The Long Trial of Ron Mix

Did the former football hero do anything wrong, or was he merely an innocent victim?

Mix signed on with the Chargers, who moved to San Diego in 1961. At six foot four, 245 pounds, Mix was one of the best offensive tackles ever to play football.
  • Mix signed on with the Chargers, who moved to San Diego in 1961. At six foot four, 245 pounds, Mix was one of the best offensive tackles ever to play football.
  • Image by Tom Voss

For years, Charger Hall of Famer Ron Mix and his wife Patti have been prominent on the San Diego social scene; a “decorative couple,” one observer said. They appeared together on the cover of the Christmas issue of San Diego Magazine in 1981. They were known for their work raising money for charities and public service organizations — the Heart Fund, KPBS radio, the United Jewish Appeal, child abuse organizations, and more. Mix was a football hero, a partner at the prestigious law firm Schall Boudreau and Gore, a frequent subject in Tom Blair’s column in the Union, a mainstream San Diego Republican. He was the kind of guy who “went out of his way to make friends and be part of the community,” as one acquaintance put it, and his reputation was pristine.

Mike Aguirre argued that Mix, being a famous football player, used his reputation to bring in money.

Mike Aguirre argued that Mix, being a famous football player, used his reputation to bring in money.

Then something went wrong. Mix, who had been a friend of Richard McKee, a local builder who was convicted of fraud last year and is now in prison, found himself facing serious allegations in a civil lawsuit. An investor in several of Richard McKee’s failed building projects named Mix on a complaint in October of 1982, accusing Mix of fraud, attorney malpractice, breach of contract and of fiduciary duty, and securities violations. To many people the allegations seemed incredible, and Mix, who vehemently denied them all, fought back this past summer in a nine-week trial.

Mitchell Lathrop. Lathrop referred to Aguirre as “the most ridiculous man I have ever known.”

Mitchell Lathrop. Lathrop referred to Aguirre as “the most ridiculous man I have ever known.”

Mix ended up paying dearly for his association with Richard McKee. “He was very successful,” says Mix. “He had all the trappings of wealth — a Porsche, a Cadillac, an airplane, a beautiful suite of offices — and an impressive history as a builder.” Between 1977 and 1980, many of those trappings were paid for by later investors in what amounted to a Ponzi scheme. “Up to that point in his life, no one had ever questioned his integrity,” says Mix. “He lived fifty-three of his fifty-five years as a responsible man of integrity. I’m not embarrassed that I trusted the man.”

Ron Mix. Over a three-year period, the former Charger had left 150 telephone messages at McKee’s office.

Ron Mix. Over a three-year period, the former Charger had left 150 telephone messages at McKee’s office.

In 1960, after four years at USC, Ron Mix was the first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Colts and the Los Angeles Chargers. Assured that playing in the fledgling AFL would not hurt him financially, Mix signed on with the Chargers, who moved to San Diego in 1961. At six foot four, 245 pounds, Mix was one of the best offensive tackles ever to play football. He had tremendous speed and agility and was once called the least penalized offensive lineman in the history of the game. Newsweek published a story about him in 1963, writing that “he’s got enough dash to draw one eye of the spectator away from the glamour of the backfield.” Newsweek also spoke of his “sensitive intelligence.” If Mix was the best lineman in the AFL, he was also the best writer. At USC he’d minored in English, and several times during his career Mix wrote articles for Sports Illustrated. One of them explained why Mix chose to sit out the 1964 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans, which was boycotted by the black players, several of whom had been poorly treated by the residents of the city. Mix wrote: “I felt . . .it was important for at least one white player — if the game had to be played in New Orleans — to join the Negroes, to say we’re with you. Dammit, I thought again, this time you’re wrong. But your cause is just and we’re with you.”

Mix, the unanimous choice for captain of the Chargers, had numerous confrontations with Charger management during his ten years with the team. He was an aggressive players’ union advocate, pushing for higher salaries and benefits. Mix went to the University of San Diego School of Law in the off-season, and he received his degree in 1971. When he retired from football in 1972, after two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Mix worked several jobs: as contract negotiator for the Charger front office, as general manager of the Portland Storm in the ill-fated World Football League, and as a real-estate syndicator. Then he became a practicing attorney, first at a personal injury firm in Oakland, and, in 1977, with Schall Boudreau and Gore, where he became a partner in four years. He was one of the founders of Sun Savings and Loan Association, as well as Olympian Bancorp, the holding company for Landmark Thrift and Loan. In February of 1979, Mix received pro football’s greatest prize; along with Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus, and Yale Lary, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio. Only 128 players in football history share this honor.

Those who know Mix find it hard to believe he is capable of wrongdoing; one attorney who worked with him says, “He’s known for paying attention to the little guy. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.” Another said, “He’s a sweet guy.” After meeting with him, you’d only be more inclined to agree. Ron Mix is a polite, sincere man. He likes to talk football and family. He looks you right in the eye and tells you the whole affair was a big mistake and that he’s as innocent as the day he was born. You leave the table marveling at the incongruity between the man and the deeds that led to his fall from grace. Although Mix has declined to discuss any details about the lawsuit, he does say, “You’re talking about events that happened in my first two years as a business attorney. I hadn’t seen the ugly side of life enough to know not to trust people.”

If you believe squandering other people’s life savings is wrong, then Richard McKee is a pretty ugly guy. Even before his conviction for fraud, McKee’s ethics had been questionable. (Mix says he was unaware of McKee’s past.) Back in the early Seventies, McKee testified at the trial of Angelo Alessio, former part-owner of the Hotel Del Coronado. McKee’s firm, McKee Construction, had supplied phony invoices to help Alessio avoid paying taxes. An IRS investigator who worked on the Alessio case calls McKee quite unequivocally “a crook.”

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