Burress, dealer differ on details of truck deal

January 14, 2009 5:54:51 PM PST
Plaxico Burress and a Pennsylvania car dealer gave sharply different accounts Wednesday about how the New York Giants star ended up driving a Chevrolet Avalanche for free. The testimony in a civil trial Wednesday is part of the dealer's effort to recover what he says is $19,000 in losses.

Dealer Frederick Laurenzo said the New York Giants star understood that he was to make promotional appearances on behalf of the dealership in exchange for using the truck. Burress also agreed that no one else would drive the truck, Laurenzo said.

Burress testified that his agent arranged for the car in 2005, but said that he did not know of any other obligations or conditions.

New York City police later impounded the truck after it was connected to a shooting incident. While the sport utility truck was impounded for more than a year, the brakes rusted and the battery died.

Laurenzo said it was Burress' responsibility to return the vehicle.

Burress' lawyer argued that Burress should not be liable for all the damages the dealer seeks, including the vehicle's interest and depreciation.

A Lebanon County jury began deliberating Wednesday evening after more than three hours of testimony.

Laurenzo said the vehicle was worth more than $36,000 at the time he loaned it to Burress. The dealer filed a civil complaint in September 2006 seeking restitution and accusing Burress of breach of contract because he never showed up to sign autographs and let someone else drive the vehicle. Laurenzo also said Burress made no effort to help him get the vehicle back.

After Laurenzo put a lien against Burress' house in Virginia, the sides agreed to an arbitration. A three-lawyer panel awarded more than $22,000 to Laurenzo last year, but Burress appealed.

Burress' lawyer in the vehicle dispute, Matthew T. Croslis, acknowledged Tuesday that Burress is responsible for some damages.

The jury will have to decide how much, Croslis said.

The shooting incident occurred about a month after the dealer loaned the truck to Burress. According to New York police, officers saw two men firing rounds from inside the truck on a Bronx street early on Aug. 20, 2005. It did not, however, appear that they were targeting anyone, police said.

Officers recovered two 9-mm pistols at the scene and arrested two people, one of them a cousin of Burress, police said.

Investigators contacted Burress, who came in with a lawyer more than two weeks later for questioning. Burress signed a statement saying he had loaned the car to a cousin, but that he had no knowledge of the incident and was at practice at the time of the shooting.

Burress' attorney Benjamin Brafman says he was told that at the time of the incident Burress was with the team at a New Jersey hotel because the Giants had a home preseason game later that day.

Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon declined Wednesday to discuss Burress' exact whereabouts at the time of the shooting.

Charges against Burress' cousin were dropped. The other person in the car pleaded guilty in March 2006 to criminal possession of a weapon, police said.

Police said they released the car to the dealer in January 2007.

Burress, 31, a star wide receiver who caught the game-winning pass in last year's Super Bowl, has been embroiled in controversy for months. He was charged with two counts of illegal weapons possession after he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh at a Manhattan nightclub on Nov. 29.

Burress, who received a five-year, $35 million contract extension from the Giants in September, turned himself in on the weapons charges and was released on $100,000 bail. He is due in court March 31.

After the self-inflicted shooting, the Giants suspended Burress for the remainder of the season.

In December, Burress was sued in Broward County, Fla., for an accident last May in which he allegedly drove his $140,000 Mercedes-Benz into the back of a woman's vehicle. The woman's attorney later said that Burress had failed to pay the premium on his car insurance, which had lapsed three days before the wreck.