Hartford soccer developers wrote checks to selves with public money, stiffed players

More details are coming out in the case of the convicted embezzler who collected $1.8 million in Hartford city money to help plan a new soccer stadium, and they are exactly as you would expect given how this sentence started:

As unpaid bills piled up at Premier Sports Management Group, leaders of the effort to bring professional soccer to Hartford transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to themselves and companies they control, leaving the firm with a fraction of the money needed to meet its obligations, records now under investigation show…

Among the transactions under law enforcement investigation are a check for more than $13,000 that Premier Sports President Mitch Anderson wrote to himself for “legal fees” in October as the enterprise collapsed, and a $120,000 bank transfer in August to James Duckett, the owner of Black Diamond Consulting, which merged with Premier Sports months earlier. The bank records include several other five- and six-figure transfers to Anderson, Duckett and others, The Courant has learned.

Duckett, if you’re scoring at home, is the guy with the felony embezzlement conviction on his record, and at this rate he may be headed for another one.

Meanwhile, Hartford City F.C., the new indoor soccer franchise that was supposed to transmogrify into an outdoor soccer franchise through this deal, is now not a soccer franchise at all after the Major Arena Soccer League booted them out for the 2015-16 season. Among those who are being stiffed on payments, according to the Hartford Courant, are several players and a 20-year-old college student who never received her final $410 paycheck. It’s tough to imagine how this scandal could get any worse, but I wouldn’t want to bet against it.

Hartford soccer team may have indoor season cancelled amid growing stadium fraud investigation

Today in Hartford soccer stadium debacle news:

But then, we are all winning a prize every day, which is the most entertaining sports ownership scandal since the time Nashua, New Hampshire evicted its minor-league baseball team for failure to pay rent by parking a tractor on home plate. Though Hartford still has time to top that one if it really works at it.

Hartford council declares soccer deal with embezzler “black eye for city,” formally kills it dead

The Hartford city council put an official fork in the city’s already-dead soccer stadium plan yesterday, formally withdrawing its proposal to lease stadium land to developers who it turned out included a convicted embezzler and a guy who’s allegedly been billing the city for more than a million dollars without doing the required work. “This fiasco, it is a black eye for the city,” declared council president Shawn Wooden unnecessarily.

The council’s move was really just a formality, but reporting on it here gives me the chance to note the sick burn that was delivered by a Hartford resident at yesterday’s council hearing:

“Why was Black Diamond about to be awarded the go-ahead to do this project?” resident Anne Goshdigian asked. “Where was the vetting? There’s this little thing called Google. I know you’ve all heard of it.”

I am hopeful that we will find out where the vetting was in excruciating detail, now that we progress to the finger-pointing stage, and eventually the throwing-people-under-the-bus stage. Seriously, this is going to be so much more entertaining than minor-league soccer ever would have been.

Convicted embezzler’s Hartford soccer project dead, developer still managed to overbill city for it

Great news, everybody: The guy with a felony embezzlement record who wanted the rights to build a Hartford soccer stadium is out of the picture, because, okay, what part of the start of this sentence didn’t you understand? Less great news: His partner in the project, Premier Sports Management Group, may have taken more than its allotted share of city money for the project by … well, it’s up to a court of law to determine what counts as “embezzlement,” right?

“We want the money back,” said Development Director Thomas Deller, adding that the company has “committed to pay the money back.”

“We are still evaluating every bill, every item, every subcontract that” the sports management group has. “We caught this mistake. We’ve been trying to figure out what the mistake is.”

Deller wouldn’t put a dollar figure on it, except to say that the city was overbilled by “a large number.”

Apparently the city has already paid Premier $1.8 million to put together an MLS stadium plan, which seems like a lot, given that those just drop from the sky these days. But still,, it could just be a simple misunderstanding, right? No reason to suspect any kind of criminal activity

The Hartford police major crimes squad is investigating the company’s billing, and separate inquiries have been launched by the city’s internal auditors and the city council. Deputy police Chief Brian Foley said Friday that the department has also notified the state’s attorney’s office and the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut.

I know this is about a stadium for an MLS team that will never exist, but it is officially the best story ever, so I vow to keep you posted with further updates.