Viewers couldn’t be blamed for walking away from O.J.: Made in America’s climatic episode still asking themselves, “Wait, so what were the circumstances that led up to the Las Vegas robbery? And who were these players?” Even when the incident—in which O.J. Simpson and a small entourage, some armed with guns, stormed a hotel room to seize what Simpson believed were his belongings from a memorabilia dealer—occurred in 2007, and went to and through trial the following year, most observers scratched their heads. Many more figured, “Well, at least he’s in jail for something.”
In an effort to further elucidate a chapter of Simpson’s saga, we sought out the aforementioned memorabilia dealer, Bruce Fromong. Simpson and Fromong were friends of nearly two decades prior to the crime, and according to Fromong, he had no idea Simpson was the mysterious buyer he had been told was interested in buying his memorabilia. Today, Fromong remains steadfast about a few things: Simpson’s innocence in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman; that Tom Riccio, the auctioneer who arranged that fateful Sin City confrontation and later sold a recording of it to TMZ, is scum of the earth; and that none of the memorabilia he had with him that night in Vegas were originally among Simpson’s personal belongings (well, maybe a few of them were).
Depending on whom you talk to in this sordid tale, you’ll likely get a different story. Vulture spoke to Fromong by phone for his account of how he and O.J. Simpson became forever intertwined.
Do you recall your first encounter with O.J.?
Yeah, the first time I met him was actually down at his house in Brentwood. I’d gone down with [Simpson’s manager] Mike Gilbert. It was either mid-1990 or early 1991.
And at that point, what was your relationship with Gilbert?
Mike and I had known each other for a while. We’d both lived in Hanford, California.
And it was Mike who suggested you and O.J. meet.
As random as it was for you and Mike to make O.J.’s acquaintance, people are just as puzzled as to how O.J. got so involved with all the personalities in the sports-memorabilia world.
Well, memorabilia’s always been a big business, but it hasn’t been until the last 20-something years when it’s really, hugely jumped. I testified in the civil trial, and they asked me, “What makes O.J.’s autograph worth money?” And I said, “Well, it’s only worth what somebody will pay for it.” The only thing that rose was the demand.
Did it ever make you queasy to be involved in selling O.J. memorabilia during the trial?
Absolutely not. I do not believe O.J. did it. I might be one of the few white people in America that believes he’s innocent. People say, “how can you believe that?” Number one: I believe in our justice system. Number two: I tell people I wasn’t there. Number three: I see things that were presented in the case that make me have total doubt.
Can we clarify Alfred Beardsley’s relationship to you and Mike?
Beardsley was a guy here in Vegas who brought a business proposition to me.
So is Beardsley’s involvement where we get to the origins of what happened in Vegas?
Yeah. Beardsley was a guy who used to buy memorabilia from me, from Mike Gilbert. He was a groupie. All the way through the O.J. trial, he used to buy stuff from our company all the time. He was always trying to get close to O.J. Tom Riccio, I don’t know how him and Beardsley met, but Beardsley came to me and went, “I know an auctioneer who has a client who wants to buy a large amount of O.J. Simpson memorabilia,” and I said, “Great.” I had never met Tom Riccio. Beardsley never told me [the buyer was O.J.].
Did Riccio have a business relationship with O.J. independent of yours?
I don’t know. I’ve heard conflicting stories about him. I’d heard he had called O.J. before and tried to set up a signing at one time and it didn’t go through.
How did things proceed after that initial call with Beardsley?
I said, “Come by our warehouse.” And they said, “Well, [O.J’s] kind of eccentric. He doesn’t want to do that.” And I’ve had this happen before. As long as it’s a public place, I’m not too worried. When they said he’s gonna have a room here [in Vegas], I said, “That’s fine.” Beardsley’s not the most reliable fella in the world, so I just took it with a grain of salt. And he finally called me and said, “Hey, we wanna meet up with you tomorrow.” Beardsley never told me who this guy’s name was. He was afraid someone was going to try and go around him.
So there was no indication this person was going to be O.J. Simpson.
No. I could have called O.J. and straightened this out right away.
Who’s responsible for O.J. thinking you had his personal belongings?
Tom Riccio. [O.J.] had no idea who he was gonna meet. [Riccio] convinced O.J. there was some guy that was going to have thousands of pieces of memorabilia. He was just hoping to get some kind of reaction out of O.J. Simpson.
That, in turn, gets O.J. in a rage.
[Riccio] has no idea what kind of reaction [O.J.]’s going to have. I don’t know what really took place in the meetings, because Riccio was in on those meetings. And he didn’t tell anybody he’s recording this stuff. He’s hoping O.J.’s going to come in there, [shouting], “This is my stuff” and then maybe realize, “Naw, this isn’t,” and he would get some little tape he’d be able to sell for $1,000, $2,000, $3,000.
And by the time of the robbery, Riccio had connected the dots that you knew O.J.?
No, he knew. When Beardsley finally introduced us, we went out to my truck and looked at all the stuff. I said, “Yeah, these are the photographs he signed for me for years, these are footballs he signed for me for years.” Some of these items at one time did belong to O.J., but they’re all items I’ve bought through legitimate sources. All of it’s legit.
During the robbery, did you find yourself frightened of O.J.?
The thing was, he wasn’t the one with the gun. He’s the one who probably saved my life, cause he was [saying], “Put the gun down.” Did I fear for my life? Yes I did. But I’ve got military training. You try to control that. I kept my calm, I didn’t talk back, I looked him straight in the eye, and the guy backed up.
And I know you said you acquired all the memorabilia that O.J. stole from you legitimately, but there are accusations to this day that some of those items—whether unbeknownst to you or not—were initially sold to you after Mike Gilbert had unlawfully or unethically sold O.J.’s personal belongings to an outside party.
See, here’s the thing: I was sitting many times with O.J. and Mike, and O.J. used to say, “I don’t give a shit who gets this stuff, as long as the Goldmans never get their hands on it.” Did O.J. mean that? Cause O.J. knew he could never have it back, he knew it could never go to his kids. I would have loved to have gotten that stuff back to his kids, but it couldn’t go there. [The Simpsons] got an anonymous fax from the L.A. Sheriff’s Department the night before the raid [to confiscate his belongings for auction to help pay his civil debts to the Goldmans], saying, “They’re gonna raid the house tomorrow.” Mike Gilbert and Shirley Baker, who is O.J.’s sister, and other people, they emptied that house and they put other stuff in its place. So much stuff got sold that was not real stuff.
So none of O.J.’s personal belongings -- that were going to be potentially seized in a raid and brought to auction -- were among the items you had waiting to sell in the Vegas hotel room?
[Laughs.] Um, I won’t say that. I’d rather not comment on that.
It’s been almost a decade since the robbery. You’ve never been privately conflicted about his possible guilt in the ’95 trial?
Nope. If he called me tomorrow and said, “Bruce, I’m getting out today, will you pick me up?” I would be there. O.J. and I made our peace, even after I testified against him.
Is there anything else you want to clear up about that night in Vegas and the surrounding circumstances?
Everybody still believes, “O.J. was getting his stuff back.” I got back everything but 16 items. [Fromong is referring to when he went to court to get the memorabilia back that O.J. stole from him.]
So however they came into your possession, some of those 16 items might have been among the items that were intended to be taken for auction from O.J.’s personal belongings.
Yeah. Ties, a plaque that had belonged to him at one time, yeah.