Rush owner's money issues force league to take over team
For the second time in franchise history, the Arena Football League has taken over operations of the Chicago Rush, whose new owner is accused of failing to pay the team's bills.
And now the league's vetting process is being called into question over its decision in February to give ownership to Chicagoan David Staral Jr., a private equity manager who had filed personal bankruptcy just a month before taking over the team.
"It's a sad situation because it's such a good product," Allstate Arena general manager Pat Nagle said.
Nagle confirmed that Staral, a felon currently on probation for theft, defaulted on his contract as owner when he didn't have the money to cover a $50,000 rent check he provided April 12 to the village of Rosemont, which owns the arena.
The Rush played the Pittsburgh Power as scheduled on April 14 and won 45-14. Shortly after, the bank notified Allstate about the non-sufficient funds.
Nagle said a police report was filed and the village attorney sent Staral a letter stating he had defaulted on the contract.
"We called the league right away to let them know and they said they hadn't heard from the owner in a while," Nagle said.
The league stepped in with the money for the Rush's May 4 home game against the Philadelphia Soul, a 72-41 defeat. But because numerous vendors also had not been paid, the fan experience was scaled back with the main video scoreboard kept inoperable, limited pregame festivities and no TV broadcast. Although one of the AFL's key sponsors is Net10, a wireless provider, the media covering the game did not have any Internet access.
While the AFL reportedly has control, league officials have not returned calls from the Daily Herald, and there is no mention of the ownership change on their website. The team's website also does not have a listing for Staral.
Attempts to reach Staral and his bankruptcy attorney were unsuccessful.
Staral filed for bankruptcy in January, about one month before he was announced owner of the Chicago franchise. Staral lists more than two dozen creditors, debts of about $1.4 million and assets totaling about $480,000.
In court filings, creditor Duke Realty states Staral, as president of National Event Partners, promised eight tickets to the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four Championship in exchange for about $14,000. The tickets never materialized, according to Duke.
In another filing, neighbor Juli Bark said Staral presented himself as a successful stock market investor who drove a Porsche and ran several businesses. Bark said she gave Staral $50,000 for an investment he promised would generate returns of $2,000 to $3,000 per month, but she soon learned of his felony convictions and demanded her money back. It was not returned, the filing states.
Staral also has a criminal history, pleading guilty in 2009 to theft of more than $100,000, according to Cook County court records. He received four years probation and was ordered to pay $196,000 restitution, records state. He's due back in court July 24 for a hearing related to violating his probation.
In 2011, Staral was charged with theft by deception and pleaded guilty in exchange for four years probation and $250,000 in restitution, according to court documents.
Nagle said it's the league's responsibility, not the village's, to vet potential owners.
"It all comes from the league," he said. "The league is supposed to do the due diligence. And (Staral) had to buy the team from the league."
Staral signed on just six weeks before the start of the season after AFL officials took the team back from owner Julee White, who owned it for three months before failing to find additional investors required by the league.
At that time, the franchise also didn't have a contract with Allstate Arena for the 2013 season. As a result, two home games in June were switched to Rockford because Allstate Arena had already booked other events for those dates.
Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Nagle said the team plans to travel to Cleveland for its game Saturday against the Gladiators. He's also waiting confirmation from the league that the May 19 home contest against the Arizona Rattlers will be played. Average home attendance so far has been about 4,500 people, with a high of more than 6,000.
"Back in its heyday, we were drawing 15,000 people," Nagle said. "We have the potential to do that still. It would be a shame to let that be ruined."
Rush coach Bob McMillen is trying not to let the ownership situation affect his 4-3 team, which leads the three-team Central Division of the National Conference.
"It's business as usual," McMillen said. "We had a meeting today (Tuesday), and obviously the guys are upset because they really liked David (Staral) and believed what David had to say to them. To have this come down on them is frustrating.
"But we talked about it, and we're going into it like any other week. No matter who our ownership is, we're going to go out and play Cleveland this week."
McMillen's squad rallied from a slow start to win all four of its April games before losing last week to Philadelphia, a game during which several Rush players became ill.
"A few guys were sick on the sidelines, but we're not a team that's going to make excuses," said McMillen, a Naperville resident and former Arena League standout who played at Benedictine University and Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst. "Philadelphia came in here, and they did a nice job, and they put it on us. We're excited to go out there and play them in a few weeks."
McMillen has tried to drive home to his players the message about focusing on the game and not the front-office turmoil.
"We're here to do a job," he said. "Nothing's changed except the name of the guy who writes the checks.
"The league has done everything it can to keep Chicago going and keeping us moving in the right direction."
No one employed by the Rush has reported missing a payday yet.
• Daily Herald writers Bob LeGere and Barbara Vitello contributed to this report.