Paternity suits and a divorce are making small dents in the football player's fortune.
By JEFF TESTERMAN
Published August 23, 2003
[Times photo: Toni Sandys]
Warren Sapp has faced legal battles with three women this summer - all of whom are mothers of his children.
TAMPA - If your name is Warren Sapp - No. 99 in the Tampa Bay Bucs program - you wear a brand new Super Bowl ring, you just had a street named after you in your hometown, and you make $6.6-million a year.
You drive a black Mercedes with the plate "QBKILLR," you own a $1.54-million home, and you are one of the most feared players in the NFL, as well as one of the most animated and quotable.
This should have been an idyllic post-Super Bowl summer for Sapp. But he has been triple-teamed by trouble: the breakup of his five-year marriage; a reopening of a paternity case by a Kansas woman; and an expensive ruling in a New Jersey paternity battle, highlighted by claims that an imposter, not Sapp, took a DNA test.
The three women with whom Sapp has children have gone to court to seek child support, college tuition, medical coverage, life insurance and a healthy slice of the 30-year-old's assets:
- In April, Angela Sanders, 28, an Air Force veteran who filed a paternity suit against Sapp in 1998, reopened her case. She is seeking increased support for Jaelon Austin Sapp, born in a Nebraska Air Force hospital in 1997.
- On July 21, Jamiko R. Sapp, 27, filed papers in Tampa to dissolve her marriage to Sapp. The couple married during Pro Bowl festivities in Honolulu in January 1998, two months after the birth of their first child, Mercedes C. Sapp. Warren C. Sapp II was born two years later.
Mrs. Sapp seeks primary custody of the children, an equitable share of marital assets, child support, alimony and use of the family's 7,596-square-foot home in the Avila community in north Tampa.
- On Aug. 7, former Temple University basketball player Chantel Adkins won a final judgment in a New Jersey courtroom in a paternity case she filed against Sapp last year. Adkins, 30, is the mother of Autumn Jade Adkins Sapp, born in November 2000. Adkins won an award worth $177,992 in this year alone.
Sapp's approach to the cases contradicts the depiction of him as "a model athlete, adored by both kids and adults," as he is touted on the Web site of Nike, which has signed Sapp to a three-year deal.
Sapp doesn't see the son and daughter in the paternity cases, according to the mothers' attorneys. He has asked a judge to ignore state guidelines for child support for the two children he had with his wife. He has hired top-notch lawyers to vigorously challenge all the women's petitions for support.
Because of the battles over support, the varied legal representation and quirks in the law, Sapp's four children do not stand to get equal shares of support from their father:
- Angela Sanders, now living in Wichita, Kan., receives $2,506 a month for Jaelon, 6.
- Chantel Adkins will get $5,164 a month for Autumn, 2.
- Mrs. Sapp can expect to receive $13,168 a month for each of her two children, under Florida child support guidelines. That would be a total of $316,032 a year for Mercedes, 5, and Warren II, 2.
The projected support for Sapp's four children adds up to $408,893 a year. It's an amount Sapp can afford; he takes home that much every four and a half weeks.
The disparity in money paid to each woman can be chalked up to laws that say support can vary according to a child's "station in life."
But tailoring support to the child's living standard can punish a poor woman, especially one who has a child by a wealthy man but never marries him, says Jane E. Carey, an Orlando lawyer who initially represented Sanders.
"Obviously, the unmarried woman's lifestyle is not the same as the lifestyle of Mrs. Sapp, who got the better lifestyle in the first place by marrying the rich man," Carey said.
"What we're supposed to do is treat all children the same as far as support," Carey said. "But the blatant reality is that we've decided to treat them differently."
Case 1: Sanders vs. Sapp
When Angela Sanders, who once had been stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, sued Sapp for paternity in 1998, she was making ends meet as a $9-an-hour payroll clerk. Her expenses added up to $4,165 a month.
Sapp spent more than that - $5,000 - for his monthly country club dues, according to court papers in the case.
His expenses totaled $33,520 a month. But his gross monthly income was $605,678.
It took 31 months for Sanders and Sapp to reach a support agreement. Sanders got $2,506 a month in child support, $30,000 in back payments, provisions for health and life insurance, and a prepaid college tuition package.
There was one more key provision: Both sides agreed not to seek a modification of support based on any change in Sapp's football contract.
Sapp's base pay from the Bucs in 1998, when Sanders sued for support, was $1.95-million. It now is $6.6-million.
Four months ago, with just one year left on Sapp's six-year, $36.05-million contract, Sanders petitioned a Hillsborough judge for more money to "allow Jaelon to obtain a first-rate education and enjoy a wider variety of events that will broaden his horizons."
Jaelon "has the right to share in Mr. Sapp's good fortune," said Sanders' Tampa attorney, Mark Howard.
Sanders has submitted a new financial affidavit, showing assets of only $18,814 - mainly her car - and liabilities of $33,950. Sanders said her income of $3,104 a month does not cover her expenses, which she put at $4,618 a month.
Sapp's attorney, David A. Maney, argued successfully that requiring his client to submit an updated financial statement would be an invasion of his privacy. Thus, a judge is relying on the affidavit Sapp made in the original 1998 case, when his income was lower.
It is still impressive.
Sapp's 1998 affidavit showed $5.6-million in assets, including four homes valued at $3.7-million, $1.29-million in stocks and bonds, and four Mercedes worth $260,000. He listed his net worth at $2.8-million.
The Sanders case is pending.
Scott Weston, a Los Angeles lawyer specializing in family law, whose firm sometimes works with celebrities and sports stars, said he expects Sanders may have some success with her petition because Sapp spends little or no time with the child.
Millionaire athletes often move on to other relationships and cut off ties with their children, Weston said, especially in paternity cases.
"They try not to accept responsibility and just write a check," he said. "It's all too common for these guys to feel like they're above using a condom and feel like they can just pay for it later."
Sapp declined to comment to the Times on any of the cases. Maney, Sapp's attorney in the Sanders case and in his divorce, said he could not comment on "pending matters."
Case 2: Adkins vs. Sapp
Chantel Adkins says she met Sapp in 1993, according to an interview by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She was a basketball player at Temple University, where she still holds career and game three-point shooting records. At the time, he was a University of Miami football player. She said the two began dating in 1998, the year Sapp married, flying back and forth between Tampa and New Jersey to see each other.
When her daughter, Autumn, was born, Sapp was supportive at first.
"He paid a considerable amount of money to her," said Vincent Nuzzi, Adkins' New Jersey attorney. "He wanted her to get a Cadillac Escalade, a big safe car. He paid for a nanny. He took her and the baby to Orlando.
"His name was on the birth certificate. He never denied paternity. But at some point, it all changed."
When the support dried up, Adkins sued. A paternity test was ordered. But according to Nuzzi, it was not Sapp who showed up to take the test at a lab near Raymond James Stadium.
Paternity test protocol requires lab personnel to get a photograph, the signature and fingerprints of the man tested.
"There was a picture, but unless Warren Sapp had shrunk by 8 inches, it wasn't him," said Nuzzi. "The signature was nothing like the autographs you can see all over eBay. And there were no fingerprints at all."
The test showed Sapp was not the father of Adkins' baby. "We filed an appeal saying, "What kind of scam is this?"' said Nuzzi.
A second test was ordered. This time, Chantel Adkins flew to Tampa to witness the test. Sapp appeared. The test showed he was Autumn's father.
Sapp refused to accept the result. He asked for a third test. The judge ordered the final test would be in Camden, N.J., and would be videotaped. On the day of test No. 3, Sapp threw in the towel and acknowledged paternity.
Sapp fired one lawyer, hired another and moved to have the paternity records sealed. His motion was denied.
The battle for support went to a three-day trial, with Camden County Superior Court Judge Charles M. Rand issuing his final judgment earlier this month.
Adkins, an accountant who says her CPA certification lapsed under the duress of being a single mom, won support of $5,164 a month - more than twice that paid to Sanders.
Based on expert testimony about the costs of Rutgers and Princeton, the cheapest and most expensive colleges in New Jersey, respectively, Adkins is also to receive a lump-sum college contribution of $84,924.
Sapp was ordered to buy a $250,000 life insurance policy naming Autumn as beneficiary, and to pay attorneys fees of $47,764.
Because Sapp is a football player, Nuzzi had sought a one-time cash payment.
"NFL salaries aren't guaranteed, injuries can occur and if he ends up losing all his money like Mike Tyson, (Sapp) goes back to court and seeks an order to lower his support," said Nuzzi. "That's why we wanted a lump sum."
But Nuzzi said his client is very happy with the award.
Case 3: Sapp vs. Sapp
In her divorce, Jamiko Sapp will likely seek a split of assets and alimony based on her lifestyle as the wife of a millionaire.
"With marital assets, you start with 50-50 and say, show me why not," said Arnold Levine, a Tampa lawyer who has handled a number of high-profile divorces. "With alimony, you say, do you ski in Switzerland and drive three Hummers and why can't your husband continue to pay for that?"
Mrs. Sapp should expect alimony for half the length of her five-year marriage, Levine said, because of a guideline that applies to marriages of less than 13 years.
State support guidelines, based on his current salary, put Sapp's monthly payment at $13,168 per child.
Sapp has already filed papers saying he should pay much less. The judge should deviate from guidelines because they would provide his children funds "well in excess of the children's needs."
Sapp said he should pay no spousal support because of the brevity of the marriage, and he should get most of the marital assets.
The rationale for Sapp's request stems from the tenuous nature of his employment as a professional football player, a job where his ability to earn an extravagant income can disappear in one sudden, career-ending injury.
"As a professional athlete, the husband's income is front-loaded," Sapp's counterpetition says. "During the relatively brief time he is able to play professional sports, he will make an income disproportionate to the income he is capable of earning for the rest of his life."
Thus, Sapp should not be saddled with alimony and support payments pegged to a very high income that will last only a few years, at best.
Levine said he still believed Mrs. Sapp will prevail, "because of the fact her husband is a philanderer." Levine also said Sapp won't be able to claim inability to pay because of paternity judgments.
"It's like going to Vegas and blowing $100,000," said Levine. "You can't reduce obligations because of inappropriate conduct."
Mrs. Sapp, through an Orlando spokeswoman, declined to comment on the divorce.
"It's between her and Warren," said Mrs. Sapp's publicist, Leah Shepherd. "It won't be played out in the media."
- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jeff Testerman can be reached at 813 226-3422 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org