The Washington Post
Friday, July 14, 2000; Page D06

Justice Dept. Probes Orioles

                  Helms Accuses Club of Discriminating Against Cuban Players

                  By Josh Barr
                  Washington Post Staff Writer

                  The Justice Department is investigating the Baltimore Orioles' hiring
                  practices to determine whether the Orioles illegally discriminate against
                  Cuban players.

                  The investigation was prompted by a letter sent by Sen. Jesse Helms
                  (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to U.S.
                  Attorney General Janet Reno in late May. In the letter, Helms said the
                  Orioles appeared to illegally discriminate against Cubans by allegedly
                  refusing to sign them to professional contracts.

                  In a letter dated July 6, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben
                  responded to Helms that the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration
                  Related Unfair Employment Practices "has opened an independent
                  investigation of the Baltimore Orioles to determine whether the alleged
                  player hiring policies and practices violate the prohibition against citizenship
                  status discrimination."

                  As of last night, the Orioles had no comment. Attempts to reach Orioles
                  majority owner Peter Angelos were unsuccessful.

                  "We're satisfied there is an investigation taking place and we'll see how it
                  comes out," said Helms spokesman Marc Thiessen. "Clearly the Justice
                  Department takes it seriously enough that it it worth opening an
                  investigation into. We're happy they're proceeding and we'll be watching
                  with interest."

                  It is unknown how long the investigation will take or what will happen after
                  it is completed, a Justice Department spokesman said.

                  The investigation was reported in yesterday's Washington Times.

                  Raben also wrote that the allegations contained in Helms's letter "may also
                  implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits national
                  origin discrimination." That law is enforced by the Equal Employment
                  Opportunity Commission.

                  A source close to Helms said the senator is drafting a letter to send this
                  week to the EEOC that will ask that group to start its own investigation of
                  the Orioles. Previously, the conservative public interest law firm Judicial
                  Watch filed a complaint with the EEOC.

                  "Peter Angelos is a lawyer; he knows what the law is and one can tell
                  immediately from the backtracking his lawyers are doing in the press after
                  they had a lapse that they knew what the policy is and they screwed up,"
                  Thiessen said. "It is serious enough for the Justice Department to
                  investigate it. Unfortunately for him, being friends with Fidel Castro doesn't
                  put you above the law."

                  EEOC spokesman David Grinburg said he could not say whether the
                  EEOC had received any complaints or if an investigation was underway.

                  Helms's letter to Reno was prompted by comments in May by Syd Thrift,
                  the Orioles vice president of baseball operations, who said that the Orioles
                  had no interest in signing Cuban defectors even though several high-caliber
                  players have come from the tiny island nation. The "concept" as Thrift
                  called it, stemmed from the Orioles' two exhibition games against Cuban
                  all-stars last year.

                  "After the goodwill created between the two countries by the visit,
                  we--Mr. Angelos in particular--feel it best to not do anything that could be
                  interpreted as being disrespectful or . . . encouraging players to defect,"
                  Thrift told the Times.

                  Last month, Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House
                  Education and Workforce Committee, and Judicial Watch asked
                  Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig to investigate the Orioles' hiring

                  Selig responded to Judicial Watch chairman and general counsel Larry
                  Klayman, saying he was aware of Helms's letter to Reno but had no plan
                  to take action.

                  "In light of this pending administrative proceeding I feel it would be
                  inappropriate for me to comment or take any action with respect to the
                  Baltimore Club," Selig wrote.

                  Attempts to reach Selig yesterday were unsuccessful.