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Detroit just loved Cecil Fielder, the burly Tigers slugger who ushered in the Decade of the Home Run in the early 1990s.

And Detroiters loved Fielder the family man, who doted on his son, Prince, and daughter, Ceclynn. They applauded when wife Stacey was named Mrs. Michigan, posing for pictures in her elegant home.

Their storybook life seemed headed for the happiest of endings - Fielder was traded to the Yankees, eventually retired with career earnings of $47 million in salary alone, and moved his family to the largest, richest mansion in central Florida.

Now, it's all gone.

All the money, the mansion - even the loving family unit.

Fielder is in hiding, with process servers stalking him. He is not in contact with his family, and many attempts by The Detroit News to reach him failed.


''Gambling caused Cecil Fielder's empire to collapse,'' said Al Arostegui, the realtor who sold the Fielders their 50-room palace in Melbourne, Fla., in 1995 for $3.7 million.

''This isn't a story of a hero who went bad, but a hero who got sick. For Cecil, gambling is a disease; it's like a cancer of some sort that ate away his wealth.''

Arostegui said the Fielders owe him more than $70,000 in unpaid advertising expenses from his attempts to sell their house for them. Still, he says, ''The biggest losers are the Fielders themselves. They had a great dream home, a wonderful life, and now it's all gone.''

Stacey Fielder said she still loves her husband, the only man in her life since her early teens, even though the two are mired in a bitter divorce dispute.

''But this isn't the same Cecil,'' she said. ''I never saw any of this coming. I never even knew he gambled.''

By the time Cecil made his first halting admissions to her that he had a problem, she says, their home had been foreclosed on by a bank, and a string of lawsuits and liens worth millions had been filed by creditors.

She is hard up financially and looking for work, she says, and she and Ceclynn, now 12, receive no money from Fielder and don't even have medical insurance.

No one interviewed by The Detroit News had an inkling that Fielder may have become a heavy gambler.

Fielder ''never showed that side around me or any of his friends,'' said Tigers third base coach Juan Samuel, who has been close to Fielder for 20 years. ''A lot of times it starts small, a little bet here and there, maybe even in the clubhouse - before you know, things get out of hand.''

The origins of the Fall of the House of Fielder are spelled out in a file in New Jersey Superior Court, titled Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino versus Cecil G. Fielder. It's about one 40-hour period in which Fielder's gambling compulsion apparently broke all bounds, with a casino extending him credit every step of the way.

On a February day in 1999, Cecil Fielder walked into the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City just before noon, and filled out an application for credit.

By the time the binge was over, Fielder owed the Trump casino $580,000.

Fielder repaid some small amounts, but held off Trump's collectors on the bulk of the money until September 2000. On the 9th, he wrote a personal check to Trump Plaza for $300,000, and authorized his bank to pay a half-dozen more drafts for $25,000 each.

The next day, Fielder authorized four more drafts from his bank, totaling $130,000.

Fielder stopped payment on his personal $300,000 check. The 10 bank drafts all bounced for insufficient funds.

A spokesman for the New Jersey State Police Gaming Enforcement Division said they investigated the transactions, but determined no criminal conduct had occurred.

Trump Plaza Associates sued for the money it was owed and won, but has yet to collect. With interest and attorney's fees, the bill stands at $563,359.

Trump officials, including Ford Palmer, vice president of casino operations, and Fred Cunningham, vice president for legal affairs, said they could not discuss the case - or a casino's obligation, if any, when a patron may be out of control.

''I never knew anything about any of this until I started noticing things when I was doing the finances,'' Stacey Fielder said. ''I'd be going over the bills with the accountant, and I'd be like, 'Hey, there's $35,000 gone from this account. What happened to it?' Then these gambling people just descended on the house one day, and started just taking things out of it. They took my truck.

''We talked about [Cecil's gambling] only a few times. I was under the impression he was going to get some help.''

Life became a swirl of lawsuits, process servers, bounced checks, lien after lien filed against their property - and not even the children were spared.

As Prince Fielder, then a husky, 18-year-old first-baseman for the Class A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers, trotted off the field after a home game one day in August 2002, a man stepped out from behind the bleachers to intercept him.

It wasn't a reporter or fan. It was a process server, who for months had been searching for his dad, who was living with his son at the time. The man shoved some papers into Prince Fielder's hands, naming his father as defendant in a $387,744 lawsuit.

Although Prince Fielder wasn't a defendant in the suit, the sins of the father - poor business decisions and an unstoppable gambling compulsion - had been visited upon the son, in the form of an extremely embarrassing incident.

Prince Fielder, who later played for the Ogden Raptors, declined to be interviewed.

In addition to the Trump judgment, the bills, all annotated in the Fielders' still-pending divorce case and other public records, eventually included:

l $716,000 to Union Bank for a warehouse mortgage, plus another $300,000 for a loan.

l $660,000 to a company listed simply as ''GHF, LLC.'' The News reached the company's registered agent, but he declined to be interviewed or reveal the type of business involved.

l $387,744 from the lawsuit served on his son - because Cecil was living with him at the time - resulting from a trailer-rental business gone bad in Wisconsin.

l $300,000 for a loan from Colonial Bank.

l $300,000 to Paris Las Vegas casino.

l $150,000 in credit-card debt.

l $1 million from a mortgage the Fielders took out on their Melbourne mansion from Standard Federal Bank.

l $1,065,864 in back taxes and a second mortgage to Comerica Bank, which won a foreclosure judgment on the estate in June, paid off Standard Federal, and now hopes to sell the property.

The liens filed by Trump Plaza and all others against the property are now worthless.

There was a welter of smaller liens as well - by unpaid attorneys, an Atlanta businessman, a Tennessee stable, and a Melbourne moving and storage company. One creditor who did get paid by the Fielders is Ed Frommelt of Melbourne, who ran the mansion's cleaning crew.

The pending divorce is anything but amicable.

In sworn documents filed with the court, Fielder claims his wife was ''physically and mentally abusive'' to him, hitting him with a broomstick, stabbing him in the side with a fork, threatening to get a gun and shoot him, and telling him she had stood over him with a knife as he slept, thinking about whether to stab him.

Fielder also claimed his wife lost $500,000 in a failed venture to open a bank, and redecorated their mansion four times in seven years, at a cost of $4 million.

In her filings, Stacey Fielder alleged her husband had engaged in ''an avalanche of misconduct'' that caused her angry outbursts, and asked the court to enjoin her husband ''from dissipating any more assets.''

Cecil Fielder also listed $19.4 million in assets in his divorce papers - although that included $9 million for the house he no longer owns; $2 million in furnishings, most of which are no longer there; and more than $6 million from a variety of businesses - Big Daddy Classic Cars, CJ Fielder Transportation, Fielder Realty, etc. - none of which is reachable by telephone.

The Fielders' divorce case is dragging on as well, because lawyers representing Cecil Fielder don't get paid, then withdraw from the case, according to Stacey Fielder's attorney, Lawrence Banigan of Mineola, N.Y.

Now, the Fielders' home, sprawled across a half-dozen lots in a luxury subdivision in Florida, sits empty and decaying - although it came through the recent hurricanes with little damage.

The only memories now are the two theaters - with leather recliners in the one for the parents, a ticket booth and popcorn stand in the kids' room, and $100,000 in A/V equipment in both rooms; the 100,000-gallon pool with its own mountain and waterfall; the 4,500-square-foot guest house; the 8,000-bottle wine cellar; the game room; the disco; the playgrounds with their tennis and basketball courts.

''It's a beautiful home, and at one point in time it was worth a lot of money,'' said Jack Mahon, president of the Suntree development's homeowners association. ''But if you wanted to buy it now, you'd find it needed a lot of work.''

Fielder's Career

* Hit 319 career home runs

* Was a three-time All-Star

* Twice finished runner-up in AL MVP voting

Fielder's Debts

* $716,000 to Union Bank for a warehouse mortgage, plus another $300,000 for a loan.

* $660,000 to a company listed simply as ''GHF, LLC.'' The Detroit News reached the company's registered agent, but he declined to be interviewed or reveal the type of business involved.

* $300,000 to Paris Las Vegas casino.

* $150,000 in credit-card debt.