Jury rules Burress owes dealer less

LEBANON, Pa. -- Plaxico Burress was suspended when his team was knocked out of the NFL playoffs last weekend, but the embattled New York Giants star scored a small victory on Wednesday.

A civil court jury in small-town Pennsylvania sided with Burress over a local car dealer who sought $19,000 in damages after a vehicle he let Burress use ended up being seized by New York City police in connection with a 2005 shooting incident.

Burress will only have to pay $1,700 to the dealer, an amount that would seem minor to the millionaire star of last year's Super Bowl.

"It has nothing to do with how much money he makes," Burress' lawyer Matthew T. Croslis said after the jury's decision. "It has to do with ... what's right."

Burress' presence in little Lebanon, Pa., caused a stir.

The three-plus hours of testimony was watched by court officials, Burress' fans and other onlookers who mostly cared about the chance to see the player and persuade him to sign a hat, football or any paraphernalia. The jury returned a verdict after only an hour of deliberations.

Several dozen people followed Burress out of the courtroom. Burress, who didn't talk to reporters, signed only an autograph or two.

During testimony, dealer Frederick Laurenzo and Burress delivered conflicting statements.

Laurenzo said he spoke with Burress on the telephone and that Burress understood that he was to make promotional appearances on behalf of the dealership in exchange for using a 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche. Burress also agreed that no one else would drive the truck, Laurenzo said.

Burress testified that he asked his agent to arrange a car for him in March 2005, when Burress was in New Jersey for his first Giants training camp after being traded by the Pittsburgh Steelers. But he said he knew of no obligations or conditions on his use of the vehicle, and never spoke with Laurenzo.

Several months later, New York City police seized the truck in connection with a shooting incident in which officers saw two men firing rounds from inside the truck on a Bronx street early on Aug. 20, 2005. It did not, however, appear that they were targeting anyone, police said.

Officers recovered two 9-mm pistols at the scene and arrested two people, one of them a cousin of Burress, police said.

Investigators contacted Burress, who came in with a lawyer more than two weeks later for questioning. Burress signed a statement saying he had loaned the car to a cousin, but that he had no knowledge of the incident and was at practice at the time of the shooting.

Burress' attorney Benjamin Brafman said he was told that at the time of the incident Burress was with the team at a New Jersey hotel because the Giants had a home preseason game later that day.

Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon declined Wednesday to discuss Burress' exact whereabouts at the time of the shooting.

Charges against Burress' cousin were dropped. The other person in the car pleaded guilty in March 2006 to criminal possession of a weapon, police said.

Laurenzo filed the breach-of-contract suit against Burress in September 2006 and it took him until January 2007 to get the truck back from police. During that time, the brakes rusted and the battery died.

The jury decided that Burress should pay the cost to repair the vehicle and the bill to tow it back to Laurenzo's dealership. Laurenzo had sought additional money to cover interest and the vehicle's depreciation.

Burress, 31, a star wide receiver who caught the game-winning pass in last year's Super Bowl, has been embroiled in controversy for months. He was charged with two counts of illegal weapons possession after he accidentally shot himself in the right thigh at a Manhattan nightclub on Nov. 29.

Burress, who received a five-year, $35 million contract extension from the Giants in September, turned himself in on the weapons charges and was released on $100,000 bail. He is due in court March 31.

After the self-inflicted shooting, the Giants suspended Burress for the remainder of the season.

In December, Burress was sued in Broward County, Fla., for an accident last May in which he allegedly drove his $140,000 Mercedes-Benz into the back of a woman's vehicle. The woman's attorney later said that Burress had failed to pay the premium on his car insurance, which had lapsed three days before the wreck.