Arena football team owner’s record: convictions, lawsuits, financial trouble
BY SETH GRUEN AND KIM JANSSEN Chicago Sun-Times May 6, 2013 8:22PM
Chicago Rush owner David Staral
Ownership of the Chicago Rush since the Arena Football League’s 2010 relaunch:
Feb. 8, 2013, to present —
David Staral Jr.
Nov. 12, 2012, to Feb. 8, 2013 — Julee B. White
Fall 2011 to Nov. 12, 2012 — Arena Football League
2010 to Fall 2011 — Chicago Gridiron LLC. Mike Ditka was involved with the franchise at this point.
Updated: June 8, 2013 6:26AM
He’s a convicted thief, currently on probation.
He filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy just months ago.
He’s been trailed by lawsuits, liens and allegations he’s ripped other people off, even his neighbor.
Meet the new owner of the Chicago Rush, the man proclaimed as the savior of the Arena Football League’s most prominent franchise.
David Staral Jr. was unveiled as the new owner of the Rush in February. Presenting himself as a huge Bears fan and a private equity manager who could bring stability to a struggling indoor franchise, the 34-year-old West Town resident announced at the time, “This is the new regime, it’s a whole new ball game.”
He redesigned team jerseys and said he was bringing in a partner who was currently associated with an NFL team.
Three months later, that minority-stake owner hasn’t materialized, Rush vendors are complaining about unpaid debts, sources say the team can’t reach Staral, and league officials Monday refused to answer a reporter’s questions about his criminal history.
It’s an embarrassing mess for league commissioner Jerry B. Kurz, who recently inked a national television deal with CBS Sports but presides over a sport that has lost most of its fans since its 1990s heyday.
An indoor version of football, the sport is played on a 50-yard field with eight players on a team. Teams once paid stars six-figure salaries, but after financial troubles and a 2010 relaunch, the league now typically pays just $800 a game.
The Rush’s previous owner, Julee B. White, lasted less than three months in charge before the relationship between the AFL and White was terminated. Now sources tell the Sun-Times the league is taking steps to oust Staral.
It remains unclear if the league vetted the young owner when it let him take over in its biggest media market on Feb. 8.
A basic background check would have revealed that he had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy a month earlier on Jan. 7.
His bankruptcy filing listed debts of nearly $1.5 million, naming 60 creditors. They include his neighbor, Juli Bark, who says Staral told her he owned a Porsche and promised her returns of $2,000-$3,000 a month if she “invested” $50,000 with him, then refused to account for the cash or to give it back when challenged.
His creditors also include the Sun-Times, and a business that says it paid Staral $14,000 for NCAA Final Four tickets in 2010 but got nothing in return.
More disturbingly, Staral is a three-time convicted felon.
He was found guilty of state benefits fraud in 2005. And he has twice pleaded guilty to embezzling large sums from his former employer, International Sports Management.
As ISM’s accounts manager, he in 2007 fraudulently cut nearly $200,000 in ISM checks to a company he owned. After Staral was fired and convicted, ISM discovered a second scam, in which Staral stole another $250,000.
A judge sentenced Staral to four years probation in 2011 — a sentence he’s still serving.
Staral didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday, and his attorneys said they couldn’t reach him.
But signs of the unraveling crisis have been growing at the Rush.
A league source said Staral “started showing up less and less” after he took over.
“People stopped hearing from him,” the source said. “He vanished. He just vanished.”
Staral wasn’t at the team’s 72-41 home loss to the Philadelphia Soul on Saturday, and the game was played without instant replay because the video production company wasn’t paid.
A scheduled broadcast on the CBS Sports Network was replaced.
Allstate Arena general manager Pat Nagle said the league took over the team on an emergency basis before the weekend because Staral defaulted on his financial obligations to the arena, which is owned by the village of Rosemont.
Other vendors say Staral has stopped taking their calls after making promises he didn’t keep.
“The league has a responsibility to make sure that someone they bring in as an owner has both the financial ability and the integrity to behave in a responsible and ethical matter,” said Janet Rogers, who said her Internet business cut its services to the Rush after an $11,000 bill wasn’t paid.
As of Monday, Rush players knew little about the situation.
“Basically from a player’s perspective, we don’t know what’s going on,” wide receiver Reggie Gray said.
“We’re very, very much upset. Me personally, I’m extremely upset because I’m basically [feeling] as if I was lied to ... and I’m upset at the league for allowing people to take over that doesn’t have stability for the long haul.”