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Chicago Rush owner on past felony convictions: ‘My past is my past’

Chicago Rush owner David Staral

Chicago Rush owner David Staral

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Updated: June 9, 2013 6:28AM

The convicted thief who bought the Chicago Rush three months ago says he never expected his criminal background to be a big problem in owning the Arena Football League’s premier franchise.

And David Staral Jr. says his shady past had nothing to do with what he says was his decision to “walk away” from the team last week.

Staral, currently Chicago’s youngest sports franchise owner at just 34, left the Rush with unpaid bills and the struggling AFL in crisis when league sources say he was ousted before last weekend’s home game.

He gave the Sun-Times an at times emotional interview at his West Town condo on Tuesday, a day after the newspaper revealed how the league allowed him to take control in its biggest media market despite three felony convictions, a pending Chapter 7 bankruptcy, and the fact that he is currently on probation for theft.

Defending his efforts to revive a franchise that has now raced through three different ownerships in six months, Staral said he “never lied” about his background during negotiations to purchase the indoor football team. But he also said that “nobody ever asked” about a history that includes benefit fraud and two convictions for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a former employer.

Asked if he expected his background to become an issue when it was inevitably discovered, he said, “It definitely crossed my mind.”

But he paused and appeared to check his emotions as he added, “Maybe I didn’t think it all the way through.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about it since all this happened. I’ve been working 20 hour days for the last two or three months, trying to make the Rush a success.”

Staral conceded he had “screwed up in the past,” but said he’d tried to turn his life around since his most recent conviction in 2011 and didn’t see why his record was such an issue.

“Is that naive?,” he said. “My past is my past — I’ve been trying to work through it.”

“Nobody’s past excludes them from being in business or from trying to make money.”

“My intentions were good.”

Staral also said he didn’t think he had to inform the federal judge overseeing his Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing ­­— or any of the 60 creditors he says he owes $1.5 million — before purchasing the Rush in February.

Two investors came up with the “small” amount of cash he needed, he said, acknowledging that his criminal convictions and the slew of lawsuits he faces made it harder to attract further investment.

He refused to discuss the specifics of his fallout with the league, which he said was covered by a confidentiality agreement.

AFL Commissioner Jerry B. Kurz and other league officials declined for a second day running Tuesday to answer questions about how they apparently failed to do even a basic background check on Staral.

But industry insiders say this week’s revelations could spell doom for the league, which is based in Chicago and was relaunched in 2010 after coming out of bankruptcy.

“This isn’t just embarrassing for the AFL, it demonstrates immense incompetence,” said consultant Marc Ganis, who has advised teams in the NFL and other professional leagues through his firm, Sports Corp.

“This information [about Staral] was available to anyone,” Ganis said. “The indication to me is the AFL is in worse shape than anyone believed — if this is any indication of the competence of the AFL management, the league is in real trouble.”

As the fallout from Staral’s short reign continued Tuesday, team sources said the Rush still intends to take a bus Friday morning to its Saturday game against the Cleveland Gladiators. The league has been running the Rush on an emergency basis since April 29.

In one indication of the chaos surrounding the team, Rush coach Bob McMillen said that he only learned about Staral’s background by reading Tuesday’s Sun-Times.

Bears legend Mike Ditka — who in previous years has served as the face of the Rush franchise, but is not involved in Staral’s ownership — described the developments as “a shame.”

“Arena football is a great game and provided a lot of opportunity for a lot of young players, but I don’t know if the league is gonna make it,” Ditka said.

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