Noah Lookofsky is tired of playing the game.
For the last eight years he has represented athletes and entertainers, including various NBA players. Formerly a vice-president of television at ICM, one of the biggest agencies in Hollywood, Lookofsky got the itch to venture out on his own and dive into sports, specifically representing NBA prospects.
Yet the process of pursuing and signing those players never felt right. Founder and president of All Pro Sports (and then Ascend Sports & Entertainment), a small agency based in Beverly Hills, Lookofsky quickly found that paying players under the table -- even while they were still playing in high school and college -- was necessary to compete with the big agencies.
When the back-room handshakes resulted in a signed client, he didn’t complain about the process. Yet it was his dealings with one particular potential client –- former UCLA standout Tyler Honeycutt -- that ignited Lookofsky’s departure from the sports business last year.
Lookofsky claims he had invested $55,800 in the UCLA forward while Honeycutt was in high school and college in hopes of landing him as a client as he entered the NBA Draft. Honeycutt played for UCLA from 2009 to 2011. Yet Lookofsky watched from the sidelines as Honeycutt signed with another agent -– Jason Martin -- and was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 35th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. Honeycutt now plays pro basketball in Israel.
Leaving the sports-representation business behind, Lookofsky is now opening up for the first time about his alleged three-year financial relationship with Honeycutt and his family in hopes of revealing the inner workings of the agency-recruiting business that he says is "just not kosher."
"I’m at a point where I’m no longer representing players, and the truth should come out," Lookofsky told SB Nation in an exclusive interview. "This is what happens every day for people to sign a player. And it sucks."
Lookofsky has supplied SB Nation with 56 pages of documents detailing the alleged financial relationship with Honeycutt and his mother, Lisa Stazel, including copies of receipts, deposit slips, promissory notes, travel itineraries, email exchanges and a deposited check. The documents represent car payments, rent payments and travel expenses, among other items.
Lookofsky’s relationship with Honeycutt began at a Fourth of July party held at Lookofsky’s home in 2008. Honeycutt was about to enter his senior year at Sylmar High School, 25 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles. Lookofsky claims the family needed help paying their rent because Stazel had recently lost her job. Lookofsky knew the deal: He had paid other potential clients (including, according to the agent, all of the athletes who ended up signing with him) before they officially declared for the NBA Draft. Mutual relationships had led Honeycutt and Stazel to Lookofsky.
"It’s a common practice," Lookofsky said. "One family talks to another family, and that’s the way it goes."
At the time, Honeycutt was a highly touted college recruit. He was fielding interest from both USC and UCLA, among others. His NBA prospects were very good -- it was a chance for the agent to ostensibly lock up the client before he ever got to college.
Lookofsky says he agreed to pay the family's $1,290 monthly rent until Stazel could secure a job. The parties didn’t sign a contract -- Everyone knew the transaction had to be hush-hush or Honeycutt would lose his NCAA eligibility. Traces of the deal had to be minimal.
"At that point there’s a handshake, wink-wink deal," Lookofsky said. "'You’re our guy. We’ll stick with you. You take care of me, we’ll take care of you.' That’s generally how it’s done when you reach out to someone that early. Generally it’s wink-wink, sign with me when you can sign."
Over the next three years, as Honeycutt committed to UCLA and played there through his sophomore year, Lookofsky claims he paid tens of thousands of dollars to Stazel and Honeycutt in the form of cash, goods and services.
SB Nation made a half-dozen attempts to contact Stazel and Honeycutt via email and Facebook over two months. Messages were sent to email addresses provided by Lookofsky. Various phone numbers for Stazel and Honeycutt provided by Lookofsky and identified on Internet searches led to dead ends. A visit was made to Stazel’s home in Woodland Hills, Calif., where a letter was left with her nephew. All communications went unreturned.
Lookofsky claims he paid Stazel’s rent for a year while she was collecting unemployment. He says he cut his rent contribution in half when she secured a job with Barry’s Tickets in Calabasas -- on the outskirts of Los Angeles -- in the spring of 2009.
Lookofsky claims he also paid Honeycutt’s rent for an apartment in Century City, two miles from UCLA campus, to the tune of more than $6,000 over the course of the relationship.
In 2010, Lookofsky claims he paid the down payment on a Dodge Magnum for Honeycutt. UCLA confirmed that Honeycutt reported the purchase of the car to the university but did not report the agent’s involvement. Lookofsky supplied SB Nation with this photograph of Honeycutt and Stazel at the dealership the day they purchased the car.
Lookofsky also provided SB Nation with a receipt, dated March 3, 2011, for the window tinting of the Dodge Magnum. Lookofsky’s name is on the receipt, which is marked as "paid." The owner of the window-tinting company in Sherman Oaks, Calif., last week confirmed the validity of the receipt and said he remembered the Dodge Magnum as he has done business with Lookofsky on other vehicles. The company owner said he remembered the owner of the car being a student at UCLA.
In addition, Lookofsky alleges he paid for various trips for Stazel to travel to at least nine away basketball games during Honeycutt’s final season with UCLA. Lookofsky has provided SB Nation with credit card statements and airline itineraries for Stazel to various UCLA men’s basketball road trips in the 2010-2011 season:
- $340 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Dec. 2, 2010, game at Kansas.
- $175 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Jan. 13 and 15, 2011, games at Oregon State and Oregon.
- $179 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the Feb. 17 and 20, 2011, games at Stanford and California.
- $186 for a Southwest Airlines roundtrip ticket to the March 3 and 5, 2011, games at Washington and Washington State.
- $1,530 for two Alaska Airlines roundtrip tickets to the March 17 and 19, 2011, NCAA tournament games in Tampa, Fla., against Michigan State and Florida. The second ticket was for Stazel’s sister.
Lookofsky claims he also paid for rental cars, limousine service, hotel and other travel expenses, corroborated in part by printed emails supplied to SB Nation by Lookofsky. This email from what appears to be Stazel’s Yahoo account, dated Feb. 3, 2011, specifically asked for Lookofsky to pay for a rental car during a trip to see Honeycutt play in the Bay Area:
"... again I will need to rent a car once I get there, because I have to pick up my sister and niece who are also flying in to for these games and want to be able to possibly take everyone including Tyler to San Francisco for a day…..so let me know if you can cover the rental car also … it should be about maybe $50-60 for a day…"
Lookofsky has also supplied SB Nation with copies of promissory notes, with a signature for Stazel, dating from July 2008 to October 2010 and representing $28,066 in apartment rental and car payments. The promissory notes identify Stazel as a borrower of funds with a 7 percent interest. Lookofsky also supplied SB Nation with various dated automated deposit slips from Chase bank to an account he alleges belonged to Stazel. Despite promissory note principal-due dates in 2010 and 2011, Lookofsky says Stazel has not repaid the funds.
Photo: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
In early March, 2011, Lookofsky became suspicious of conversations Honeycutt was having with other agents. After almost three years of payments to Honeycutt and Stazel, the agent became concerned that his presumptive client may go elsewhere.
Until then, Lookofsky, Stazel and Honeycutt had been careful to keep the traceable links between the agent and the player to a minimum. Suddenly, Lookofsky wanted some unassailable proof. As "insurance" for his three-year investment, on March 1, 2011, Lookofsky claims he gave Honeycutt a check for $500 made out to "Cash" with the note on the check saying: "Tyler Honeycutt." Lookofsky provided SB Nation with an online printout of the deposited check with what appears to be Honeycutt’s signature on the back of the check.
UCLA was made aware of general allegations regarding Honeycutt in the spring of 2011 when Lookofsky contacted then-head men’s basketball coach Ben Howland after Honeycutt signed with Martin. Lookofsky was looking to recoup his investment in Honeycutt, and he wanted Howland’s help. Honeycutt was a sophomore at the time and had declared for the NBA Draft.
Howland alerted UCLA administrators of their conversation. That same day, UCLA administrators notified the NCAA, who launched an investigation into the matter in 2011. UCLA and the NCAA made multiple attempts to contact Honeycutt and Stazel at the time to discuss the allegations. Neither Stazel nor Honeycutt would talk to investigators. Still representing athletes and wanting to keep his behind-the-scenes dealings private, Lookofsky also declined to comment to the NCAA. The investigation was closed after four months.
UCLA ultimately sent a letter of disassociation to Honeycutt and Stazel due to their lack of cooperation in the investigation. That letter withdrew any benefits Honeycutt may have received for his role as a former UCLA player. For example, he is not allowed to use any on-campus athletic facilities or attend sporting events as anything other than a member of the general public. The university also stated in the letter they would not accept any donations from Honeycutt or his family.
Lookofsky said he has no evidence that UCLA administrators knew about the transactions between him and their athlete before he notified Howland.
In sharing intimate details about his three-year financial involvement with Honeycutt, Lookofsky is using the example to paint the NCAA agent-player landscape with a wide brush. Claiming he has partnered with other agents to pay as many as six players in high school and in college, Lookofsky believes -- based on his own experiences -- that over 60 percent of elite-level college basketball players have been paid by an agent either before or during their NCAA careers as incentive to sign with the respective agents.
"Most people I sit down with, who ask me how it really is, I tell them it’s 10 times worse than you read," Lookofsky said. "Truly. Everybody wants something. Nobody introduces you to a player, a potential player, college player, high school player, for free, out of the kindness of their heart. Nobody. There’s an understanding from the time you make contact that it’s going to cost you something."
If the allegations are true, Honeycutt would have been ineligible to compete in the NCAA after he and his mother received any payment from Lookofsky, which was a direct conflict with Rule 220.127.116.11 of the NCAA Division 1 manual:
18.104.22.168 Benefits from Prospective Agents. An individual shall be ineligible per Bylaw 12.3.1 if he or she (or his or her relatives or friends) accepts transportation or other benefits from: (Revised: 1/14/97)
(a) Any person who represents any individual in the marketing of his or her athletics ability. The receipt of such expenses constitutes compensation based on athletics skill and is an extra benefit not available to the student body in general; or
(b) An agent, even if the agent has indicated that he or she has no interest in representing the student-athlete in the marketing of his or her athletics ability or reputation and does not represent individuals in the student-athlete’s sport.
"I want to bring awareness to the whole sport of recruiting," Lookofsky said. "The NCAA chooses to turn a blind eye until something is forced in their face that they have no choice but to deal with."
For now, Lookofsky has other matters of his own to deal with. His former client, Craig Smith, is currently suing Lookofsky and various other parties including U.S. Bank. Smith alleges breach of contract, fraud, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty among other claims. Specific allegations against Lookofsky include the forging of signatures on checks, paying for personal expenses with Smith’s money, failing to file proper tax returns and unauthorized use of Smith’s credit cards.
The lawsuit was filed April 16, 2013, in California Superior Court. Smith is seeking approximately $50 million in actual, compensatory and punitive damages.
"Sadly Mr. Smith and I parted ways back in July 2012," Lookofsky told SB Nation. "Unfortunately Craig does not take accountability for his own financial situation and has filed lawsuits against his bank, accountants and myself. So far these lawsuits have served no merit and have gone absolutely nowhere in our judicial system."
Smith’s attorney, Alain Bonavida, declined to comment on any of his client’s relationship with Lookofsky, saying he hopes the lawsuit opens a dialogue about athlete-agent trust.
"My clients, especially Craig Smith, look forward to trying their case before a jury in order to expose the horrendous fraud and mismanagement perpetrated upon them by [Noah Lookofsky]," Bonavida said.
The case is set for a jury trial this November.
By coming forward publicly about his relationship with Honeycutt and Stazel, Lookofsky risks further legal action. It is unlawful in the State of California for any agent to give money to or communicate with a student-athlete or his family member. From Article 3 of California’s Miller-Ayala Athlete Agents Act:
No athlete agent or athlete agent's representative or employee shall, directly or indirectly, offer or provide money or any other thing of benefit or value to a student-athlete.
An athlete agent or his representative or employee may NOT make or continue any contact (e.g., in person, in writing, electronically, or in any other manner) with any student athlete, or the student athlete's spouse, parent, foster parent, guardian, grandparent, child, sibling, aunt, uncle, or first cousin (or any of these individuals for whom the relationship has been established by marriage), or any person who resides in the same place as the student athlete, or any representative of any of these persons.
Violation of the law is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $50,000 and up to one year in jail.
Whatever the potential legal complications, Lookofsky is looking forward to putting all of this behind him. He said he knows he’ll face criticism and doubt, but at this point in his professional career he said it’s more important that he contribute to a dialogue about the payment of NCAA athletes and what really happens behind the scenes every day.
"I think ultimately bringing something to light, instead of hiding it, will help the industry," Lookofsky said. "Maybe some agents have their books broken open. It would help younger guys who are truly trying to get in and make a difference and take away from the old-guard agents who control the vast majority of the NBA.
"Hopefully some good comes of this."