American federal authorities are investigating the business dealings of William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, a co-owner of the Nashville Predators, the San Jose Mercury News reported Friday.
The 40-year-old financier, who was brought in as a saviour of the Tennessee-based NHL franchise last summer when it looked to be on the way to Hamilton, Ont., announced this past Monday he was leaving Sand Hill Capital, a firm he co-founded in 1997 as a lender to start-ups, "for personal reasons."
But the Mercury-News reported that sources "familiar with the investigation" were looking into loans Del Biaggio obtained "in the course of a broader examination of his financial dealings."
Calls to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco by the paper were not returned, and the Securities and Exchange Commission would not comment.
A Sand Hill Capital spokeswoman told the paper her company was not the target of any investigation, adding, "Boots does have outside personal entities that he controls that have nothing to do with the Sand Hill business."
Del Biaggio's involvement with the National Hockey League goes back a couple of years to when Mario Lemieux was trying to lessen his ownership of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The California financier was one of the investors put up as an alternative to Canadian Jim Balsillie's attempt to purchase the club.
Lemieux ultimately chose to keep the Penguins himself.
Already a minority owner of the San Jose Sharks, in 2007 Del Biaggio was involved in an attempt to put an NHL team in Kansas City, looking at the Nashville Predators as a potential target for relocation.
When Balsillie emerged again as a buyer for the Predators in the same year (signing a letter of intent with owner Craig Leipold on May 24), Del Biaggio and two partners threw their lot in with a group of local investors led by David Freeman, chief executive officer of 36 Venture Capital LLC, to purchase the club and keep it in Tennessee.
At the time of sale, the Mercury News said, the partners' investment was worth about $60 million US. Del Biaggio sold his share of the Sharks.
Balsillie, through his lawyer, accused NHL commissioner Gary Bettman of sabotaging his bid and forcing Leipold to sell to the local group and Del Biaggio. Bettman denied this.
In an interview with the Globe and Mail last November on the occasion of Canadian investor Doug Bergeron being added to the Nashville ownership group, Del Biaggio was indirectly critical of Balsillie.
"I don't mind telling the Globe and Mail I'm very excited to have a Canadian billionaire as part of my group," Del Biaggio said. "It's refreshing to have someone who respects the NHL, respects the process and the tradition of the NHL."