Retired MLB Star Accuses Pastor of Extramarital Affair with His Wife and Defrauding His Charity: Lawsuit

Ben Zobrist, who retired from the MLB last year, is seeking a total of $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages through a jury trial

Ben Zobrist #18 of the Chicago Cubs
Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty

Retired baseball player Ben Zobrist — the 2016 World Series MVP who led the Chicago Cubs to the franchise's first championship in 108 years — is accusing pastor Byron Yawn of having an extramarital affair with his wife Julianna and of defrauding his charity.

In a lawsuit filed in Tennessee on May 6, Zobrist, 40, claims Yawn "usurped the ministerial-counselor role, violated and betrayed the confidence entrusted to him by [Zobrist], breached his fiduciary duty owed to [Zobrist] and deceitfully used his access as counselor to engage in an inappropriate sexual relationship with [Zobrist]'s wife," according to NBC News, the Peoria Journal Star, and the Chicago Tribune, which obtained the lawsuit documents.

Zobrist, who retired from professional baseball in 2020 after 13 years in the MLB, is seeking a total of $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages through a jury trial.

"We have no additional comments at this time," Yawn's attorney, Christopher Bellamy, tells PEOPLE.

Julianna Zobrist
Jeff Schear/Getty

In a statement to the Tribune, Bellamy said: "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. 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."

"We are in the middle of litigation, so I cannot comment further at this point, but that is what this case boils down to. The facts are going to come out in the course of the lawsuit and the court proceedings," Bellamy told NBC News.

Bellamy also confirmed that Yawn has left Community Bible Church, the Nashville-based church where Yawn was a senior pastor for 20 years and where the Zobrists began attending in 2005. Yawn is currently the owner of a Nashville-area business-consulting firm called Forrest Crain & Co.

An attorney for Zobrist did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Ben and Julianna began pre-marital counseling with Yawn in 2005, and the athlete had counseling with Yawn in 2007, 2016 and 2017. But in September 2018, Ben alleges, Yawn "began secretly pursuing an intimate relationship with [Julianna]."

The lawsuit also claims Yawn "encouraged [Zobrist]'s wife to keep secret from her husband the true nature of her relationship with Yawn through their mutual use of 'burner phones.' "

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Ben alleges he was told by Yawn in 2019 to "give his wife some space" as a "self-seeking advantage," adding, "[Yawn] secretly maintained a sexually intimate relationship with [Zobrist's] wife for the remainder of 2019 and into the spring of 2020, all the while concealing it from [Zobrist], his counselee."

In May 2019, Yawn's wife Robin "discovered" her husband's "burner phone" and told Ben that "she believed her husband and his wife were having an emotional relationship." That same month, Ben and Julianna each filed for divorce in Illinois and Tennessee, public records show. The divorce cases are pending.

During divorce proceedings in June 2020, Julianna "admitted for the first time" that "she and Byron Yawn had been engaged in a sexual relationship for several months and that she had lied about this to" her husband, according to Ben's lawsuit. He also claims in the lawsuit that he paused his 2019 season with the Cubs for about four months to address their marital problems, thus losing nearly $8 million in income.

In addition to the affair, Ben alleges Yawn defrauded Zobrist's Patriot Forward Charity, which was created by the athlete to raise awareness of mental health and help athletes transition once their careers are over.

Ben claims Yawn "drafted his own job description as executive director" and used his role "as an excuse to meet with [Julianna]" in fall 2018. In addition, Yawn "somehow continued to fraudulently receive salary checks until May of 2019," two months after he was terminated as the charity's executive director, according to the lawsuit.

In a statement to NBC News, Ben's lawyer, Larry Crain, said: "[His client is] trying to make the most of his career through helping others, helping young minor league players. That's what he's devoting himself to, to move on."

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