Alan Eagleson’s Career of White Collar Crime

As a millennial living in a world where a seemingly simple job, is to make money is through professional sports makes you wonder how they began to make that much money. As a millennial in Canada, that professional sport was hockey, but the players we see on television today would not be making the money they do, if it weren’t for one man named Alan Eagleson. Alan Eagleson was a politician, lawyer and known for the rise of democracy for NHL players and international hockey. Alan Eagleson was the lawyer and agent for most of the players in the NHL as the players’ union was rising to prominence. He started the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), which allowed players to have more of a voice to what they were told to do while in the league, this included but not limited to, salary, trades, pensions and other decisions by the team. Eagleson at first was portrayed as a person that every player needed in the NHL, first he started recruiting players from the Toronto Maple Leafs and that lead to a domino effect of players from other teams in the NHL reaching out to Eagleson, ultimately making a players’ union. Once he established a community of followers who were in need of what he offered, he began skimming money off the top of the settlements he made for players but it was not noticed until he had multiple years of fraud, nearing the end of his career. His rise in international relations of hockey started in 1972 with the Summit Series Tournament between hockey players from Canada (Team Canada) and the Soviet Union. This event set the height for what hockey is today, with men coming from all over the world to the United States and Canada to make millions of dollars.

The 1972 Summit Series coordination revolved around Eagleson on the home front, which meant that no one questioned his decisions on anything, including advertising rights on the dasher boards around the ice. The reason no one asked questions specifically about these advertisements is because at this time in any hockey league there had not been advertisements put on boards, so no one knew anything about this innovation. Throughout the time Eagleson was being investigated, it was found out that he took the majority of the funds from the advertisements of this tournament that brought the diversity of companies advertising in the NHL that we see today, but also had more intentions of doing so with other tournaments he coordinated as an executive of the NHLPA.

Russ Conway was a journalist who worked for a small newspaper company in Massachusetts, while Eagleson was at the height of his career. Conway was the only journalist who was willing to investigate this scandal that broke through in 1989. It broke through from two men from making accusations to the media about Eagleson’s potential embezzlement and fraud in the NHLPA, but did not do any further investigating and it is unsure why, but Conway took over. Did no one take on the investigation because he was such a known and powerful man from politics, law, and the founder of the NHLPA, that no one was willing to go against him? We have seen this problem in the early 1900’s in the rise of investigative journalism. Was hockey not a popular enough sport to strike the investigation from national news companies? Whatever the reason was for no other journalists investigating, someone had to do it and Russ Conway was the man to do it.

As David Copeland writes in a chapter in his book “The Media’s Role in Defining the Nation: The Active Voice”, he looks back to the early 1900’s of investigative journalists and Roosevelt referring to them as “muckrakers”. Muckraking journalism, in Roosevelt’s sense, are the people who dig through the excrement of society and find answers that no one else is willing to sift through; Russ Conway is this case’s muckraker, “who were willing to take up the cause of any group that felt it was being maltreated by the powerbrokers of society,” (Copeland, p.130). Copeland’s examples of muckraking are about large corporations in the food and clothing industry mainly, but the concept he is trying to get across is that these investigative journalists are willing to “open a can of worms” that no one else wanted to because they did not know what they would find of such influential and powerful corporations in society. For the first couple years that Conway was investigating Alan Eagleson, he reached out to the disgruntled players he had stolen from to gain more information of what the accusations were and how elaborate Eagleson was in embezzling from players. Once he broke ground of solid evidence that shows Eagleson skimming money, he published it in the small newspaper he worked for, The Eagle-Tribune, in the start of a series of the unwinding of Alan Eagleson’s life of fraud, yet the national newspapers’ journalists still never get involved in the investigative journalism like Conway devoted himself. It was only once Conway’s work was noticed that Eagleson was beginning to be investigated by police that national news coverage took on the story.

In Harry Glasbeek’s chapter, “It’s Not a Crime: Reclassifying Corporate Deviance” he talks about mens rea and this phrase to that of an executive’s part of a corporation that have done wrongdoing to see if the wrongdoers are “senior enough in the particular structural organization of this corporation to enable any personal action and intention to be attributed to the corporation?” (Glasbeek, p.146). Alan Eagleson was completely committing these actions outside the knowing of the NHLPA for personal benefit. He also lined the pockets of two of his close friends, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks at the time, and chairman of the board, Bill Wirtz and then president of the NHL, John Ziegler. These three men were colluding between each other and possibly more executives of NHL teams during the time between 1966-1989. Eagleson’s embezzlement and fraud was getting the players’ money any way he could, whether they were injured or not.

Example: Eagleson tried to gain favor with an insurance

company by arranging for former player Andre Savard to receive

$70,000 instead of the $175,000 in disability payment that was rightly his.

Eagleson then had one of his companies charge Savard an $8,500 legal fee for

collecting the disability payment. (Farber 1996)

 

This is just one example of how he would commit fraud against the unsuspecting players. Eagleson unfortunately was in such a position(s) that the players were forced to trust him, he was their agent and lawyer, those are two people that a person must put all of their trust in to. If he wasn’t taking money from them as their agent from hockey cards to pensions, he made sure he got the money somehow, “Eagleson’s law firm rented out 10 parking spaces at his Toronto office building, where only four legal spaces existed.”(Farber 1996).

The players who were effected by Eagleson went to the RCMP to attempt to start an investigation once Conway had started it, but they turned it down to the Toronto Police’s fraud division for two years. In 1992, a liberal leader in Parliament asked about the issue, at this point the RCMP took it over. It is possible to believe that the RCMP did not take on this case at first because Alan Eagleson was involved in politics for the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario and had a law practice in Toronto, so he was known to the public in Canada. He was involved with politics, and law until he was involved with the NHL and focused on law and the NHLPA for the years of his wrongdoing. As we have seen for years on end with people in such a position of power, they are given the benefit of the doubt because they assume that no successful man would risk everything in this sort of manner. Either way, he did commit these acts and was charged both in the United States and in Canada for crimes of fraud and embezzlement. Was the NHLPA established by Alan Eagleson solely to exploit professional hockey players of their talent for his benefit? Did he have good intentions at first and later on realized the position he was in and decided to embezzle?

 

References

Conway, R. (1997). Game misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the corruption of hockey. Toronto: MacFarlane Walter & Ross

CBC Archives. (2013, April 10). Alan Eagleson: Exposing the Eagle – CBC Archives. Retrieved March 06, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/alan-eagleson-exposing-the-eagle

Copeland, David. Mediating American History : Media’s Role in Defining the Nation :The Active Voice. New York, US: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2013. ProQuest ebrary.         Web. 2 March 2017.

Ermann, M. David. Corporate and Governmental Deviance : Problems of Organizational Behavior in Contemporary Society, Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 3-44

Farber, M. (1996, February 19). Man on a Mission Russ Conway’s Investigative Work may Bring Down a Hockey Power Broker. Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://www.si.com/vault/1996/02/19/210076/man-on-a-mission-russ-            conways-investigative-work-may-bring-down-a-hockey-power-broker

Glasbeek, Harry. Wealth By Stealth : Corporate Crime, Corporate Law, and the Perversion of Democracy. Toronto, CA: Between The Lines, 2002. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 March 2017.

McMullan, J. L. (2006). News, truth, and the recognition of corporate Crime1. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 48(6), 905-939. Retrieved from https://login.proxy.hil.unb.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.hil.unb.ca/docview/216096360?accountid=14611

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