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Former Royals star Zobrist sues pastor for affair with wife, defrauding charity

FILE - Ben Zobrist hits a home run for the Kansas City Royals
FILE - Ben Zobrist hits a home run for the Kansas City Royals(WIBW)
Updated: Jun. 22, 2021 at 11:42 AM CDT
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CHICAGO, Ill. (WIBW) - Former Royals star Ben Zobrist is suing his pastor for having an affair with his wife, Julianna Zobrist, and defrauding his charity, Patriot Forward Charity.

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, Ben Zobrist, a former Royal and Chicago Cubs utility player, filed a lawsuit that accuses his former pastor of having sex with his wife Julianna and defrauding his charity foundation.

The Chicago Tribune said the lawsuit against Byron Yawn, CEO of Nashville area counseling firm Forrest Crain and Co., is looking for $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages through a jury trial.

According to the Tribune, the complaint filed on May 6 in Nashville Circuit Court accuses Yawn, who was acting as the Zobrists’ marriage counselor and executive director of Ben’s charity, “usurped the ministerial-counselor role, violated and betrayed the confidence entrusted to him by the plaintiff, breached his fiduciary duty owed to the plaintiff and deceitfully used his access as counselor to engage in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the plaintiff’s wife.”

The Tribune said Yawn’s attorney, Christopher Bellamy of Neal and Harwell, told the Tribune, “At the end of the day, a woman has the right to choose who she wants to be with. We’re in the middle of litigation, so I can’t really comment further at this point, but that’s what it boils down to.”

Bellamy also told the Tribune, “My client deserves his day in court and for the truth to be heard, and so we’re going to do that through the court process.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Zobrists started to attend Community Bible Church in Nashville in 2005, where Yawn had been a senior pastor for about two decades. It said Yawn began to serve as the couples’ pre-marital counselor in December of 2005.

“In addition, they later accepted the defendant’s invitation to officiate the public dedication of their three infant children,” according to the lawsuit.

According to reports, Ben Zobrist started counseling sessions with Yawn in 2007 and again in 2016 and 2017 when he experienced anxiety and depression.

The suit also says that Yawn began to have daily conversations with Julianna in August of 2018, then began to secretly pursue an intimate relationship with the married woman the following month.

The Chicago Tribune said Yawn worked for Ben’s charity at the time and proposed a budget that included a $36,000 annual salary for Yawn. Over the next few months, the Tribune said Yawn and Julianna began to work closely to develop the charity’s social media presence.

“(His) romantic involvement with Ms. Zobrist escalated in the spring of 2019, when he began meeting her for sex,” the suit states.

According to Zobrist, Julianna and Yawn, still serving as a counselor, continued their relationship in the spring of 2020 and kept the secret by using burner phones.

The Chicago Tribune said in February of 2019, Zobrist had an excused absence to miss part of Cubs spring training. It said Zobrist explained during a Feb. 20 text exchange with Yawn that he could not go to Mesa, Ariz., for spring training.

“Was hoping to be at spring training but can’t leave yet. You should know that Jules told me she has spoken with a divorce lawyer twice,” Zobrist wrote. “I care too much about my marriage and family to be away during such a critical time.”

According to the Tribune, Yawn responded, “That’s heavy friend. Yawns love you and your family. Whatever you need. Whatever you need to do. Grace.”

In May of 2019, the Tribune said Yawn’s wife discovered his burner phone and contacted Ben the next day to inform him of what she believed to be an emotional affair. It said Ben and Julianna both filed for divorce in May of 2019 in Illinois and Tennessee. Ben took time off during that month to be with his family and did not return to the Cubs until September.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Zobrist forfeited the 2019 season and lost about $8 million while he tried to fix his marriage.

In June of 2020, the lawsuit said during divorce proceedings, Julianna acknowledged that she and Yawn had been in a sexual relationship for months and that she had lied about it to Ben.

The Tribune said Ben Zobrist also alleges that Yawn defrauded his charity for athletes. It said Yawn held various positions for the Patriot Forward Charity, which Zobrist founded to promote mental health among athletes and help them transition when their careers are finished.

In December of 2018, the Tribune said Yawn drafted his own job description as executive director. In the lawsuit, Zobrist alleges that he was tithing $10,000 per month to Yawn’s church and paid $10,000 - $15,000 to fund a pastoral trip for Yawn and his family.

In March of 2019, the Tribune said Patriot Forward Charity fired Yawn from his $3,500-per-month job as executive director, but he still somehow continued to fraudulently receive checks until May of 2019 and cashed them while knowing he had been fired.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Ben Zobrist suit wants damages for breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress, adding that Yawn’s actions should be considered outrageous conduct.

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