LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Peter Pocklington, the controversial former owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges he tried to hide assets from a federal bankruptcy court in California.
Pocklington, 67, remains in custody until at least Friday afternoon, when a judge is expected to rule on a motion by prosecutors that he be held without bail.
His case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips, and a trial date set for May 5, prosecutors said.
Pocklington’s attorney, Kay Otani, had no comment on the proceedings.
Pocklington, a once-prominent businessman who aroused anger in his native Canada for trading hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky to a U.S. team in 1988, was indicted on Wednesday morning by a federal grand jury on two bankruptcy fraud charges and arrested at his home in the wealthy desert enclave of Palm Springs.
He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on both charges.
FBI agents searched Pocklington’s home and two storage units that he controls, suspecting he had not disclosed all his assets in filings and statements to a Riverside bankruptcy court in 2008, according to a search warrant affidavit unsealed on Wednesday.
Pocklington, who filed for personal bankruptcy in August 2008, cited debts of about $19.6 million and assets of just $2,900, including $300 worth of clothes and shoes, but failed to disclose two bank accounts on which he had sole signatory authority, prosecutors said.
An FBI investigator said Pocklington formed a number of offshore companies, including Quincy Investment Corp and Dempsey Investment Corp, where he parked money, business interests and the deed to his Indian Springs, California home, the affidavit said.
Prosecutors added he also failed to mention he gave a creditor art, a rug and a desk valued at a total of $80,000 to partially satisfy a court judgment.
In August, lawyers for the U.S.-appointed bankruptcy trustee sought to recover $272,829 in proceeds they said Pocklington earned from the auction of sports memorabilia, including several of his Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup championship rings.
In a deal that shocked Canadian hockey fans, Pocklington traded Gretzky, the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer, to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 in a transaction that included other players and about $15 million in cash to the Oilers.
He also ruffled feathers in Canada when he announced he would pursue U.S. citizenship. On his website, Pocklington, who once sought the leadership of Canada’s Conservative Party, wrote: “Americans generally praise success. They admire people who get out of bed early and make it happen!”
According to his bankruptcy filing, Pocklington’s citizenship case is still pending.
Pocklington, whose nickname is Peter Puck, moved full time to Palm Springs in 2002 after a series of business ventures failed and required government bailouts in Canada.
With additional reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Peter Cooney