March 11, 2009 / 9:33 PM / 9 years ago

Ex-hockey owner Pocklington charged with fraud

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Peter Pocklington, the controversial former owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team, was arrested at his California home on Wednesday and charged with hiding assets from a bankruptcy court.

<p>File photo of former Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington.</p>

Pocklington, 67, was indicted by a federal grand jury on two charges, making false statements in court filings and making false oaths and accounts during personal bankruptcy proceedings to a U.S. bankruptcy court in Riverside, California, prosecutors said.

He was expected to make his initial court appearance on Wednesday afternoon in Riverside. 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 in the wealthy desert enclave of Palm Springs, California, suspecting he had not disclosed all his assets in filings and statements to a 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.

They added that 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. Those items were discovered in the storage locker, prosecutors said.

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.

Pocklington was widely reviled in his native Canada for trading superstar Wayne Gretzky, the National Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer, to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988 in a deal 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 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

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