By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former New York Mets star Lenny Dykstra pleaded innocent on Thursday to 25 criminal counts stemming from what prosecutors say was a scheme to lease cars using phony business and credit information.
Dykstra, who was indicted by a federal grand jury in May on unrelated bankruptcy fraud charges, entered his not guilty plea during a brief hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A judge ordered the 48-year-old former ballplayer, a popular member of the 1986 world champion Mets, back to court on July 11 for a preliminary hearing.
He is being held on $500,000 bail.
Dykstra, who is charged in the state case with grand theft auto, attempted grand theft auto, filing false financial statements and possessing a controlled substance, faces 12 years in prison if he is found guilty.
His accountant Robert Hymers, 27, and friend Christopher Gavanais, 30, are also charged in the case.
Los Angeles prosecutors say that beginning in January, Dykstra, Hymers and Gavanais ran a scheme to lease high-end automobiles from dealerships using fraudulent information and claiming credit through a phony business, Home Free Systems.
Though they were rejected at two dealerships, prosecutors charge, they drove off with three cars from another
A search of Dykstra's home during the investigation allegedly turned up cocaine, Ecstasy and a synthetic growth hormone.
An unrelated indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in May accuses Dykstra of stealing or destroying some $400,000 in property that was part of his bankruptcy case.
The former athlete faces up to 80 years in federal prison if convicted, according to federal prosecutors.
Dykstra, nicknamed "Nails" during his playing days, spent more than a decade in the major leagues, mostly as an outfielder for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies,
He is perhaps best remembered by Mets fans for the 1986 season, when he struck a walk-off game-winning home run in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
In Game 3 of the 1986 World Series, he hit a key lead-off home run, sparking a comeback by the Mets from a 2-0 series deficit to win the championship over the Boston Red Sox.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb. Editing by Peter Bohan)