a flamboyant professional sports handicapper who advertised "How to rob race tracks legally."

Now, more than a decade later, Lasky is a wealthy benefactor, high-profile developer and Baltimore man-about-town who has come up with a new ad: He is offering the highest price ever for a piece of sports memorabilia -- Orioles slugger Eddie Murray's 500th home run ball.

"$500,000 REWARD," Lasky proclaimed in a recently published newspaper ad. "That's FIVE-HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!! Will pay $500,000 for authenticated Eddie Murray 500th home run ball."

Lasky could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Dan Jones, the 30-year-old Towson resident who caught the historic baseball that landed in the right-field bleachers at Camden Yards on Sept. 6, said he talked briefly yesterday with Lasky's representatives, although a deal has yet to be struck.

And at least one skeptic, Edward Mlodzienski, a 45-year-old Belleville, N.J., resident and one of several former wagering customers who filed a formal complaint against Lasky, said, "I doubt that person will ever get their money." He added, however, "Maybe he's trying to improve his image."

Lasky has made strides in that direction as president and chief executive officer of Baltimore-based Inphomation Communications Inc., which reportedly generates more than $100 million in annual sales, largely on the strength of his most recognized commercial, the "Psychic Friends Network."

Lasky, a strapping, tanned, 54-year-old businessman, has built on his commercial successes, becoming a partner in the $5.5 million acquisition of the 71-room Harrison's Pier Five Hotel downtown.

And about a year ago, he founded the Lasky Family Foundation, which supports Baltimore community events, from the Baltimore Zoo to the pediatric oncology division of the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center.

The community has noticed: "Everything we've asked from him, he's come through for us," said Valerie Mehl, spokeswoman for the oncology division. "He's a great guy. In essence, he's helping to cure kids with cancer."

Others say that his latest projects are aimed at smoothing over his controversial past and establishing another public persona.

"This is part of a whole PR strategy," said a source well acquainted with Lasky. "He wants to be a mover and shaker in Baltimore, and what better way to do that than to publish that he'll pay $500,000 for the [Murray] ball? He wants everyone to know he's a bigwig in town."

But Stephani Schlossberg, of Profiles Inc., the local public relations agency representing Lasky, said that the $500,000 reward "was not our idea. I'm not actually sure who originated it."

Lasky, however, has shown an appreciation for the value of public relations. Last year, he employed Gray Kirk/Van Sant, a Baltimore-based agency, to profile his successes with Inphomation. But he dropped the agency after an article in The Sun documented a series of troubles involving Lasky in the 1980s:

He was denied a license to own thoroughbred race horses in New York state and New Jersey in 1982 because of his sports handicapping business.

That September, the Thoroughbred Racing Board of the Maryland Racing Commission informed Lasky that his owner's license would not be renewed, stating: "Your advertising and solicitation practices relating to horse racing are misleading and constitute attempted fraud or misrepresentation in connection with horse racing."

In 1986, the attorney general's office sued him for refusing to turn over the membership list of the Pikesville Nautilus club, which he had operated until it failed in March 1985.

And two years later, in May 1988, soon after he was granted a race horse owner's license in Maryland, Lasky again was taken to task by state officials, this time over one of his handicapping mailings, which used the Preakness logo and referred to "official Preakness Stakes information."

The racing commission said the mailing "gives the appearance of a direct involvement between Mr. Lasky and the ownership of Pimlico Race Course which is misleading and deceptive, and should be discontinued."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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