How can a man who is over 7 feet tall — and regularly appears on television — be so hard to find?
Lawyers trying to sue basketball star Shaquille O’Neal for promoting the now-bankrupt FTX crypto exchange have tried to serve him at least 20 times. The NBA champion-turned-DJ has eluded every attempt.
O’Neal, who was once dubbed "Shaqtoshi" in an FTX commercial, is one of more than a dozen celebrities and sports teams named in a class action suit against FTX promoters, which alleges he and others like football star Tom Brady and “Seinfeld” creator Larry David promoted a “fraudulent scheme.”
Despite being a fixture on "The NBA on TNT," a podcast host and a touring DJ under the stage name “DJ Diesel,” O’Neal has avoided process servers at his office and multiple homes.
“If you really wanted to, you could figure out where is Shaq gonna DJ next, or whatever, and have a process server there to serve him,” said Alex More, a partner at Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal. “By the same token, as a celebrity and as a public figure, he's also probably someone who is hard to access.”
Lawyers have until Monday to give him official notice of the lawsuit. Shaq has been so difficult to serve in person that lawyers asked a judge to let them serve him through Instagram, Twitter and email. The judge denied their request.
“Mr. O’Neal’s conduct over the last 5 months in evading service in this action is unprecedented, and frankly shocking, based upon on the extent of his public appearances, persona, and presence,” lawyers said in a court filing earlier this month. “Mr. O’Neal is the sole remaining defendant in this matter who has still not been served.”
O’Neal sued for promoting FTX
The class action lawsuit against FTX promoters was brought by Edwin Garrison, an Oklahoma man who says he bought an unregistered security from FTX after seeing advertising from the company. Garrison, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of others impacted by the exchange, claims that promoters named in the suit failed to do due diligence before marketing the company to the public and did not disclose the nature, scope or amount they were paid to do so.
“The deceptive and failed FTX platform was based upon false representations and deceptive conduct,” Garrison’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. “This action seeks to hold defendants responsible for the many billions of dollars in damages they caused plaintiff and the classes and to force defendants to make them whole.”
The case was filed by attorneys Adam Moskowitz and David Boies. Neither lawyer responded to requests for comment.
Crypto class action lawsuits have become more common in recent months, as major digital asset firms file for bankruptcy protection. Moskowitz is also handling a class action lawsuit against endorsers of the failed crypto lender Voyager Digital, targeting “Shark Tank” TV personality and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for promoting the company.
Sidestepping being served is hardly unheard of in the world of crypto. Three Arrows Capital co-founders Su Zhu and Kyle Davies have been subpoenaed via Twitter, for example.
Sam Bankman-Fried also a defendant
But in the FTX class action suit, O’Neal stands out. The lawsuit names 13 defendants, including former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, who is facing criminal fraud charges for his role at the company. O’Neal, who is tangentially a part of law enforcement after being named director of community relations by the Henry County Sheriff's Office in Georgia two years ago, is the only defendant who has not been served.
“Twenty attempts is a bit much,” said Michael Popok, a lawyer and co-host of the “Legal AF” podcast. “He will get served eventually, and it’s just annoying the judge before he even steps into the courtroom. Bad form.”
Lawyers claim that after a process server tried to deliver papers to O’Neal at his Texas home for an eighth time, the server received a “threatening text message” that named the server’s wife.
“Shaq lives in the Bahamas u stupid fuck give Beth Shaw my regards,” the text message said, according to court filings.
O’Neal did not respond to a request for comment.
'No longer comfortable'
“Believing the text to have originated from O’Neal or someone acting on his behalf, Mr. Shaw was no longer comfortable attempting to personally serve Mr. O’Neal with process, fearing for his and his wife’s safety,” the court filing said.
Even O’Neal’s own lawyer has apparently been difficult to pin down in the class action suit. When lawyers handling the class action lawsuit contacted attorney Dennis Roach, he confirmed he represents O’Neal but would not say whether he was handling the class action lawsuit and would need to “speak to the powers that be.”
The Moskowitz Law Firm resorted earlier this week to tweeting at O'Neal's @SHAQ and @djdiesel accounts, saying "we have been standing outside your TNT studios in Atlanta all week, but your security guards will not let us in."
Although he hasn’t formally responded to the suit, O’Neal has said he’s avoiding cryptocurrency in the wake of the FTX collapse. “I was just a paid spokesperson for a commercial,” O'Neal said after the company went bankrupt.
What happens next
If O’Neal isn't served by next week, the judge could allow the class action suit to move on without him. The judge could also dismiss the case without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff to refile and try again, said Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal partner More. But there's a catch.
“It’s a big red flag,” More said. “Like, ‘Hey, look, if you're gonna refile this, you better make sure you can actually serve him first.’”
The judge could also extend the deadline to serve O’Neal. It had initially been set for December, a month after the case was filed in November. Another option could entail roping in the Texas Secretary of State, where lawyers say O’Neal lives, to prove he is avoiding being served.
The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Big Chicken in the Lone Star State
O’Neal has homes in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, California and the Bahamas, according to court filings. Lawyers said they have focused on serving him in Texas because they believe O’Neal spends much of his time there because he is expanding his Big Chicken restaurant franchise to the Lone Star State.
The months long effort to find O’Neal and give him notice of the class action suit illustrates how challenging the logistics of serving someone can be, even a highly public figure such as Shaq, or DJ Diesel.
There’s a “practical aspect that I think can get lost,” More said. “Is a process server gonna buy a ticket to the show, and then pile their way through to the front, jump up on stage and serve Shaq while he’s spinning records?”
Disclaimer: The former CEO and majority shareholder of The Block has disclosed a series of loans from former FTX and Alameda founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
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