A former executive of World Wrestling Entertainment admitted Thursday that he accepted kickbacks in return for steering the licensing rights for several of the company's products.
James Bell, 49, of Norwalk, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to mail fraud. Bell, the WWE's former senior vice president of licensing and merchandising, was released on $50,000 bond. He faces up to five years in prison and restitution of about $1.9 million to the company when he is sentenced on April 29.
Federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, call for Bell to receive 30 to 37 months in prison.
Prosecutors said Bell arranged for WWE's licensing agent, SS & Associates Inc., owned by Stanley Shenker, to receive commissions on licensing agreements to which SSAI was not entitled. Bell would then get kickbacks from Shenker's company under the scheme, which took place between 1998 and 2000.
Bell declined to comment after the proceedings.
Shenker has not been charged. His attorney, Andrew Bowman, declined to comment Thursday.
Bell and SSAI also received a kickback from a licensee who made T-shirts, according to prosecutors.
The Stamford-based WWE also is suing Bell in a federal lawsuit. The WWE contends Jakks Pacific Inc. and its subsidiaries made payoffs to win the licensing rights for the wrestling company's toys and games. Payments of at least $100,000 were made to a foreign bank account of Shenker, who allegedly split the money with Bell, according to the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Bell and Shenker recommended the license be granted to Jakks during the 1990s. Two payments occurred during the selection process and a third payment was made after the video game license was awarded to Jakks, WWE said.
Jakks, based in Malibu, Calif., has denied the allegations.
Jakks has been WWE's toy licensee since 1995 and obtained the video game license in 1998. The licenses generate royalties of about $13 million, or about 3.5 percent of WWE's $375 million in annual revenue, officials said. WWE is seeking damages, but has not yet calculated the amount.