Do You Remember This New York Islanders’ ‘Fraud Owner’ Story?
In October of 1996, a new era of hockey on Long Island was set to begin. The New York Islanders' franchise had found a buyer, a man by the name of John Spano.
Spano was a businessman, allegedly, who worked in sales for a number of years before founding his own business in the early 1990's. He made two "attempts" to purchase NHL teams during that decade before getting connected with the Islanders: the Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers.
Then, in 1996, the opportunity arose to gain control of the Islanders' franchise. Spano met with current team owner, John Pickett, and the rest, as they say, went down in infamy.
John Spano Fraudulently Buys the New York Islanders
The deal between Spano and Pickett nearly fell through, as the first payment due to Pickett and associated was not submitted on time by Spano. Spano presented Pickett with a promissory note, however, which claimed that the former had the money in his account, and it would be sent to the latter in short order.
The deal went through, and Spano was lauded as a savior by Pickett and NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman. The team had fallen on hard times on the ice, attendance was waning a bit, and the franchise was in need of a shake-up. Spano, according to Bettman, was that guy.
As it turned out, however, he was anything but. Here's a fun look at it, from YouTuber "HybridIcing".
In short, Spano had grossly misrepresented his personal assets, as well as the worth of his privately-owned company. Spano sent multiple payments to the team's former ownership that were several millions of dollars less than was expected of him. He would blame incorrectly-placed decimal points, sending $1,700 instead of $17 million. Not only that, but his checks for "real" amounts of money would constantly bounce.
Newsday would strike up an investigation into Spano's life, and would uncover that he owed nearly $100,000 in back taxes on his home, and was worth only $5 million, not the $230 million he had claimed to be worth.
From there, it got even more ugly.
The Aftermath of the Spano Purchase and Arrest
I'm sure this won't come as a shock to anyone, but Spano pled to bank fraud on January 13, 1998. He was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison, and was ordered to pay a total restitution north of $11 million. He was released in 2004, then arrested again in 2005 for defrauding multiple people.
It became a rinse-and-repeat type situation for Spano who was released again, and imprisoned AGAIN in 2015. This time, it was for 10 years, a sentence that as far as we can tell, he is still serving.
The franchise, meanwhile, would land in the hands of a group led by Charles Wang. Wang is the person who Islanders' fans actually credit with helping rescue the franchise, as well as keep it on Long Island for as long as he owned the team.
Though it appears as if the franchise is still in good hands, being led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, among others, the team is still the victim of one of the biggest cases of fraud and deception in American pro sports history.