Antonio Brown on the Steelers' sidelines in 2018. Dec 30, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) looks on during warm-ups before the Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field. Brown has been ruled out of the game due to injury. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This week has seen former NFL player Antonio Brown in the news around the National Arena League’s Albany Empire, which has reportedly not paid players or coaches since April 21. Before that situation, Brown said to the media “I’m the owner, 100 percent owner,” and that was before reports that he’d increased his stake in the team from 47.5 percent to 95 percent. But now, with the reports of franchise turmoil, Brown’s representatives sent a letter to the Albany Times-Union claiming he doesn’t personally own the team, with it instead being in a trust:

Here’s more from that piece, by Abigail Rubel:

According to documents provided to the Times Union by Brown’s camp, the team is owned by Antonio El-Allah Express Trust Enterprise, and Brown has no personal ownership or control over the team.

But there are more layers to this particular onion: Antonio El-Allah Express Trust Enterprise is the domestic arm of another entity, Antonio El-Allah Express Trust (without the “Enterprise”). Empire team president Alberony Denis and a lawyer named Marlon Oliveira said in a phone call Monday night that a foreign citizen named Antonio El-Allah is the trustee.

Denis and Oliveira both emailed copies of a letter sent on behalf of Antonio El-Allah Express Trust. But the letter — addressed to this reporter as well as former Empire co-owner Mike Kwarta, who sold his 47.5 percent stake to Brown for $1 on April 19 — raises more questions than it answers. 

“I Brown, Antonio Tavaris a foreign national but not a citizen of the United States at birth, am writing to you regarding recent reports that have been circulating in the media regarding my supposed ownership of the Albany Empire team,” the letter begins. “I want to make it very clear that I am not the owner of this team, and any claims to the contrary are completely false.”

…“As you may know,” the letter continues, “I am involved with the ANTONIO EL-ALLAH EXPRESS TRUST ENTERPRISE (a ‘trust’), which is a separate entity from myself. While the Trust have 100 percent ownership stake in the ALBANY EMPIRE, I myself do not have any ownership or control over the team.”

As Rubel goes on to write, it’s not clear (or why) how Brown is claiming to be a foreign national and not a citizen of the United States, as media reports have always had him born in Miami to U.S. citizens “Touchdown” Eddie Brown and Adrienne Moss.  The trust is also very murky, and is connected to the Big Boomin Investment Co. LLC Brown founded in Dubai. And the trust cannot have “100 percent ownership stake” in the Empire, as locals Charlotte and Steve von Schiller own the other five percent.

And Brown certainly is making appearances around the team, including at a press conference Wednesday announcing the return of former head coach Tom Menas (who was let go before the season) following head coach Damon Ware leaving the team earlier in the week and citing non-payment. There, Rubel writes that he refused to discuss the identity of Antonio El-Allah, the team’s ownership structure, or if he has decision-making authority. But Brown has continued to promote the team on social media, including ahead of their game Saturday:

There are certainly plenty of strange issues around the Empire, including that non-payment, Menas’ return, and the suspension of eight players over a bus incident that led to kicker Michael Hall filing a police report, claiming he was punched by one of the suspended players. And now, the trust ownership situation has been added to that list. Meanwhile, Brown is also reportedly in negotiations to purchase a $12 million home.

[The Albany Times-Union; top photo of Brown on the sidelines at a 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers game from Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.