Peter Pocklington arrested in California for bankruptcy fraud

Peter Pocklington, former owner of the Edmonton Oilers, was arrested on charges of bankruptcy fraud Wednesday morning at his home near Palm Springs, Calif., the U.S. district attorney in the Central District of California office announced.

Peter Pocklington, former owner of the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, was arrested on charges of bankruptcy fraud Wednesday morning at his home near Palm Springs, Calif., said the office of the U.S. Attorney, Central District of California.

Peter Pocklington, shown with former NHL player Wayne Gretzky after a news conference in Edmonton in October 1989, was owner of the Oilers when they won five Stanley Cups. The London, Ont.-born businessman now faces fraud charges in the U.S. ((Dave Buston/Canadian Press))

Pocklington, 67, who was born and raised in London, Ont., was arrested without incident by FBI special agents, the office said in a news release.

In conjunction with the arrest, FBI agents executed two search warrants — one at Pocklington's home and the other at two storage units owned by him.

The two-count indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday, accuses Pocklington of making false statements in bankruptcy and making false oaths and accounts in bankruptcy.

Pocklington appeared in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon. 

He was ordered to remain in custody until Friday, when, prosecutors said, they will argue to keep him behind bars until his trial because they believe he is a flight risk and may have access to money in off-shore accounts.

Pocklington has pleaded not guilty to both counts and is slated to go to trial May 5.

Not all assets disclosed, indictment alleges

Pocklington filed for personal bankruptcy in the U.S. in August.

In his petition, he listed debts of about $19.6 million and assets of only $2,900, which included $300 in clothing and shoes, according to the news release.

The indictment alleges Pocklington did not tell the Bankruptcy Court about all of his assets, it said.

"It first came to our attention when he filed the bankruptcy petition in a federal court here in southern California last summer claiming not quite $20 million in debts but only about $3,000 in assets," said Thom Mrozek, public affairs officer for the U.S. Attorney General's office.

"Those two numbers were just too disparate and raised red flags by people monitoring bankruptcy court proceedings."

According to the news release, the indictment alleges that Pocklington "failed to disclose to the Bankruptcy Court two bank accounts at Palm Desert National Bank (PDNB) for which he has sole signature authority, as well as the contents of the storage units in Palm Desert."

It also alleges that in the seven months before his bankruptcy hearing in September 2008, Pocklington "allegedly wrote a series of checks on a PDNB account in the name of 'Dempsey Investment Corp.,' an entity that he failed to mention in the bankruptcy petition."

Court documents also allege that Pocklington gave a creditor a piece of art, a rug and a desk from his storage locker in an attempt to settle part of a court judgment against him. In total, the value of all three items was $80,000, the documents allege.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Ex-NHL team owner had glory years

If convicted of both counts, Pocklington would face a statutory maximum 10-year sentence.

Pocklington appeared in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon.

Pocklington, who owned the Oilers through the years the team won its five Stanley Cups, is still remembered by many fans in Edmonton as the man who traded Wayne Gretzky to the L.A. Kings in 1988.

Pocklington sold the Oilers in 1998 to a group of Edmonton business people who banded together to keep the team in the city, an arrangement that remained in place for a decade until pharmacy billionaire Daryl Katz took over ownership last year.

Pocklington also ran for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 1983, a contest won by Brian Mulroney, who later became prime minister.

With files from the Canadian Press