FALL FROM GRACE

In Sports /

By Eric Lam

The last game Alex Beason ever played for Ryerson ended in a loss.

It was March 1995 and the struggling Rams men’s basketball team, suddenly found themselves playing in the Ontario University Athletics Association East Final for the second year in a row.

Trailing arch nemesis the University of Toronto Blues for most of the game, the Rams managed to tie it at 72 points with 95 seconds remaining, thanks to a clutch basket from veteran shooting guard Ainsworth Slowly.

Everybody was looking to Beason, the team’s best player, to finish them. But as the buzzer sounded, Beason could only shake his head as the Rams lost 79-73. His performance that day was less than impressive: 6-for-20 shooting for 14 points. It was an ignominious end to the greatest, and shortest, career in Rams basketball history.

Sadly, the game exemplified Beason’s life so far — one full of promise and potential, yet perpetually cursed by his own bad decisions. In 1992, he was set to play pro ball, but then he robbed a jewelry store. Now he is waiting to go on trial on September 29 as the alleged mastermind of a $10-million TTC counterfeit token ring. For the first time since his arrest in 2006, the Eyeopener tells the story behind the fall of Ryerson’s greatest athlete.

In 2004, Toronto police arrested a man with dozens of fake tokens stuffed in his pockets. The TTC had already been losing money for decades by stubbornly sticking to the same silvery token design for more than 50 years. But something was different about this batch: The tokens were too good, too accurate, and even weighted correctly to work with automated turnstiles. Alarmed, police began a two-year investigation, which eventually expanded to include the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo and 20 undercover FBI agents. In February 2006, almost a dozen TTC special constables arrested more than 100 people involved in a counterfeiting ring that was manufacturing tokens out of a minting factory in Massachusetts.

The biggest arrest was Alexander Beason, then 36, and his older brother Reginald. A third brother, Alfredo, was also arrested but authorities say his role was minor. “His case has been dealt with,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Russell, lead investigator with the TTC. “The main player was Alex.”

Authorities arrested and charged Beason with 15 counts of fraud. Two months later, his ex-Rams teammate Ainsworth Slowly, then 38, was also arrested. The TTC called him “the other man” and police charged him with about 30 counts of fraud.

Beason and Slowly had been partners in the alleged crime as far back as 2003, but later parted ways. “By the time we’d pulled it all together they were plying their trades separately,” Russell said.

Slowly pleaded guilty to TTC-related charges in October 2007 and received an 18-month conditional sentence (nine months house arrest followed by nine months probation). The Beason brothers had their preliminary hearing last spring, and will stand trial on Sept. 29.

All told, the scam cost the TTC $10 million and produced five million fake tokens. It also forced the transit commission to update its tokens to a two-tone, gold and silver design in 2007. The commission filed a civil suit against the minting company, but settled for an unspecified amount in late 2006.

None of the charges against Alex Beason have been proven in court.

Richard Dean still remembers coaching a 17-year-old Beason at West Hill Collegiate in Scarborough. He had a scrawny, awkward frame, but loads of “raw potential.” Dean doubted the kid would ever be able to harness his skills, but after playing a year at West Hill, Beason moved on to Bathurst Heights Secondary and became a star.

He followed that up with a three-year college career in the U.S., including a season as the leading scorer for the Division 1 team at Southeast Missouri State.

The success earned him an invitation to a probasketball development camp, but Beason never made it. In 1992, he robbed a Scarborough jewelry store with two others. Beason began serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence at Collins Bay Penitentiary in Kingston, Ont. that same year.

“I guess I lost focus when I came back home for the summer,” Beason told the Globe and Mail in 1995. “I was just hanging around guys who I’d been hanging around for a long time since I was a kid and I just got influenced and went astray. So I made a mistake.”

Dean, who had become an assistant coach with the men’s team at Ryerson, got in touch with Beason when he was in prison and helped secure his parole after 13 months. He enrolled at Ryerson as an arts student, in search of a second chance. And for two years, he got it.

Beason made an impact right away. Playing power forward in his first year and small forward in his second, Beason still holds two Ontario University Athletics records: most points in a game (52 against Laurentian) and greatest scoring average in a season with 33.4. He became Ryerson’s first All-Canadian, and was an East all-star both years. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound behemoth’s power drives and slam dunks earned him a nickname: the Beast. The fans loved Beason, and he brought credibility to a team that sorely needed it. But he could never win the big game, and came up short in both East Final appearances.

“I don’t think anybody ever got real close to Alex,” said Dean, who is still an assistant coach with the men’s basketball team. “He had that strong drive and personality, and those people run at their own pace. Sometimes they don’t have time for you.”

Both Dean and Terry Haggerty, former head coach of the Rams, remember Beason as the hardest-working player they have ever coached. In practice, Beason’s squad would often emerge victorious in drills. Yet when the losing side performed their suicide runs as punishment, Beason would join “just as part of his workout,” Dean said. “He certainly made my job easy,” Haggerty said.

Ainsworth Slowly, a public administration student, was the Ram’s second all-time leading scorer and had played for the team off-and-on since 1989 before graduating in 1995. Slowly and Beason’s numbers were both retired shortly before the 1995 playoffs.

While Slowly moved on from basketball, Beason pursued his dream. He managed to secure a professional gig in Britain after his second year at Ryerson, playing there for two years before hopping on a plane to Italy. He played there for another year before a foot injury ended his career. Dean said Beason was not large enough to play power forward and he lacked the skill to play guard in the NBA, but his drive and determination propelled him to pro levels before his injury. Even if he had kept playing, Dean argues Beason never had a chance in the NBA. “Once you’re damaged goods, that’s it.”

After returning to Canada, Beason opened a clothing store on Yonge Street about a block north of Ryerson. When that folded, Beason began plans to open a West Indian restaurant. He stood for hours next to Ernie’s old hot dog stand, handing out surveys to students on what they wanted in a restaurant.

“He always had that A-type personality,” Dean said. “He’s a smart guy. He didn’t have to go the route he did. He could’ve made millions legitimately.” In 1994, when the Toronto Star talked to Beason about his first run-in with the law, he was hopeful about the opportunity given to him at Ryerson.

“I learned that even if you put a lot of time into something, you still have to wait. It doesn’t pay off right away,” Beason said at the time. But ultimately, Beason couldn’t wait.

If found guilty in September, Beason could face up to 30 years in jail, making him a senior citizen before he gets another chance.

“In some ways he was smart but in other ways stupid,” Dean said. “He had what it takes to be successful, but went the wrong way. But the story’s not over yet.”

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