It started off simply enough. OnMilwaukee.com received an innocuous email from Montaous Walton, asking us to do a feature on his feel-good story about making it out of Milwaukee and signing with the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
A perfunctory Google search revealed a real buzz about the 23-year-old undrafted free agent, a second base prospect who reportedly posted a world class 6.3-second, 60-yard dash.
An OnMilwaukee.com investigation has revealed that someone named Montaous Walton does, indeed, exist. But that person has proven to be nothing more a name on a phone record, a voice on the other end of the line.
Montaous Walton, the baseball player, is fictional.
Over the last five years, Walton has used the internet and his charm to create a fake persona that helped convince legitimate media outlets to report on his success, and then used it all to convince sports management firms to advance him plane tickets and cell phone payments – a contrivance that worked on at least two agencies.
During its investigation, OnMilwaukee.com obtained what Walton sent to several agencies as his contract from the Blue Jays, in which he spelled the name of the team incorrectly, among other key errors. That contract has sparked a Major League Baseball investigation into the matter.
"We're looking to prosecute," said Dan Mullin, Major League Baseball Department of Investigations Senior Vice President. "That's the ultimate goal."
What were the reasons behind it all? What was the end game?
Only the real Montaous Walton knows.
"hello my name is Montaous Walton a top college player from WI, i am looking for some place to compete after i am finish with my college career, i am an outfielder, with a career high 31 stolen bases, 17 RBi's with a consistent batting average of .323, i also rank 2nd in the stolen base category, i can be reached at Waltonmd18@uww.edu thank you."
Shortly after Walton introduced himself to the world with that seemingly innocuous post, he turned his attention to the media. A month later a Wisconsin recruiting web site trumpeted his transfer from Eastern Michigan University to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
In the story, Walton spoke of a collegiate career that did not exist. According to the Eastern Michigan athletic department, they've "been down this road before" with media members and agents as they confirmed he never participated in athletics at the university.
The university confirmed Walton registered for classes at one point in 2006.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater confirmed Walton enrolled at the college in 2007, but never played. In an April 27 interview with OnMilwaukee.com, Walton said he did not play at UWW for eligibility reasons.
Walton drifted out of sight after the Rivals story was published in 2007 but resurfaced 22 months later to put a full court press on Milwaukee's media.
He upped the ante, too, moving from college star to professional baseball prospect.
In that nearly two-year hiatus from the public, message boards and comment sections began hailing Walton as a Minnesota Twins signee out of the academy.
According to an editorial in the Milwaukee Courier in June 2010, the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) Times published a story on Walton in September 2009, followed by The Community Journal in November of that year.
No digital history can be found of the MATC Times story, but the college confirmed the paper did profile him and that Walton was enrolled for the 2005 spring semester. Walton has never said he played for MATC, and the college confirmed he did not.
In February 2010, he was profiled in the Courier by Frederick Dakarai.
"There were a couple of other stories on him online, so we had no reason to think something was funny," said Courier editor Lynda Jones.
He became more widely known throughout the city in March 2010, when he appeared in a brief segment on WTMJ Channel 4.
"People just like to hear a rags-to-riches kind of story, this inner city African-American man out of Milwaukee making it into something," Jones said of how this story exploded two years ago. "There are plenty of kids who are doing some really successful things and I think people get so excited when you hear that."
It was at this point Walton began attempting to cash in on his now legitimized Internet persona, cold-contacting a sports management agency looking for representation. For background, he suggested the agent Google him.
At least one agency Walton contacted in 2010 determined through Eastern Michigan and the Twins that his claims were false, and did not sign him or advance him money.
In June 2010, Jones wrote a scathing retraction to her paper's feature from February, concluding her piece by saying "This type of story also demonstrates just how an individual can use the internet and its social programs to create and perpetrate a fraud."
Despite the story, Walton convinced WUWM 89.7 FM Milwaukee Public Radio to air an interview promoting his signing with the Twins in August, something the station didn't know was fraudulent until October.
Walton's deception was once again chronicled, this time on Milwaukee Magazine's Web site on Oct. 5, 2010.
Walton the baseball player re-invented himself over the last 19 months, as the revealing news stories were quickly relegated to search engine purgatory, steamrolled by the downhill momentum of message board posts and story comments about Walton's signing with the Blue Jays in early 2011.
Walton admitted as much.
"I think if you dig you'll see that," he said of those stories in a phone interview with OnMilwaukee.com on April 30. "You'll find something like that. If you Google you really can't see it, but if you Google and you dig, you know what I mean but like I said, that's the past, man."
Walton then directly addressed Jones' editorial in that same interview.
"Like I said, that was two, two and a half years ago," he said. "I think a lot of things ... some things were true and some things were not. I will say that. Was I being scouted at the time and then not signed? That's true. I wasn't signed but I was being looked at. But, as far as all the other stuff that comes along with it, like fraud and fake and all this, like I said, that's not true."
"Fred reached out to him and he was avoiding Fred’s calls – Fred was begging him to at least sit down with me and at least explain to her what was going on," Jones said. "I wrote the retraction, and then he called me, asking me to get rid of the retraction."
He was then asked directly if he was being honest in his claims to OnMilwaukee.com.
"I am being up front with you," he said. "Around that time I was still at Play Ball Academy. I wasn't signed, but I was still playing baseball and getting looked at. That's the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
It was a past not originally brought up when on April 14 a person identifying himself as Howie Enis contacted OnMilwaukee.com with this feel-good story.
"my name is coach howie enis and i was wondering were you able to do an article on milwaukee native montaous walton, who is currently over in ponce Puerto rico and competing in intersquad games while working on his switch hitting, walton will be attending extended spring training when he arrives back in florida"
Four days later, Walton himself reached out via email.
"how are you my name is montaous walton and I am an instate product and is in the bluejays farm system my coaches and I were wondering were you able to do a feature on me?"
OnMilwaukee.com and Walton finally connected in an April 27 phone interview where Walton said he had been signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an undrafted free agent out of the Play Ball Baseball Academy in Ft. Lauderdale.
When asked if it was a legitimate signing and not a tryout invitation, Walton laughed.
"Oh, no, I signed a contract already," he said. "I signed a contract so what I have to do is just improve myself, you know what I mean, before I can get assigned to short season, or most likely short season, or high A or something like that, maybe in June or what not."
When contacted about Walton, a Blue Jays spokesperson said they had heard of Walton's claims before, and that "this guy has never been part of our organization in any way."
In a follow-up phone interview on April 30, confronted with the Blue Jays' response, Walton attempted to clarify:
"It's basically like, we're down here whatever, me, the guy you talked to, coach Howie, you didn't talk to him but you emailed him, just like other coaches, as well. There is a scout down here, his name is Jim Dixon, he's one of the scouts down here or whatever. The signing is guaranteed, but what they wanted to do was test me.
"It's not really a tryout, though, it's more on the side. But he wanted to test me in like the 60-yard dash basically and the infielding drills and that sh*t and we're going to (inaudible) and that's it, and then I'll be able to sign. It's a different paper that I signed before, but this time I'll be able to sign the actual minor league contract. You know what I mean? They give you, uh, it's something else they give you before that, I think every team gives a prospect that. I don't know if it's like a, know what I mean, it's like a different thing they give you before that you sign and then you actually sign a minor league contract."
When asked when he would officially sign with Toronto, Walton said "It'll be like tomorrow (May 1) at the latest. Tomorrow. Everything will be tomorrow, for sure. Everything will be official."
This tactic has surprised MLB, which investigates "one or two" people a year masquerading as major league baseball players.
"Very unique," Mullin said. "Most of them like to avoid publicity. I guess in his mind this would be evidence that would give him credibility to his claim to say, 'look at this article.' Apparently not the smartest plan."
In that same conversation with OnMilwaukee.com, Walton said he was 23 years old and had been playing at the academy from 2008 to 2011 under the direction of noted international scout Fred Ferreira.
Ferreira, currently the Baltimore Orioles Director of International Recruiting, once ran the Play Ball Baseball Academy, but it closed in 2009. Through the Orioles, Ferreira said he had never heard of, or worked with, Walton.
The academy still has an active web site, but the agency that once handled registration for the academy said it was a camp for players 18 and under, not adult prospects.
Becoming a reality
It seems implausible one sports management firm could sign and fund a client sight unseen, let alone two of them. Yet that is what happened in the last eight months, as Walton the baseball player happened to catch The Seven Bridges Group (TSBG) and Red Eye Sports Management at the exact moment they were vulnerable.
According to former TSGB employee and current owner of Red Eye Sports Management Colin Cummins, Walton approached TSBG as it was trying to build a baseball clientele to add to its football, basketball and entertainment rosters.
Walton claimed to be a professional baseball player already signed to the Blue Jays organization. Cursory Google searches confirmed this, as Walton's name was mentioned widely in Blue Jays prospect discussions.
This is where Walton's virtual reality became tangible.
The Seven Bridges Group even noted as such in a formal press release sent out on Sept. 29, 2011: "It is no surprise that there was so much gossip, excitement and rumors floating around Walton's potential during his performance at the Major League camp."
Travis Bell, the CEO of TSBG, to this day remains incredulous about his group's involvement with Walton.
"This is the first time that I've run into it," Bell said. "Typically what we do is we do a very thorough background check. In this particular instance, and if you ask me a thousand times I'm going to give you the same answer – I don't know why we didn't go through that process with him. So it was just kind of like the perfect storm. We just assumed fool-hardheartedly he was legit and telling the truth. Normally during football and basketball, we follow a very rigid process. But this particular time, we didn't."
The Seven Bridges Group paid for round trip flights to Florida and Boston, purportedly for training, along with cell phone bills.
Bell said the group became suspicious of their client in December, when he got spring training reporting dates wrong. The group says it investigated Walton's claims and discovered he was not signed to the Blue Jays organization.
Bell said the relationship ended formally in January. At the time of publication, Bell said the group would not pursue restitution through legal means.
"He admitted to what he was doing and he apologized and all this stuff," Bell said. "I was like OK, whatever. I honestly felt that after we called him out on the carpet he would go away and this would be a scared-straight scenario, but apparently not."
According to Aumauinuuese S. Puni, CEO of ASP Consulting based out of Riverside, Calif., Walton approached ASP about representation in February. Puni said the company told Walton he had to wait on a background check, but in that time he began to ask for advances, including $300 to pay a cell phone bill.
Puni says the agency never signed Walton or advanced him any money.
It was about this time Walton reconnected with Cummins, his former liaison to Bell with TSBG. Cummins had since left TSBG to start Red Eye, and knew nothing of the reasons behind the split between Walton and TSGB.
"As far as this guy, I thought, 'hey, once he was reported to these other (agents) he would actually stop'," Puni said. "Not every single sports agent talks to each other but we need to put it out there so they know about it. I was the number four or five guy this guy made contact with."
The death of an avatar
Over the last two weeks, Cummins came to realize he had invested his time, his money and his trust, in Montaous Walton, fictitious baseball player. For nearly two months, he ignored his instincts, listened when he should have questioned. Eventually, the dots connected.
"I may have been misled by my thoughts of my journey as a player," said Cummins, who played two years in the independent Frontier League. "I loved baseball so much, it was my passion, that was what I put my life into. Then he comes along and he's got this little pedigree, and it hit the right nerve. It just ended up in the wrong place."
A red flag went up at the outset, when he asked Walton for his Blue Jays contract. It never came.
"My biggest fault was not following through on my first premonition of 'Why do I not have your contract?'" Cummins said. "It's not a long time. March 3 was only a few months ago, but I never followed through with it. I asked him. I even said my wife wants to know what's going to happen with me in reference to you. I just never stuck to my guns in reference to it.
"I completely, completely dropped the ball on that. (I thought) because he was at Seven Bridges, he came in when I was there, everything was on the up and up."
It was at about this time that Cummins said he verified with the Blue Jays that they never signed Walton.
He felt sick.
"A lot of my money was going to into getting into making sure I got my company up and going," Cummins said. "I didn't really have a lot of money to travel just yet. I was hoping by this time I'd be able to go down and spend like a week and watch him play some games, or watch any of the guys play some games. So we were always in contact. The face-to-face never happened."
Cummins said Walton eventually sent over what he claimed was his Blue Jays contract, a Word document.
OnMilwaukee.com obtained a copy of the document, which was not on official letterhead with a team logo and contained no financial information.
Mullin said this is the first time Major League Baseball has dealt with a person creating such a document.
"That’s different than what we’ve seen," Mullin said. "We’ve seen altered pictures, phony emails. We actually had a fake player put his girlfriend on the phone with what he said were teammates who obviously weren’t. We’ve had people who pretended to be club employees with fake business cards. This is the first time we’ve had someone using a phony contract."
Cummins ended their relationship due to breach of contract last week, saying he invested $2,500. As of publication, he said he would not pursue restitution through legal means.
Cummins said he turned the contract over to the Blue Jays security team, which in turn involved Major League Baseball's Department of Investigations. The league is currently looking into the matter.
"To be honest with you I'd really like to recoup the money I've spent on him so far," Cummins said. "I don't know how I'm going to get it. I really don't."
"You never really want to be that person, especially since I'm just starting out in the business and all of a sudden I just got taken. I have to terminate this (relationship), because he's just going to keep on trying and he's going to keep on using and I really don't want any other small guy to come along and lose their money, as well.
Is it over?
OnMilwaukee.com last communicated with Walton on May 3, via email, with an interview request asking him to address Cummins, his false statements about his baseball career, to explain his internet history dating back to 2007 and if his end game was financial gain, or somehow a way to secure a legitimate baseball contract.
Initially, Walton agreed to another phone interview to explain his side of the story, and apologized "sincerely for all of this drama and craziness, man."
This ordeal has been difficult – and humbling – for Cummins. He hopes his decision to open up about it not only shuts down the second of Walton's digital archetypes, but prevents other agents from falling victim to it, or others like it.
"I don't want to talk about it, but I think that I need to talk about it or else the next agent may get buried – and as a lookout to Montaous because maybe the next agent will not be as generous as myself and Travis," Cummins said. "All we did was talk to people."
That is not the route Major League Baseball is taking. The investigation is active, and spans across state lines and international borders.
"What we’re in the process of doing is just trying to find out exactly what he did and where he did it to try to find what the best venue would be to prosecute," Mullins said.
On May 5, Walton no longer wanted his story to be told, stating as much in a voice mail left for OnMilwaukee.com. It would seem to be the end of this second incarnation of Walton the baseball player, but perhaps a third is in its infancy.
According to Walton's longtime friend Mike Christopolous, a retired Milwaukee Sentinel journalist, Walton called him last Thursday tell him he had an offer to play professionally in Puerto Rico and followed it up with a call Friday to say he received a second offer, this time from a team in Italy.
"Anything you want to know man I'll be one hundred (percent) with you, straightforward with you," Walton told OnMilwaukee.com in his last interview. "I'm embarking on a signing in the next day or two. I'm just getting ready to start that journey, man."
It's a journey that started five years ago, in an obscure forum on an obscure message board, culminating in a simple email request for a story. It's one the real Montaous Walton couldn't have imagined being written.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.