April 19, 2011
No sports executive ever wants to hear that anything with any connection to their team was "raided by federal agents". That's something several CFL teams are going to have to deal with this week, though, following an apparent FBI raid on Florida training facility All-Star Sports. The facility has prominent connections to both the NFL and CFL, including serving as an offseason training spot for players and a tryout venue for CFL teams. Its website includes a testimonial video from Calgary Stampeders head coach/general manager John Hufnagel (interspersed with video footage from a workout the Stampeders held at the facility). "We're having a football camp and I'd just like to thank all the people from All-Star Sports Camp for making it a great success for us," Hufnagel says in the video.
No date is given for that video, but a November 2008 post on the facility's news page congratulating the Stampeders for their Grey Cup victory mentions that they held a camp at All-Star Sports in early 2008. The post also says they were expected to return in 2009, and this press release indicates that the Stampeders signed offensive lineman Sam Allen to a contract last April following an invitation-only camp held at the facility in early 2010. The Stampeders were also in Florida conducting tryout camps last week. The location of that camp isn't clear, but it's possible it was at the same facility (especially considering that Steve Milton's recent Hamilton Spectator column on OVWs, which I discussed here, mentioned that the Stampeders' camp would be in DeLand, which is listed as the location of the camp's mailing address here).
It's not only the Stampeders that have been closely connected to this facility (logo pictured above), though. The Saskatchewan Roughriders held invitation-only tryout camps at All-Star Sports on April 8 and 9 this year (one day before their more noted open workout, which saw 59-year-old former Syracuse player Charles Chulada try out for the team). According to The Regina Leader-Post, those camps featured about 40 players and went on for a couple of days. Also, Toronto Argonauts director of player personnel Mike Hagen is mentioned as having recently "coached [at] All Star Sports football camps in Florida" on his team bio, and the camp lists former Argonauts and Stampeders offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Tony Marciano as its director of football operations. Thus, the facility has plenty of notable CFL ties.
However, further research into the raid suggests that while this could still be problematic, it's also not as bad as it could have been. When people hear about a federal investigation of a sports facility, many minds jump immediately to drugs, and with good reason. That doesn't appear to be what's going on here. Instead, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that the raid was related to Stephen B. DeLuca (pictured, right), who "works at a sports training business" (with his wife listed as an owner), and that he's charged with 33 counts of bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy relating to loan arrangements obtained for his former company, Delco Oil Inc.
Those are obviously serious accusations (DeLuca could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted), but at first glance, they wouldn't appear to really reflect on the CFL teams involved with All-Star Sports (unlike drug charges, which certainly would raise some uncomfortable questions for every team involved with the facility). Fraud is no laughing matter, especially on this kind of scale, but DeLuca is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and fraud accusations against an employee of a training facility in reference to a previous business he owned wouldn't seem too likely to really do much to the facility or the teams that use it.
The case isn't quite that simple, though. Some quick searching turned up this 2009 record of the Capital Source Finance, LLC v. Delco Oil case, a civil case in Maryland that appears to have led to this criminal case. Essentially, Capital Source alleged in that case that DeLuca and his business obtained $18 million from them under false pretenses, and Judge gave a default judgement against DeLuca. What's notable about it, though, is that "All-Star Sports Camp, Inc" is the second (and only other) defendant named alongside DeLuca in that judgement. That complete document can be found here. A particularly interesting line is on page 13, where the judge writes that DeLuca "is the sole shareholder and corporate officer of Defendants". Thus, it would appear that at least in 2009, DeLuca was intimately involved in the sports camp.
It's worth noting that All-Star Sports is alleged to not have the cleanest record on other fronts, either. One particularly interesting result that came up in a search about them is this blog post criticizing the company. It's an anonymous post and the only entry on that particular blog, so take it with plenty of salt, but it does mention that former professional athletes were promised payment to coach at the facility's youth camps, only to have the cheques bounce. Here's the key part
"They attended in good faith and trained these young athletes but once they returned home, their checks either bounced or were rejected straight away. The man who is responsible for this is Steve DeLuca. Mr. DeLuca verbally and otherwise contracted the afore mentioned athlete/coaches and then subsiquently did NOT PAY THEM. I know for a fact that several of them have redeposited the checks they received from "All Star" / DeLuca. The checks have been returned unpaid and bank charges are of course adding up. At this point most of them can not redeposit the checks anymore. Keep in mind that DeLuca charges $500.00 per child for a three day training program by these athlete/ coaches. DeLuca has one group come in monday to wednesday and another group thursday to saturday. They are not small groups of young athletes. He had many participants and could have easily paid the athlete/coaches who trained them." [sic]
Give that as much or as little credence as you like, but between the court case and those allegations, it certainly seems there was a bit of a shadow hanging over All-Star during the Stamps' and Riders' camps there. That's not necessarily to say that they should have picked up on it; there was also plenty to suggest the organization was credible. Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples headed out there to write a feature on NFL prospect Callahan Bright (who now appears to have wound up with the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul) last year, and didn't appear to notice anything wrong. Similarly, the Stamps' experience must have been pretty positive for them to keep coming back year after year. The camp's staff list also includes plenty of coaches and trainers who appear reputable, including Marciano, renowned University of Miami running backs coach Don Soldinger and former St. Louis Cardinals' quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz. It's also worth mentioning that the CFL teams were likely only at the facility for a couple of days each year and were there to try out free-agent prospects rather than conduct a full training camp, so their expectations were probably lower than they would be for a full training camp facility. Still, it's interesting how much you can find on All-Star Sports with a quick web search.
Keep in mind that no CFL team appears to have done anything particularly wrong here; they just rented a facility for workouts. Thus, this probably won't have any noticeable impact on the league other than perhaps forcing teams to find a new Florida venue for tryout camps, and even that isn't a sure thing (keep in mind that these are just charges at this point, so anything could still happen with the camp). However, reputations are important things to preserve, and the CFL has always been a league that does best when it presents an upright and honest image. This doesn't seem likely to dent that image too much, but it might be a good idea for teams to do some extra research on the companies they're doing business with to try and avoid situations like this in the future.